Apr 262019
 

In a two week period, my good friend Nancy Blanton and I had tables at two of our favorite reader events — the Amelia Island Book Festival and, the following week, a similar event at the main branch of the Jacksonville Library. And, while displays and travel and schedules are a lot of work, there’s nothing quite like having the opportunity to check in with other readers and writers. “In the face,” as a favorite kiddo used to say.

So what is it that connects a writer of 17th-century Irish historical novels to someone who writes non-fiction? Aside from friendship, there’s the obvious connection of being sounding boards for one another. While there are writers who prefer feedback exclusively from those who write in their same genre, Nancy and I have found that sometimes a person who is completely on the outside sees more clearly and can give the most useful feedback.

There's nothing quite like having the opportunity to check in with other readers and writers. Click To Tweet

There is other, wonderful input that, while it comes too late for building an individual book, warms an author’s heart and inspires her to do more and better. Book festivals and ‘meet the author’ events can result in emails and conversations worthy of back cover placement. Readers are complimentary and very kind.

But despite a great love for others working to find the right lane within the publishing field, connecting with other authors can be difficult. It is especially difficult when we trade books.

It is heartbreaking to pick up a fellow indie author’s book, only to discover that her name has been misspelled… on… the… COVER! Or that there are major typos in the first two or three pages. Or that the majority of the story stayed in her head, never making it to the page.

That’s something that doesn’t have to happen but there are lots of indie authors who only request input from family and friends. Those folks tend to either rip a manuscript to shreds or offer feedback such as “I like it,” or “it’s good.” The intent is both loving and supportive but does nothing to help the writer avoid pitfalls, both major and minor.

What you may not know is that most members of the indie author community are co-operative and collaborative. We have figured out that, unless our ideal reader is one who only ever reads a single book, other authors are colleagues, not competition.

Nancy Blanton and David-Matthew Barnes are two indie authors I admire and love. Click To Tweet

Nancy Blanton and David-Matthew Barnes are two indie authors I admire and… well, actually, the best word to finish this sentence is “love.” Over the years of exchanging critique, advance reading, attending events, and otherwise just lifting and holding one another up, we have become friends. And, over those same years, so many of our conversations have revolved around how best to support other indie authors: how to improve the quality of what’s being published while steering writers with less experience away from some of the predators and pitfalls we’ve run into along the way. Eventually, the three of us formed Amelia Indie Authors: a slow-growing “passion project” for each of us. It’s a place where “this is good but it could be better” is a form of love.

So what’s a reader to do? How can you better support indie authors? First, if you run into an indie publication that has major issues, you can contact the author and let him know — privately and respectfully — about your concerns. You may not get a response or, if you get one, it might be defensive, but at least the information is available. People don’t know what they don’t know.

Second? All of the Amelia Indie Authors with blogs are listed (and linked) on the right-hand side of that site. Check them out. Read their blogs. Leave a comment. You might even enjoy their books!

 

 

 

Apr 232019
 

What do birdseed, potato eyes, and peach pits have in common? Not much — unless you share my obsession with letting things (and animals and people) grow to their highest potential.

For years I have kidded Favorite Husband about being the king of compost. He builds bins and saves scraps and carries the mess out of the house every day. And, when it’s time to plant things, he willingly shovels the stuff to its final destination. If not king, his efforts are worthy of some sort of title.

When we first moved to the South, my gardening efforts were, at best, pathetic. Aside from an abundance of painful sand spurs, I didn’t know what would grow. The Florida sun and I burned up a lot of plants. I struggled with the idea of my growing seasons having been turned virtually upside down. This former New Englander had a hard time learning to protect my plants in summer months and forgetting about the process in the fall.

I subscribed to an online permaculture group that encouraged me to take my time and to build soil where there was only sand. Not a patient person by nature, I found some solace in the fact that the fried plants could receive a second life by becoming part of the dirt, helping others to grow.

I found some solace in the fact that the fried plants could receive a second life Click To Tweet

Isn’t that a lot like what happens when humans begin to undergo a radical change of some sort? Initially, we rely on trial and error, going solo, and making a lot of needless mistakes. Like brandy new gardens in the South, there’s lots of getting burned. But, also like the garden, those mistakes eventually become food for growth. And, if we’re smart, we make our way to others for guidance. Ultimately, those who have been helped can provide shelter for others — perhaps to help them burn a bit less while they are beginning the journey.

But, also like the garden, those mistakes become food for growth. Click To Tweet

But you’re probably wondering about the birdseed and the peach pits. I sure would be.

Usually a competent gardener, I grew frustrated when it looked like things wouldn’t grow here. I tired of throwing good money after bad in search of seeds that would help our pitiful soil-building efforts. Well, those permies were right. Things eventually began to grow. I finally noticed that the seeds dropping from the bird feeder — the volunteers — seemed to develop a life of their own. Regardless of the feeder placement, those seeds sprouted and grew — sometimes even turning in to sunflowers.

