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That Reaction We Have to Our Bodies in Photos

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So here I am, for the first time my body used in an ad.

The dance studio I belong to draws on its members for depictions to help celebrate—and yes, advertise—its offerings. The owner only uses images of members who have given permission to do so. 

Over the past six months, I have given and then rescinded and then given my permission again, struggling with the power of seeing photos of myself in motion. Not controlled. Not posed. Not sucking my belly in but breathing fully.

I’ve seen many images like this in my Facebook feed. I even have a calendar on my kitchen wall, each month a photo not of Photoshopped models but of the women I see every week on the dance floor, in all their sweaty, smiling glory.

Without exception, I’ve viewed these photos as beautiful and inspiring. But when my own image, the one above, graced the top of an email banner one day, and a slew of other photos followed close behind on Facebook, I felt mortified with embarrassment.

And this surprised me.

It still does.

You see, I’m someone who’s done all the work. I long ago tossed aside Hollywood beauty standards, have never wanted to be New York thin, and have always praised myself on my body-positive attitude. More than a decade ago, I brought the multimedia production bodyBODY to the college where I taught so that students could participate in a show that celebrated the diversity and health of real women’s bodies.

Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.

I can keep doing the work. That’s why I’m sharing this post.

But you have to do it, too. 

When I lose weight, even if it’s from illness, I am praised, mostly by other women. But if I gain even within a healthy range, no matter what amazing feat I’m achieving on my yoga mat, there’s no praise.

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I was merely bloated. By the way, “Are you pregnant?” is a question that should never be asked.

When dating in my late thirties, one man told me flat-out that he preferred “skinny Asians.” Another said a weight-loss and exercise plan would be “such a great trend” for me.

The very photographer who took the picture above told me the only way to photograph “curvy” women like me in a flattering way is from above. I was criticizing her, and she was being defensive, but this still came out. 

Once, my own mother went through every one of our family photo albums, cutting herself out of all of the pictures.

Why wouldn’t I react to seeing myself in photos?

How did you react?

Did you think I was being brave?

Consider that for a moment.

To paraphrase comedian Amy Schumer, no woman wants to be told “you’re brave” in response to sharing a picture of herself.

Because here I am, dancing my dance, working every breath on loving myself. And I could use a little help.

 


'Girl' Books, Revisited

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A lot has been written about the current 'girl' book phenomenon (see here, here, and here for starters), but I thought it would be fun to imagine what those titles might be in a better world. Here we go...(slight NSFW warning)...

Girl, Uninterrupted

The Girl With the Fuck You Tattoo

Girl on the Luxury Train

Girl Flicking a Razor

Girls, But We Really Mean Women

The Woman Who Flew Into Space

A Woman's Story, Told by Herself

for women of color who committed murder when the rainbow was more than enuf

The Girl Who Spoke Her Mind

The Loudest Girl in the Room

The Girl Who Was Nobody's Slave

Such a Smart Girl

Shopowner

Girl with a Pearl Earring She Bought for Herself

The Woman's Guide to Being Your Own Damn Guide

The Girl Who Wore Whatever She Wanted That Day 

The Neither Good Nor Bad Girl

...and of course...

Here and Now Girl 

 ... Now add your own to the list in the comments below. Need help? Goodreads has a list of every 'girl'-titled book published.


New Release! Blog Tour! The Dreamslippers Series Boxed Set

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It's happened. The entire Dreamslippers Series is out in the world as one tome.

That's all three novels in one fat ebook.* PLUS a bonus novella "prequel" that explores Amazing Grace's past.

The series centers on the question, "What if you could slip into the dreams of a killer?" This family of PIs can, but that isn't easy.

In Cat in the Flock, the first book, readers meet apprentice dreamslipper Cat McCormick, who moves to Seattle from the Midwest so she can train with her Grandmother Grace. The septuagenarian trailblazer is a dreamslipping pro, having used it to solve crimes as a PI. But Cat gets more than she bargained for as Grace puts her through her New Age paces, with yoga and meditation on the agenda. However, Cat gets drawn back to the Midwest when she discovers a prominent church leader stalking a woman and girl on the run.                                     

In book two, Framed and Burning, Grace pops for a trip to Miami to visit her brother Mick for Art Basel, which should also lift Cat's spirits. But when Mick's studio goes up in flames, and he won't give an alibi, the dreamslippers must defend one of their own.

The third book, Bound to the Truth, takes place in Seattle, with all three dreamslippers under one roof. An up-and-coming architect is found dead, and her wife Robin thinks she knows who did it. But Cat and Grace aren't sure they can trust the grieving widow's claims.

Included in the ebook boxed set is a bonus novella that answers key questions readers have asked about Amazing Grace: How did she get her name? What happened when her daughter Mercy was born? And did Grace really go undercover inside a cult?
 
The first two books won the indieBRAG medallion, and the second book was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award and a RONE Award nominee.
 
All three novels are for sale in print locally (near me) at Book ’n’ Brush in Chehalis, and the ebooks are available everywhere ebooks are sold, for any device. 

Buy Links:

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Look for giveaways, guest posts, and more all this week for the blog tour! Free ebooks, audiobooks, and paperbacks to the winners. Here's the first tour stop.

And here's the full tour schedule.

*The ebook clocks in at 262,920 words.  


The 'Bound to the Truth' Blog Tour

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 My big, fat book tour for Bound to the Truth had both an in-person leg and a virtual one, with guest posts, reviews, and spotlights on numerous blogs. Here's a rundown of the blog tour.

Reviews

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 Four bloggers so far have reviewed the book, rating it highly.

 The Book Adventures of Emily gave it five stars and raves: "Bound to the Truth is pretty fantastic! People with psychic abilities plus the fact they're investigators, um that's great! I'm really fascinated by this story, it's filled with action, suspense and a ton of mystery!"

 Over at Book Fidelity, the reviewer praised the characters specifically: "I found myself completely submerged in this story of intrigue and, honestly? apprehension. It is every bit a mystery, but with a twist. And, dear reader, you know how much I love 'my characters' in books, and this work is no different. they are an array of unique and as equally mysterious as the world around them." (4 stars)

 Another 5-star review came in from J Bronder Book Reviews, who wrote: "This is a great mystery with lots of action. Robin and Nina seem to have a perfect marriage from the outside, but inside there are cracks. I loved Cat, she is a strong woman and I loved following along as they had to dig deep to find the killer."

 Sage Adderley, my tour host, took time out of her busy schedule to review the book as well and had this to say: "The plot runs deep and the characters are both quirky and interesting. This is a total whodunit mystery that will keep you on edge until the very end!" 