The volunteers seemed to develop a life of their own. Click To Tweet

So, pragmatic at heart, I decided to sow birdseed on every single bare spot in the yard. And it worked. The effort was rewarded with tall seedy grasses, lots of sunflowers and a bunch of bees.

Finally on the right track, some of these rogue plants were tall enough to shelter other, smaller seedlings. Marigolds began to poke up through the dirt as did several herbs. Sprouted sweet potatoes and eyes from baby whites encouraged us to try more and different types of planting.

And the peach pits? They come from a prolific little tree, surpassing all expectations after recently moving to a less squirrel-friendly part of the yard. The fruit is tiny but delish; we can’t seem to let go of all of those lovely, fresh pits. Although we probably won’t be creating a peach orchard, we’ll figure out how to start some of them and give the tiny trees away to others.

Because you see, when a person or a thing is determined to grow, the best we can do is get out of the way and let it.

 

 

Apr 102019
 

What do you see when I say “passive?” Hankie-totin’ Southern ladies on their fainting couches? Perhaps a heroine, reenacting The Perils of Pauline, tied to the railroad tracks, waiting for rescue? The endlessly complaining, hand-wringing, opinionated non-voter? Or is it the teenaged lump, tethered to this earth by those ever-present headphones? When one is passive, there is no active resistance or response. We can see “passive.”

For writers, there’s that pesky passive voice. When using tools to check my work, I sometimes encounter the software’s dreaded yellow squiggles, indicating a voice that’s not quite active enough. The yellow lines taunt me, demanding a re-write.

But, as the one who installed said pushy software? I actively ignore some of its error messages, tenderly x’ing out yellow squiggles here and there. What I really want to do is to yell at it. “Shut up, dammit.” Use of the passive voice is not always an error. Sometimes it’s a stylistic choice. It’s a choice I make when I don’t CARE how the action occurred or even whodunit. It just is. And, I actively — very actively — more actively than you can know… chose those words.

That, my friends, is an example of an active voice. It leaves no doubt as to the actor: c’est moi. Out here on the printed page or floating in some google-verse, thick with electrons. I still don’t understand how that happens, but I don’t care enough to investigate. Passive. Not the passive voice: just passive. On my virtual fainting couch.

But just what is a voice? I like to think of it as the fingerprint of an artistic endeavor. Actors, singers, and writers all spend time honing and developing a voice. And it can change from time to time. Stories are told, and songs are shared, over and over. 26 letters. Seven plots. Eight whole notes in a Western scale. Voice distinguishes Romeo and Juliet from West Side Story. Ronan Tynan’s Star Spangled Banner from Roseanne Barr’s. Voice is what gives an artist ownership; it makes a thing their own. Finding one’s voice is a trip along that Mobius strip called a learning curve. Age and maturity can conspire to facilitate discovery. It could be a luxurious exploration — like journaling or time shared with a gifted therapist or teacher.

And sometimes it’s as simple as a semi-automatic rifle and unspent, swastika-bearing magazines. Hundreds of lives lost: thousands of voices found.

Think about your own voice for a moment. Is it a song or a sound? A noise or a growl? I think about theirs as well: a cry, a whimper, a protest, a scream. Like so many others before them, their voices were muffled for hours as they hid in closets, whispering calls to 9-1-1. Texting ‘goodbyes’ to their loved ones. Urgent voices. Whispers. Cries. Warnings. And when the scene of the crime was deemed secure, they cried some more. And prayed and laughed and hugged with snot and tears running down their faces. And ever since we learned the term “bump stock,” we’ve seen it too many times.

Thoughts and prayers were offered. Their happily-ever-after was taken.

We use passive voice when the action is more important than the perpetrator or when one wishes to be formal, impersonal, or academic. It is accepted proper journalistic style. Do you ever worry about the blurring line between journalism and entertainment? Perhaps editors launch these neutral headlines to help us take a breath or to feel more objective. Distant. Dispassionate.

  • Responsibility was accepted by the victim.
  • Abusive relationships are often sustained by unemployment.

This time when they started asking ‘why’ it was loud. Why were their friends dead? They allowed their rage and fury to fuel their fierceness. The mass shooting generation: they have never known schools as safe havens. Eighteen years since Columbine. Seventeen-year-olds have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims.

College first-years have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims. Click To Tweet

But, suddenly, these are not victims. They thunder. Neither victims or survivors: they are warriors. Their voices are urgent. Embattled. Strident. Rulers of the electronic universe, they are beyond able to speak for themselves. Every day they connect with those of us who love them — elders and others standing by to amplify their message. Who will be the loudest voice? The clearest one? The silent one? What, if any, action will be taken? I suspect it will be piecemeal, don’t you? And when it doesn’t work, underfunding will be blamed. And, yes, there’s a lot of passive voice right here, right now: I’m trying to protect you from my fury.