Guest Posts

Like Me

 For this tour, I decided to offer guest posts as a way to give back to the awesome book bloggers who take time to read and promote indie books, almost always as a side gig or hobby on their own time. I know how exciting it is to host other writers on my own blog, so I wanted to share the love for that reason, too. 

 One thing I noticed across the series, beginning with that great Kirkus review for Cat in the Flock and continuing through Bound to the Truth, is that people often use the word "quirky" to describe the characters and scenarios. So I analyzed my obsession with quirk for The Editing Pen. Apparently the seeds for it were sown during my childhood.

  Regular readers of this blog know about my other obsessions: yoga and Nia. I talk about how and why I snuck these holistic practices into the Dreamslippers Series in this post for The Wordy Nerd

 I launched Bound to the Truth on the Friday after the presidential election. For The Attic Ghost, I wrote some thoughts related to all that.

 For fellow author Freda Hansburg's blog, I decided to focus on social media, since it's something people in just about every profession should know how to do well. While I have much room for improvement, I've seen enough success in this area to be able to offer advice to others. It comes down to three simple rules.

Spotlights

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 A couple of bloggers put Bound to the Truth in their spotlight sections. Mello & June, It's a Book Thang! had shown their love for the book earlier in the year for the cover reveal, and they came through again here at launch. Another spotlight came from Book, Dreams, Life

 Many thanks to the book bloggers who give generously of their time, space, and opinion, and especially to Sage's Blog Tours for hosting.

 


An Interview with Award-Winning Author Qui Xiaolong

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Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter. 

Qui and I are old colleagues and friends. I served as a beta reader for his first novel before that was even a thing, and the two of us worked together teaching English at St. Louis Community College. During me recent trip to St. Louis, he told me about his interesting indie project, a poetry collection written in the voice of Inspector Chen, a character he's developed over the course of a multi-book series. Chen trained in poetry, and it informs his thoughts and is a compelling aspect of the series. But this is the first time the poems have been gathered into a collection.

Lisa: Poetry has been an integral part of your Inspector Chen series since the beginning. Why fuse these seemingly disparate genres—poetry and crime—into one?

Qui: To begin with, I love poetry, and I cannot but have my Inspector Chen love it, too. In an age with few people reading poetry, it's just my way of smuggling poetry into crime fiction. But it's also more than that; in classical Chinese novels, there're more poems than in my Inspector Chen novels, usually with a poem at the beginning of a chapter, and another at the end of it, and more with a new character being introduced. And I think it is justified for varying lyrical intensity in the narration--like the use of blank verse in a Shakespearean play, so it sort of carries on the Chinese tradition. But more importantly, at least so for myself, I want Inspector Chen to observe not only from a cop's perspective, but from a poet's as well. The two sometimes come into conflict, which may also make the character more complicated. 

Lisa: That’s really fascinating; I didn’t realize Chinese novels integrate the poetic form so much. And yes, I enjoy the two sides of Chen’s brain, poet and inspector. Together they lead him to a sort of third way of doing things that seems to be a negotiation between the two. There’s a lush, philosophical quality to his thoughts that make his perspective such a pleasure. I’m curious: What have readers said about this unique poetry/mystery mashup? I know we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. your foreign readers. Are those abroad more receptive to reading poetry with their plots? 

Qui: I believe it’s something worth trying for a writer to write in the genre, but at the same time, to push the limit of it—if that’s what you call the unique poetry/mystery mashup. From what feedback I’ve gotten from my readers, I think they like it. Yes, we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. readers elsewhere. For instance, Poems of Inspector Chen have been translated and published by my Italian and French publishers, and during my tour in France in October, one of the most rewarding experiences there was the discussion with 300 high school students in Lyon about that poetry collection, which they studied in class. But I want to add, readers here are also so enthusiastic about the poetry. During a recent conference sponsored by the Ahmanson family in L.A., for instance, the host offered the poetry collection to everybody attending the conference. A very large audience indeed. It’s just her way of supporting poetry and Inspector Chen, which I understand and appreciate. 

Lisa: With your background in literary poetry and fiction, what drew you to the detective genre in the first place?

Inspector Chen poems

Qui: I've always loved crime fiction. But the way I started writing in the genre was accidental. In the mid-nineties, I went back to China for a visit after staying in the States for seven or eight years. I was so impressed by the changes taking place there that I wanted to try my hand on a novel about the society in transition, but I had not written fiction before, so I had a hard time putting things together. Then the knowledge of the crime fiction genre came to my rescue, so to speak. I reshuffled the contents, and used the genre as a ready-made framework for what I wanted to say. In fact, when I submitted the manuscript for Death of a Red Heroine to my publisher, I was not even that sure it was a real crime novel. But my publisher liked it and wanted me to expand it into a series. So here I am, with book number ten of the Inspector Chen series coming out in French in September. But because of the accidental entry, you may still notice the sociological traces in all these books. 

Lisa: Wonderful—that explains so much. It’s interesting to hear you say your original plan was to write about society in transition. You weave this into the plots well, or rather, you deftly use plot as a vehicle for immersing your reader in that transitional society fully. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the series. How has that waxed and waned over the course of the series? You say now with ten there are still traces…

Qui: With so much happening in contemporary Chinese society, I’m capable of putting each Inspector Chen investigation in a specific social, political, cultural backdrop, in which the crime and the investigation are directly or indirectly commenting on it, and also commented on by the society in transition. For instances, Death of a Red Heroine against the backdrop of the split personality imposed on individuals living under an authoritarian regime, Red Mandarin Dress against that of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake against that of China’s ecological crisis, Enigma of China against that of governmental cyber control, and Shanghai Redemption against that of uncontrollable corruption under the one-party system… And with so much still happening there, Inspector Chen has a long way to go with a sociological perspective. After Becoming Inspector Chen, the manuscript I’m working on also has such a background focus on the lack of an independent legal system in China.  

Lisa: Let’s talk about your latest book, a collection of Inspector Chen’s poetry in one volume. It’s a brilliant, yet curious choice. Are there other models for what you’ve done, taking a fictional character and making him the “author” of a book of poetry? What made you decide to do this now?

Qui: For myself, it’s not exactly a curious choice. I don’t think I had any models in mind while compiling the collection, but I benefitted from the “mask” theory elaborated by Yeats. According to him, a poet could speak behind the mask of a character. And I found the experience truly liberating, for I could suddenly write about things familiar, relevant to the inspector, but not necessarily to me. It’s also experimental in exploration of the reversible interrelationship among the creating and the created in the process of fiction writing. 

Lisa: I’m also intrigued by your decision to self-publish this book of poetry. What has been your experience so far, as someone whose work has always been traditionally published—first with SoHo Press and now with St. Martin’s—stepping out into the wilds of publishing on your own?

Qui: The Poems of Inspector Chen was published traditionally in France and Italy. But I’m quite  aware of today’s difficult poetry market. For me, it’s a labor of love, but not necessarily so for every publisher, which I understand. About a year ago, I happened to talk to a friend about it, and he helped the project greatly with his expertise in the field of self-publishing. It’s really to his credit that the poetry collection came out here like that.    

Check out Qui Xiaolong's web site for book links and more.

Quiontour

 


3 Books for 3 Bucks

Dreamslippers Tryptych - with covers

UPDATE: This sale has been extended through the weekend!

 On November 11, we release the third book in the Dreamslippers Series, Bound to the Truth. In celebration of the completed trilogy, EVERY BOOK IN THE SERIES is now available for only 99 cents on ebook. Buy and read the first two books now, and pre-order the third to lock in the 99-cent deal. It will be magically delivered to your device on the day of publication. Pricing lasts only until that date - Nov 11.

 What readers are saying about the series…

 "Clearly author Lisa Brunette has a genuine flair for deftly crafting a superbly entertaining mystery/suspense thriller.”
Midwest Book Review

 "The launch of an intriguing female detective series... A mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre." 
Kirkus Reviews

 More 5 out of 5-star reviews…

 "Lisa Brunette’s FRAMED AND BURNING is a brilliant, suspenseful whodunit in its own merit, full of twists and turns, pursued by a unique pair of private investigators—Cat and her grandmother Grace, in a character-as-well-as-plot-driven ride pulsating with the crisis not only in the murder investigation, but also in their own lives.” 
Qiu Xiaolong, Author of Shanghai Redemption, a Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2015

 "Gripping, sexy and profound, CAT IN THE FLOCK is an excellent first novel. Lisa Brunette is an author to enjoy now and watch for the future.”
Jon Talton, author of the David Mapstone Mysteries, the Cincinnati Casebooks and the thriller Deadline Man

 Overview of BOUND TO THE TRUTH…

 What if you could ‘slip’ into the dreams of a killer?
This family of PIs can. They use their psychic dream ability to solve crimes, and that isn’t easy.
Especially when your client thinks she knows who the killer is, but you don’t believe her.

 Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims?'

 More praise for the series…

 "A little Sue Grafton and a dose of Janet Evanovich… is just the right recipe for a promising new series.”
Rev. Eric O'del

 "Already hooked, this reader intends further sojourns in Cat's dreamslipping world. Highly recommended." 
Frances Carden, Readers Lane

 For readers who enjoy strong female leads, quirky, well-developed characters, and a dash of dating drama with their mystery. Fans of J.A. Jance, Mary Daheim, and Jayne Ann Krentz will love Cat and “Amazing” Grace!

 An award-winning novelist…

WINNER of the indieBRAG medallion
Finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award
Nominated for a RONE Award
Finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award

BUY/PRE-ORDER NOW

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BUT I'M A LUDDITE...

Ebooks not your thing? Never fear. The first two books are available in print through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and audiobook through iTunes and Amazon. The third novel is also available in print NOW, with an audiobook version coming soon. Complete buy links here

 


Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

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The Armory. 

 In case you missed it, the third book in the Dreamslippers Series has a sexy theme. Cat and Granny Grace must find out who killed up-and-coming architect Nina Howell. Her wife is convinced a libertarian talk show host is the murderer. Following the clues takes the dreamslippers into what in another novel might be labeled Seattle's "perverted dungeon" or "dark underbelly."

 But not in Bound to the Truth. After a decade in Seattle and a lifetime studying human behavior, my position is that there isn't anything inherently dark or perverted about sex. And by sex, I mean the activity engaged in between two consenting adults that may or may not have anything to do with procreation but could include any number of "kinky" behaviors. Spoiler alert: Through the course of the novel, Cat explores a shop selling bondage gear, she and her grandmother go undercover in a sex club, and several characters confer on lingerie and sex toys.

 Readers of the series will know this is not shocking new territory for me. As I've said on social media, book one was about religion and sex, book two art and sex, and book three politics and sex. Septuagenarian heroine Amazing Grace is sexually active and forthright about her trysts; twentysomething Cat is exploring her sexuality as a new adult. These women own their desires and act on them, apologizing to exactly no one.

 HUGE CAVEAT: The sex scenes happen mostly off-screen. This is NOT erotica. This is NOT porn. Sorry to disappoint you. Now, continuing on with the discussion...

 Readers of the blog know I've been highly critical of Fifty Shades of Grey, which utterly fails because rather than challenging its audience in any way, it allows readers/viewers to preserve their judgmental prejudices against the kink world and the presumed "broken" people who inhabit it. They can naughtily dip a toe into the world but then ultimately reject it, just as the vanilla protagonist does. With Bound to the Truth, I wanted to treat kinky people with the respect they deserve, rendering a realism that I hope not only transcends cliché and judgment but results in fully developed characters and concerns. 

 While Fifty Shades served as a sort of negative inspiration, and my writing on this book started as a reaction against it, here's a peep show of my research sources for this book, all positive inspirations.

 News flash to any Emerald City resident who hasn't discovered this yet, but when Cat observes in Bound to the Truth that "Seattleites as a population must quietly be getting their freak on in the bedroom 24/7," that comes from first-hand experience. Enter the city's decidedly online dating scene for two seconds, yes, even as a middle-aged divorcée as I was, and you're immediately barraged with a cornucopia of kinky come-ons. After thirteen years straight of committed monogamy, it was eye-opening, to say the least. If you have single friends who are also dating, you compare notes and see the same. 

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Savage Love syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who not only writes intelligently, compassionately, and wittily on the subject of sex but also launched a brilliantly curated alternative porn film fest. I've attended a couple of Hump Fests, which seemed to both sell out, and I highly recommend them.

 When I wrote as a freelancer for several Seattle publications, I had the opportunity to interview University of Washington sex expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz. A well-respected academic with a long list of accomplishments, the occasion for my interview with her was the publication of her tell-all memoir, which chronicled her experiences entering the dating pool post-50. As you can see from my choice of subject matter and character, Dr. Pepper had an influence. The piece was one of my most popular, too. Originally published in Seattle Woman magazine, it was linked to by Crosscut, where it was in the top ten for traffic that year.