  • The road was crossed by the chicken.
  • The other side was reached.
  • The woman was strangled by her husband.

What are the causes of gun violence? The professional politicians tell us it’s a mental health issue, caused, in part by bullying, and a lack of armed teachers in the classroom. Suddenly there are lots of answers, none of them completely correct. Correct answers don’t make good headlines.

Are you ready for the secret hiding in plain sight? They one no one wants to voice? More than half of all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence: they are victims, perpetrators or both. For most, it hasn’t been a secret — at least until after they kill. The Sandy Hook shooter’s mother feared him. The one in Parkland had threatened a girlfriend and, apparently, the folks who took him in after the death of his Mom. The man who shot up the church in Texas had been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and 2-year-old child. The D.C. sniper terrorized his wife before he branched out to a community. The Boston Marathon bomber. The Pulse nightclub shooter.

  • Mistakes were made.
  • The teen was shot at school.
  • The young woman lost her life.

Let’s stop using words to hide the truth: she did not lose her life. It is not misplaced like so many mismatched socks in the dryer lint: she was murdered. Murdered by a madman with a gun, described by some as a ‘lovesick teen.’

Domestic violence is a women-only problem. A husband has the right. She made him angry. It’s a private family matter. Our current legislators are willing to regulate women’s bodies but not assault rifles. There are still schools in this country legally administering corporal punishment to students. Where women and children are property, domestic violence continues unabated. Unaddressed. It took years to stop publishing the names of the domestic violence victims and even longer to stop making school shooters more famous than those whose lives they stole.

  • Threatening calls were made.
  • The other cheek was turned.
  • Woman injured.

By whom? What was injured? All of her? Or just a little bit? Her dignity, her pride, her self- respect. When was she injured? Was it a single, distinct episode or a daily occurrence? Where? Where on her body? Where in her home? Where in her town?

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root 'passe-' meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the political knee-jerk 'thoughts and prayers' originate? Click To Tweet

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root ‘passe-‘ meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the often-unwanted political knee-jerk thoughts and prayers originate? While not inherently bad, their proffer seems to have become as empty as the ceremonial balloons sometimes released by survivors. Political hot air stands in for courageous action. Passive.
No wonder so many of the online grammar checkers slap my wrist. Passive voice. Perhaps instead of highlights and little yellow squiggles, I should find a different program. I want a program that responds to my passive voice like this: Stop it. Own it. Take responsibility or assign blame.

What action will you put to this?

Mar 202019
 

Sanctuary — a place of peace and safety. Deeply valued by most. It is a holy place, whether in a house of worship or another locale. Homes can provide sanctuary as can prayer, meditation, relationships, and books.

I’ve spent many years wading through ‘spirituality’ vs. ‘religion.’ When I was in practice, twelve-step recovery programs were about the only option for affordable, long-term support for my clients. Because of that, they often needed a sounding board to help sort through personal histories and arrive at a concept of a higher power that worked for them. Some were comfortable with their existing religious definitions but many felt far too angry, guilty, or ashamed to even want to think about their religious upbringing. I am someone who gave witness to a great number of priest abuse stories long before that scandal arrived in the headlines.

Many felt far too angry, guilty, or ashamed to even want to think about their religious upbringing Click To Tweet

Two ideas worked for many of my addicted clients. First was that many of their shameful behaviors were a direct result of rational thought being warped or eliminated by the use of alcohol or other drugs and that ongoing recovery was an important way to atone. The second was that they didn’t need to worry about finding an “official” god —  that groups of people who had felt the same way and achieved recovery wanted nothing more than to provide them the power needed to recover. For hope-filled and fearful folk leaving the safety of inpatient treatment, those groups became a form of sanctuary. Perhaps it is in the form of feeling immunity from the remorse and self-loathing that don’t immediately disappear.

I no longer participate in organized religion but the idea of sanctuary remains deeply rooted. So is some sort of faith that the world is a fundamentally good place. And a belief that everyone deserves a place of peace and safety: even those Canada geese who were targeted for death.

I’m not someone who can sit with overwhelming emotion. However insignificant it may be, I need to take action. So after consulting with Favorite Husband, I decided to give the geese a place to go. Our place, with the high grass, at the edge of the pond. But how would we attract them at a time their trust in humans was justifiably non-existant?

Favorite Husband and I decided to give the geese a place to go. Our place, with the high grass, at the edge of the pond. Click To Tweet

Thinking about various grandmothers and homes that had provided personal refuge the answer became clear. We needed to find a way to feed them and that meant learning about their favorite foods.

Do you have a person, place, or practice of sanctuary? What makes it feel safe? What draws you to return?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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