 While I never joined a sex club, I did talk with people who have, and I also toured The Armory in San Francisco. You might recognize the signature building in the image at the top of this post. The Armory is a sort of castle of kink. Tours are open to the public, and knowledgeable guides wearing nothing sexier than street clothes will lead you through many a porn set. The building itself is worth the price of admission even if you profess a distaste for porn; the Moorish castle was completed in 1914, with much of the stone staircases, wainscoting, and impressive corridors intact, not to mention access to an underground cave, Mission Creek running below the structure.

 I also toured the Erotic Museum of Barcelona, but who wouldn't do that on her honeymoon?

 The drag and burlesque communities deserve credit for shaping my thinking on sex. In Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, you can catch first-rate live shows in which respectful, supportive audiences embrace a diverse spectrum of lovely people on stage in various states of dress, dancing in a variety of suggestive ways. Most notably for me is Seattle's Nerdlesque. In fact, I'm still pondering my affection for and confusion over "burlesque Carl Sagan." Affection because he was one of my childhood nerd crushes. Confusion because I'm not attracted to women, but this gal was a dead ringer for my beloved astronomer, so...

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laura Antoniou's mystery set in the middle of a kink convention, The Killer Wore Leather. And Seattle's sex-positive culture in general for its art shows, film screenings, articles, workshops, and overall work toward making sex something that can be talked about without stigma, shame, and danger. If we could free ourselves from those chains, then the ones some people put on just for fun become simply that.

 I hope you enjoy Bound to the Truth. You can pre-order it, and Amazon will magically deliver it to your Kindle on the day of release. Or Barnes & Noble will mystically transport it to your Nook. Or, or, or...

 Now tell me what you think of all this in the comments! What turns you on? I mean in terms of literature, people.

 


What's the Motive? Nancy Slavin

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Today fiction author and poet Nancy Slavin talks about how she finds motive in words themselves, both their beauty and their pain. "The first step towards violence," she says, "often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts."

Just a quick warning: In order to illustrate this, she uses a few examples of hurtful words below.

Nancy Slavin:

The subject of today’s post is about motive--what motivates this individual writer to write a certain book. I feel the need to state and expound on the obvious: words motivate me. Sound, rhymes, sentences, metaphors, stories; all the magic that can ensue just because of twenty-six English letters. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a linguist. I’d learn more letters and languages. My favorite part of motherhood was when my child was learning to speak; my second favorite has been watching her learn to read. I’m still amazed that little dark marks on a white page can communicate whole ideas, conjure galaxies, and create the possibility of freedom and justice. 

My original writing training is in poetry; the fine tuning of words and sounds is deep in my heart. I happen to come from a family of mostly artists--a mother who paints, a photographer sister, and a father who is a graphic designer and a potter. I have a brother, too. He flies planes. For me, the artistic medium is words. So that’s the first motive, and I hope, if you’re a writer, that’s your first motive, too. Otherwise, perhaps, consider another medium, like paints or planes.

Because I love words, I am also fascinated by how poorly they get used and how often, especially in relationships (and really, all human interaction is in relationship, hello “friends” on Facebook). Poorly-used words was too often the experience in my childhood, as it is for lots of kids. The long-term witnessing of belittling, mean words, name-calling, and the silent treatment (the tense, tense absence of words), motivated me to work in the field of domestic and sexual violence. 

In my work for more than twenty years, I was a violence-prevention educator--I taught other people, mostly youth, but many adults too, how to use words to communicate feelings and needs in healthy rather than hurtful ways, words that created connection rather than division and wreckage. In my trainings, I facilitated a lot of exercises that asked people to consider their words--words that were cruel but often minimized as no big deal, and/or words that categorized another person into an “other” based on their gender, race, religion, class, sexual identification or orientation. I said some dreaded words out loud and wrote them on boards, and I discussed their origins: words like bitch, fag, nigger, and redneck. I did this work so students could learn the histories and weight of words they might casually say or hear or write on the back of a desk. Depending on if they were on the receiving or giving end, they might respond to those words with an upped ante of violence, towards another, or inwards at themselves. The first step towards violence often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts.

As a domestic violence worker, I heard all kinds of stories about abuse that left literal scars on people. But I tell you, many, many people also disclosed quite often how the words hurt the most--the words of being told they were no good, not worthy, deserved the abuse, that the abuse was their fault, and many versions on that theme. The words, they told me, were the hardest to shake. They kept hearing those words in their head, reverberating.

All of the above lays the foundation for the main question I explore in my creative work: how do we heal from violence? How do we stop hurtful words from reverberating in our minds? Ultimately, that question led me to create a character in my first novel, Moorings. She was a woman who’d escaped terrible domestic violence, but she’d become mean herself, even in safety. I was curious what continued healing might look like for her. And I also explore the question in my second novel, which is based on and written for many of the youth with whom I worked, who’d been told twelve ways to Sunday they were unlovable and unloved. How does a person stop hearing those words and start believing a new story about who he or she is? 

There are many novels that have explored domestic violence and the rewriting of your own story, or writing your way into a new one. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlan, and for youth dealing with family violence, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy all come to mind. Although it's poetry, Maya Angelou’s book Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing, and the poem “Caged Bird” that appears in that collection and stems from her important memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was a formative poem for me. I’m also a fan of the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. And since I’m working on my YA novel, my next book up to read is Speak, by contemporary author, Laurie Halse Anderson, which confronts the reality of sexual assault. 

I am motivated in my personal life to be a healthier person. I have come a long way in some areas, and, in other ways, I still have a long way to go. I use words to tell myself some fascinating stuff sometimes. But listening to the words I say out loud, and then writing the words down to revise my own story, is my path toward health and healing. See? The letters “h-e-a-l” are the first four letters of “health.” How cool is that? 

For an important talk on the power of words in relationship to violence, I recommend Jackson Katz’s TED talk on domestic violence and words and language.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out which communities near you have planned to raise awareness through the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Follow Nancy Slavin on Twitter.

  Nancy Slavin

Nancy Slavin has been a longtime English literature and writing instructor for a community college as well as a violence-prevention educator. She’s authored a collection of poems, Oregon Pacific (2015), and a novel, Moorings, (2013). More of her work can be found in Rain MagazineBarrelhousehip mama, Literary Mama, and Oregon Humanities Magazine. Her website is www.nancyslavin.com

Looking for other "What's the Motive?" articles? Here you are.

 


The 1944 Movie 'Laura' Reveals Just How Broken Publishing Is - and Maybe the Whole Economy

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Sometimes I like a good film noir classic, as in the 1944 movie "Laura," named one of the 10 best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute. This one was just right for a Saturday night movie binge because it features a young Vincent Price as a pretty boy gigolo, if you can imagine that, and a victim who's made a life for herself as a successful advertising exec, a rare career woman for her time.

 What I didn't expect in this strange but clever whodunit is that one of the main characters and ongoing suspects is an eccentric writer, a dandy who pens columns while sitting at his bathtub desk. From his posh penthouse apartment in New York, he brags about making fifty cents a word on his writing.

 Hold up, I thought. Fifty cents a word? In 1944? 

 Those of you who've never tried to make a living with your words probably don't know this, but fifty cents a word is considered a good rate today. Yeah, in 2016. I'm part of several online freelancer forums, and there I regularly see rates of $150-300 for a 700-word article, which works out to about 20-40 cents per word. The top echelon magazines reportedly pay their freelancers $1-$2 dollars per word, and there are a rare handful of freelance writers making bank, but the vast majority of words that get written in America today sell for far less. Disturbingly, there are plenty of publishers who expect writers to work for "exposure," or for mere cents per word. 

 Here's what writers today should be making per word, if we take 50 cents in 1944 and adjust it for inflation: $6.82.

 That would be almost $5K for a 700-word piece, which is a far cry from reality. And you wonder why so much of what's out there is written in listicle format and laden with gifs! Even if the 50-cents-per word bit were a dramatic embellishment, and let's say the actual writer pay at the time was half that, at 25 cents per word, or a quarter, at 12 cents per word, which is about what I make today on stories for my local paper, we're still looking at serious stagnation, or even devolution. Depending on whom you ask, the publishing industry is either experiencing a glorious renaissance or is in its death throes. If it's the former, writers on the whole aren't experiencing the golden part of this age, and if it's the latter, then I suppose things will only get worse from here on out. 

 In my overly long, SEO-designed headline above, I promised I'd mention how this relates to the overall brokenness of the economy. This writer wage stagnation/devolution is another example of how we've been shafted in the last generation as productivity has actually gone up but salaries haven't kept pace, pay for CEOs and others at the top soared while most other pay stagnated, and benefits such as pensions and employer-paid health care became a thing of the past. I'm no economist, though, so let me refer you to these nine sobering wage stagnation charts put out by the Economic Policy Institute.

 Sure, EPI is considered by some to skew liberal and/or is tainted by its labor backing. But you know what? It's hard to argue with the data. For example, since 1979, middle-class wages rose only 6% and low-wage workers' salaries actually fell by 5% while those with the highest salaries saw a 41% increase. Here's another: In the 1960s, CEOs typically earned 20 times what a typical worker earned, but today they rake in 296 times what a typical worker makes.

 So writers in this analysis are low-wage workers whose salaries have fallen over time. Our economy is one big film noir movie, but the villain is greed and the policies that support and enable greed. Spoiler alert: The mystery of who killed Laura, the advertising exec, is far more fitting and poignant than anyone in 1944 could have imagined. Yep. You guessed it. The writer did it.*

* Or at least, he thought he did (plot twist!).

  


What It Means to Write with Intention

Intentional_Writer_Interview

I was featured along with six other writers in a blog series about writing with intention. Our host, Alexis Donkin, believes that "fiction can shape the way we think about the world." She asked questions like this one: "If there is one thing you'd want people to do after reading this book, what would it be?" 

For Saadia Faruqi, the answer is for readers to read another book set in a culture different from their own. She wrote a short story collection set in Pakistan in order to "showcase the reality behind Pakistan’s complicated politics and culture," without presenting stereotypes. Author Sharon Angelici, a Midwestern stay-at-home mom, would like for her book about suicide to spark difficult conversations. 

In writing Cat in the Flock, I wanted to offer a warning about the damage of repressive, prejudicial beliefs while approaching the subject of evangelical religion with compassion for all.

You can jump into all seven interviews from here, and if you're looking for mine, here's a direct link.

What are your thoughts about writing with intention? To me this is different than political writing or propaganda because the material must first be in service to story. As I told Alexis, "Stereotypes and omissions on either side of the political spectrum usually weaken the story."

Weigh in on that below, or tell us about a book that changed your thinking--or your life.


Guest Blogger: My Secret Writing Walk, or How Spirituality Guides My Writing Life


Alexisdonkin2

by Alexis Donkin

LB: Writing for the blog today is Alexis Donkin, blogger, speaker, and author of what she describes as "a library of books," from fantasy and sci-fi to memoir and journal guides. I asked her to discuss how she meshes a spiritual path with her development as a fiction writer, or how the two intersect. Here's Alexis.

I think I wrote 10 different posts about this topic only to abandon them. How can I talk about spirituality and my writing? How can I not? How can I talk about my spiritual practice and not freak people out?

I grew up with two ordained ministers as parents, so religion has always been a topic discussed at dinner. Faith was linked to every aspect of our lives. Pastors are like politicians in that everyone has expectations for them, and their families. There were parts of our lives that never saw the light of day...well...until I wrote about them in my memoir.

Alexis_nonfiction

Because of my upbringing, I've had an unusual relationship with spirituality. I started out being very Christian. My faith led me to study other traditions as a path to addressing the world's needs (the product of this education is my world religion curriculum and associated interfaith devotional). In that study, I questioned my allegiance. I never identified with those publicly identifying as Christians. Somehow they managed to insert Jesus into every other sentence. They talked about prayer as if it was this transformative experience, and for me, being progressive, I couldn't decide if they were genuine – or lying. It didn't connect with my own experience.

So as I researched other traditions, I questioned my own. In the end, I discovered all faiths have parts I like and parts I hate. It just so happens, I like Christianity best. It speaks my cultural language. I like the story of Jesus.

This seems like a round-about way to talk about spirituality in writing, but it's important to know my perspective to understand why I write what I do – what drives everything in my life.

I am, by all accounts, a very spiritual person. I meditate daily. I go to church every week and even lead the worship band. I pray before meals. I express gratitude for the beauty of every moment – whatever that beauty is. When I submit a piece, I pray the outcome achieves the highest good of all. I meditate before I write my blog posts – checking in with my gut to confirm the topic is right.

Seriously.

I do that even for social media posts.

As I write this out, I wonder if this is an unusual thing. I expect it is rare for people to do these things, but for me, I have to interact in the world this way. Everything I do is centered around my personal purpose – to spread compassion and empathy through my writing and speaking.

Alexis_fiction

I tried to write commercially. I tried to write solely to entertain. Instead, I wrote about gender dynamics, equality, and climate change. I tried to write freelance articles about tourist things and the like – I can't do it. My head starts to ache and I grow restless. I have the urge to throw my computer. 

My call is too strong to ignore. When I try to avoid it, something always brings me back. So I embraced it. Once I did, things started falling into place for me. I embraced the fact that I am a deeply spiritual human, and became open about it. I found myself supported in this, even from unexpected sources (like staunch Humanists).

My spirituality is generally implicit in my blog posts. It's implicit in my fiction pieces. While I can't separate my faith and practices from my work, I'm not interested in converting people to my particular way of being. That doesn't serve anyone. I just want people to love themselves and love others. I think that makes the world a better place, and ultimately, that's the highest good.

 

AlexisdonkinAlexis Donkin lives in Southern California with her family. She is a classically trained artist, with a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies and an MA in Global and International Studies. Between writing, speaking, and chasing her kid, she paints, sings, and dances. Sometimes Alexis does it all at once.

Connect with her here:     Twitter     Facebook     Pinterest     Blog


A Moth and Mortality: Flying Back from St. Louis on the Day of the Massacre

Jun 14, 2016

It seemed to rest there, on the windowsill.

This Sunday I flew back to Seattle from St. Louis, MO. About half way into my return flight, so two hours in, a moth fluttered up out of nowhere and beat its wings against my window glass, then came to rest on the sill. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was strange, watching a moth try to get out--where there was no getting out at all. 

I was still reeling from the breaking news about Orlando. 

Just two days before, someone close to me told me he believes that homosexuality is wrong, that Jesus said it is a sin for a man to lie down with a man. When I lived in St. Louis twenty years ago, I was a progressive student activist, and a fighter by nature. My intellect had been forged by the rigors of a Jesuit education, I knew what was what, I was out to save the world, and I'd acquired a silver tongue for debate. Back then, I would have Taken. Him. Down. And I have--over the years, we've had some shut-outs, let me tell you.

But these days I'm more interested in being happy than I am in being right. In our limited time during my visit, I didn't want to spend it arguing about politics. I try to approach such differences with patience and expansiveness. I knew I wasn't likely to change his mind, so I told him I couldn't disagree more but that I respected his right to his beliefs, as long as he didn't violate any laws. I thought it was interesting that he said that if he were a baker he would gladly bake a cake for a gay wedding, as that's business, but that he believes homosexuality is a choice, and the wrong one.

It's hard when someone you love seems to judge others for their love.

I couldn't help but think of our conversation when I read the first reports about Orlando. But on my own social forums, I was speechless. My silver tongue had no words. Then a good friend posted to his Facebook page something beautiful and sad and just right:

  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 5.11.20 PM

A few nights before that conversation about whether or not homosexuality is wrong, I'd had this strange experience while driving around St. Louis late at night. Like a panic or anxiety attack, I felt a sharp pain in my chest, and my hands went damp. These symptoms coincided with a very clear realization: That I would one day cease to exist. Now it could have been triggered by the heady experience of being back in a part of the country where I practically grew up, having lived there from junior high up through high school, college, and for six years of adulthood. I kept comparing everything to twenty years ago--the city itself, which has changed dramatically, my family members, my friends. I've changed a lot, too, and not just in my penchant for debate. But it wasn't just that. I felt the unfairness of mortality. While I have no regrets about the choices I've made, I think like most people I've spent too much of my life in anguish over being hurt, or angry at those who've done me wrong, or worrying that I'm not good enough or skinny enough or I'm not this or that. There is so much I want to do, and I don't want to waste any more time in a comparathon or with people who don't return back the energy I spend on them or in berating myself for failings, whether real or imagined. Because it could all be gone, the time I have left to do the things I need to do. Like Ernest says, in the flash of a disco ball.

Today I read through some of the bios of the Orlando victims, looked at pictures they'd posted to Facebook and elsewhere. They were all so young, so beautiful. Did they know it? Did they feel it? They stare at the camera, some of them, as if to say, Do you see me?

I assumed the moth was just resting there on the windowsill of my plane, and I looked forward to seeing it flit outside with all of us when we exited. I'd even considered ways of helping it find the front door. But then I saw that it was listing unnaturally, off to the side. Its antennae quivered, then stopped. When it died, it lost its hold on the sill--and fell.

My husband tells me that when the police stepped into the club, there was a cacophony of ring tones coming from the cell phones of the dead. All those loved ones on the other line. Are you there? Are you OK? Please tell me you're OK. Please. I love you.

I think of the yogi's words in a video I've practiced to for twenty years. "Love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need." Let's do that now, let go of everything we don't need. That's a lot these days, but look at what we'll have left.


My Stepson, the Rapper

Zar

We thought the kid would turn into a nerd like his parents, but he's following his own path. So I'm the proud but somewhat bewildered stepmother of a rapper.

He goes by the handle Zar, and as you can witness here at his SoundCloud page, he's got chops. I'm thrilled with his clever rhymes and smart poetics, like this:

But these flakes are

hurtin' me

ignorance from certainty

Let's face it

that's racist

fin to cop a bassist

Your girl be like basic

My aggressors are Asics

Get some cash and save it

Take a shot and chase it

--From "See Me"

I also like the way he's referencing and paying tribute to other rappers a few bars down:

My flow is raw though

Close to Diablo

It's like close to Picasso

Layered like tacos

His "flow" is his style, which is made up of his rhyme scheme and intonation. The last two lines reference a band called Nacho Picasso.

By the way, his passion for language and facility for lyrical rhyme gave him a love of Shakespeare, so I'm doubly happy. Zar knows the Bard was the rap star of his time. Rap is a real art form, and if you don't believe me, here's a great breakdown of rap innovations and progression over the past thirty years.

 

But yeah, as you can imagine, his passion for rap has raised some issues. He's (painfully) aware that, unlike many of the rap stars he idolizes, he's a white kid from the Seattle north side, with all the privilege that entails. All of his parents have had ongoing conversations with him about the sexist representations of women and glorification of drug culture and street life that are the genre's tropes, as well as the charges of cultural appropriation he might incur as a white rapper. 

I'm pretty happy to see him highlighting what distinguishes rappers from others in terms of stereotypes:

ZarTwitter

As for the drug stuff, yeah, that's been harder than you can imagine for us to stomach. For the record, the kid's totally clean, so his actual experiences of some of the things he raps about are strictly textbook. We're sort of at the mercy of the legalization of marijuana in Washington state on this one. Our beloved "Zar" will be a senior in high school this fall. Of course all the high school kids are obsessed with the whole phenomenon, even though they are not of legal age to partake, a point Zar's parents and grandparents have practically emblazoned on signs throughout our houses. It doesn't help that in Seattle the almighty weed is everywhere. When I was still working onsite for the company, I once saw a coworker light up a joint right after work, as soon as he got to our bus stop across the street. Dude, you couldn't even wait till you got home?

It's also common with creatives when first starting out that we often adopt the style of those we look up to, as the first stage toward developing our own voice. If you don't believe me, I'll show you my wanna-be Virginia Woolf journals from undergrad, with their stream-of-consciousness musings and overuse of the semicolon. Every male writer I knew back then tried to write his own version of Ulysses. When it wasn't Woolf for me it was Toni Morrison and Jamaica Kincaid. Like Zar looks to today's urban gods, I mimicked my own heroes. I keep telling myself--and my stepson--that his raps will progress into something else, maybe history or social issues! But you never know. Hip hop culture is what it is, and I'm no expert.

We try to give him some leeway. And all that said, it's incredibly exciting to see him grow and develop his talent. If you can get past all of the above, they're quite good. If you're into the music, and even if you think you're not, give Zar's tracks a listen. There are six here, some done in collaboration with others.


What I'm Reading: The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a brilliant premise for a novel, a game between Love and Death, two supernatural beings who can inhabit human form. The author, who loves games and has written for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit, pulls this off with an engaging drama that is both poignant and satisfying. Though the chapters are unusually short, the reader comes to read them as "moves" in the game. The game itself is riveting, the moves of both players almost never failing to surprise. Set in 1920s Seattle, this is also an historical novel, and Brockenbrough's recreation of the time and place seem deeply authentic. Both pawns in the game are heroes well worth rooting for, but darned if you don't end up caring about their crafty, strategizing players as well. A highly recommended read.

View all my reviews


My Presentation for the IDEA Summit at University of Florida

  IDEAS_Lisa

 

I finally had a chance to review my video from the IDEA Summit last month. To tell the truth, I find watching videos of myself to be a tough task, as I endlessly critique my performance, attire, physical appearance--you name it. There's also the truth that women who talk about games for women have been horribly harassed online. So I'll admit to some fear that being more visible as a woman in the industry making games for women will garner me the kind of attention I'd rather not receive. I hope that's not the case.

For the record: I've never been harassed about my game work, either in person or online. But I've also always worked in casual games, which means I've been working on games for families, or specifically for women, throughout the course of my eight-year career in the industry. In other words, I've never asked for changes to be made--or tried to change--the games being made for hardcore gaming audiences. The work I've done to help developers tailor their games to a female audience was by company directive, and in everyone's best interest, as it made the games sell. We always knew that if the games didn't sell, we'd all have to go home. So the work we did was tied directly to the bottom line and not due to a political objective, not that there's anything wrong with political objectives.

So that has likely insulated me, and I don't have much experience with that other world, outside of sometimes playing hardcore games myself or meeting people at the Game Development Conference. 

You can watch the video of my presentation here. All in all, I think I did all right. Most importantly, I loved the synergy between the students, faculty, and all conference presenters. The exchange of ideas and rich conversations will stay with me. I'm already looking for the next opportunity to participate in something like this, which I hope comes along soon.

I was also part of a panel discussion, along with a wide variety of people with varying expertise pertinent to entrepreneurship. This got spirited when the subject of sexism in the tech industry came up.

I'd be interested in hearing about your experience with games--both as a player, if you are one, or as someone who's stood outside the industry, looking in.


All It Takes Is a Red Door

Reddoor

On Saturday I went down to Salem, OR, for a book event with the Red Door Community. This informal network was founded in part by my husband's mother, A. Grace, who died several years ago. The members of the Red Door engage in spiritual retreats and activities together, volunteer in their community, and support each other in times of need. They were there to help Grace through the difficult process of dying, a constant, comforting presence and a source for the divine rituals she wanted at that time.

The gathering on Saturday was gracious and giving. I read from all three books, a particularly emotional activity in this case since my character Granny Grace was inspired by the woman they knew and loved. My books aren't autobiography, and the real A. Grace and Granny Grace aren't one and the same--but I think they would have been great friends. Granny Grace would surely have been an honorary member of the Red Door.

I'd asked those in attendance to bring stories about the outstanding women in their lives. I read to them this profile of Cheryl Sesnon, the latest winner of the Amazing Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40, who is the executive director of an organization that helps women transition out of homelessness. A few shared stories of great women, included their own Grace. But one woman brought up an excellent point: That sometimes the most outstanding thing a person can do is simply endure.

Her words struck a chord in me, as just that morning, I'd been thinking the same thing in relation to my own mother. She has not spearheaded organizations or won awards or been interviewed by the press. It's unfair to compare any two women anywhere, but I can see the greater challenges in my mother's life and honor the strength and perseverance she's had to endure so much. While our society is built to pour accolades on those who accomplish things in the measurable world, it's those who survive tough circumstances who often deserve the most recognition.

So this goes out to my mother, who pulls herself out of darkness time and again through her own faith and mettle. That deserves its own award.

 


‘Granny’ Award Winner No. 3: Cheryl Sesnon, An Expert in Getting You ‘Unstuck’

Sesnon_Cheryl_5x7_cweb_credit-Karissa Carlson,The Evergreen State College

Cheryl Sesnon. Photo by Karissa Carlson, The Evergreen State College.

Everything about Cheryl Sesnon screams success. At 58, she’s currently the executive director of Jubilee Women’s Center, a well-regarded, highly effective non-profit organization that helps women transition out of homelessness. Besides this Amazing Grace Award, she’s received a number of others: Harlequin’s “More Than Words” Award, the Aubrey Davis Award for Progressive Leadership, and Seattle University’s “Lead, Ignite Award,” just to name a few. And she was the leader behind FareStart’s legendary job training program, which boasted an 82% retention rate under her tenure and experienced explosive growth.

So it might seem surprising that Sesnon once thought of herself as doomed to a life of failure.   

At 24, she suffered from chronic depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. She was in an abusive relationship. She attempted suicide.

“I realized I needed to either commit to dying, or to living,” she says. “I felt hopeless, I was on a negative, destructive path, and I had no idea how to get out of it.” Sesnon remembers standing on the sidewalk and watching happy people walking by and thinking they were stupid, that they didn’t know how awful the world really was. 

To snap herself out of this bleak world view, she adopted the attitude that everything she assumed about the world was wrong and vowed to watch how happy, successful people lived their lives and learn from them. She got herself into therapy, took classes, and stopped feeding her anger toward the world. “It was coming from a place that was wired up wrong,” she says.

Now she considers herself an expert at how to get people to break out of the limiting patterns of their lives, and she clearly does so with compassion for how difficult change can be. “I understand being stuck in a certain way of thinking,” she explains. “It’s very real. You think it’s the way.” 

Sesnon’s positive rewiring was so complete that it forever altered her career path. Early on, she launched a successful catering business, but ultimately, the work felt unsatisfying. “We were spending money to make money,” she says. “There was a piece missing for me.”

She found her heart’s work in non-profits, but she doesn’t consider herself a “bleeding heart.” Rather, that work feels solid to her, substantive. “Jubilee is my dream-come-true,” she says. Now she works with women whose life circumstances have brought them to a place where they feel stuck and don’t know how to live differently. “To work with women and meet them at that place, it means the world to me.”

At the start of our interview, Sesnon shared with me that she’d recently beat breast cancer after a nearly yearlong process that included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. She describes this ordeal not in terms of her own struggles but for the remarkable experience of being cared for by others.

“I’m used to being on the service end,” she says. “I’ve never been on the receiving end of being surrounded by compassion and care. I felt so loved. Everyone—staff, residents, donors—were incredibly generous and supportive.”

Congratulations to Cheryl Sesnon for winning a ‘Granny,’ and may she continue to serve the women of Jubilee well with her talents and gifts.

About the Amazing Grace Award

The 'Granny' recognizes the outstanding achievements of women over 40. It’s named after the trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers Series, Amazing Grace, AKA Granny Grace, a seventysomething who solves crimes while pursuing her own spiritual path.

The first recipient of the award was indie writer Karen Nortman, 72, award-winning author of the Frannie Shoemaker mystery series. 

The second was Cherie Althauser, 65-year-old yoga teacher, volunteer, and spiritual devotee.

Winners are profiled at www.catintheflock.com and receive a modest award self-funded by me. 

A Note About My Involvement with Jubilee Women’s Center

I’m a Jubilee donor and have previously written about the organization for Seattle Woman.


They Picked Me Up in a Limo, and Other Car Stories

Limo

The chariot that awaited me: An early 90s-era limo that once served the White House.

While in D.C. this past week, I was the featured guest at a book event. Looking for my ride to the event that night, I stepped out of the hotel and scanned the drive-up for a vehicle befitting a middle-aged guy like my friend Brewster, the host. A fuel-efficient compact, perhaps. After all, I'd met Brewster when we were both interns in the arms control community back in '92. I completely ignored the stretch limo in front of me until a black-capped attendant popped out and said, "Lisa Brunette! Your ride is here!"

For the record, this has never happened to me before. I've never even been inside a limo. Seriously, not even for prom. In case you're wondering, my mode of conveyance then was an '80 Pontiac Grand Prix, fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.

But there was Brewster, ensconced with his fiancee Kate in one of the limo's rear-facing seats. It turned out the limo was his. The story goes that one day he went out looking for hub caps and came back with a limo instead. He'd taken Kate along to dissuade him from frivolous purchases, but she had encouraged this one.

Here's a rather blurry photo of me peeking out of it. My husband apologizes for his picture-taking skills, and since he has tremendous qualities in every other aspect of existence, we don't fault him for it. Unfortunately, though, this shot cost him his phone, which he dropped, shattering the screen.

Limopeek
 This is my limo face.

(I know, right? My hair is SO BLONDE. And if one more person says, "Your hair doesn't match your name," or something equally inane, I am going to dye it PINK. OK, not really.)

Another capped driver, Roger, squired us to the venue: A sort of compound of houses and garages on an acre of land just inside the Beltway. Several people live there in a community that frequently hosts events like my book reading. Brewster, whose last name really is "Thackeray," dubbed it 'Makepeace Manor.' The name has been printed on posters and pens.

It was a lovely crowd of about 20 all gathered around the Manor fireplace. I read from my poetry collection and both Dreamslippers novels and had a blast doing so. Because I like to make things interactive, I tapped into the group's energy, which was extraordinary and vibrant. We got into some really interesting discussions about dreams, lucid dreaming, and the edge between reality and dreaming. There was an epically long Q&A. I think I'm still there, in fact. These people asked great questions.

MPM_reading

Many of them are self-identified "burners," which is not a reference to Bernie Sanders (although a good number of them support him). It's from the "Burning Man" desert festival, which has apparently spawned smaller "burns" and burner communities all over the country. I have never actually been to Burning Man, but it's great to see people coming together for artistic collaboration and togetherness.

Incidentally, Brewster, who with five project cars filling the Makepeace Manor garage is just a bit of a gearhead, helped inspire Granny Grace's car Siddhartha from my Dreamslippers Series. Back when we stomped around D.C. together in '92, he took me for a spin in this little beaut:

Siddhartha

Of course, the above is a hardtop (sunroof), and Granny Grace's is a convertible. I loved the impracticality aspect of a convertible in a city that rains nine months out of the year, and I also have vivid memories of my father's convertible Fiat Spider, a car I'd hoped to inherit when I turned 16. But Dad traded it in for a Ford Escort just as I was taking my driving test. I could tell you that to add insult to injury the Escort was white, but I think a Ford Escort is enough injury, regardless of color. What is it that hippie folksinger Melanie used to sing? "White should be beautiful, but mostly it's not."

I'm grateful for the opportunity to introduce my work to the burners and share in their company for an evening. There's nothing better than old friends with old cars in an old town like D.C.!


What I'm Reading: Shanghai Redemption

Shanghai RedemptionShanghai Redemption by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and the author is a former colleague. I've read two other books in the Inspector Chen series and gave a manuscript critique/edit on Xiaolong's debut, Death of a Red Heroine. This is a wonderful continuation of Inspector Chen's career arc, providing a deeper, darker dive into China's Communist Party politics. The plot is subtle, complex, and as always, suffused with lovely, poetic moments. These come when the Inspector and his allies quote actual poetry, and they also occur in the author's gorgeous descriptive prose. I highly recommend this series as a unique and powerful intersection of contemporary Chinese politics, English and Chinese literature, and police procedural.

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What I'm Reading: A Case of Two Cities

A Case of Two Cities (Inspector Chen Cao #4)A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently reconnected with Qui Xiaolong after stumbling upon this book in a seaside bookstore. He and I worked together in the English department at St. Louis Community College in the 1990s, and I served as a "BETA reader" for his first book, Death of a Red Heroine, before that became a thing to do. As with that book, I appreciate very much the meshing of poetry and mystery in this one, which is unique in the crime genre. While A Case of Two Cities isn't a plot-driven page-turner, that's not why you should read it anyway. China is a compelling character of its own, and Qui offers a vivid, insider's glimpse into the country's transitional struggles. Inspector Chen's abiding hope that his honor and persistence will prevail within a corrupt and highly political system makes him by turns both sympathetic and tragic, his character compelling. And most notably, Qui's writing is some of the finest in the genre. His masterful send-up of a classic T.S. Eliot poem left me breathless, and the meditative subtleties of the writing often made me pause to savor the lines.

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