What Exactly Does Facebook “Friend” Mean? The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

WANAs at DFWWWCon

WANAs at DFWWWCon

What is a “friend?” That’s a good question. One of my personal peeves about The Modern Age, is that English is a very rich language and too often words are employed as a synonym when they aren’t. A HUGE bugaboo? A 13 year-old girl cannot be mature unless maybe she survived a concentration camp or other horrific events (and even then she could actually be emotionally stunted). Maturity only comes from life experience. She is too young to be mature.

The kid can be precocious, meaning she seems very adult-like. The danger in using these two words as synonyms is they AREN’T. Often a precocious child will be given more freedom than is age-appropriate or even handed burdens and responsibilities that are NOT age-appropriate.

For instance, I did most of the accounting, banking and bills by the age of twelve. I helped my mother get through nursing school, cleaned the house, packed the lunches and made the meals. A year earlier, my biggest concern had been scoring a Cabbage Patch for Christmas and where I put my favorite Barbie. Growing up happens quickly after divorce (especially a in home about as functional as the Jerry Springer Show).

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Anyway, my point is this. Words have POWER and we need to respect that. When I go onto LinkedIn? I don’t see the same camaraderie as Facebook, because they use the term “Connections” which keeps the psychic distance, well…distant. Also, people generally are talking about professional things, not necessarily posting pics of the new grand baby or their beautiful garden or failed attempt at a chocolate soufflé.

Same with Twitter. We have “followers.” Most people who are active on Twitter, unless you are part of a TRIBE like #MyWANA, conversations and ideas float past. We talk, chat, have fun. If someone is a flaming a$$clown, we block. We really aren’t vested in a tiny picture and a stream of 140 characters.

Facebook is different and I think that’s what makes it really powerful. Facebook uses the word “FRIEND.”

The Good 

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

What a WANA Coincidence! (Susie Lindau, Moi, Julie Hedlund, Piper Bayard)

I “friend” all kinds of people. Yes, I am a conservative gun-owning Christian but I have friends who are Wiccan, communists, socialists, liberal, gay, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, vegan, pagan, or even just plain weird or seriously normal (which scares me more because I am one of the weird ones).

What using the word FRIEND does is it humanizes and connects me emotionally to people very different than I am. Folks I might not have sought out as friends in person, namely because I’m an introvert.

Also, geography and not being a bazillionaire prevents me from traveling the globe making friends on other continents who possess other perspectives, ideas and opinions to enrich my own.

Facebook “friend” interaction makes people I might not philosophically agree with people. I see their cat pics, funny memes, love for Star Wars, the office they are proud they just finished painting…and I am part of their world. In fact, on Facebook, I have more “human” interaction than with people I know in person.

I have lived in the same house for five years. My neighbor finally asked me to housesit and feed the cats.

I didn’t even know she had cats.

Are they single and dig Ginger Guys?

Are they single and dig Ginger Guys?

I had no clue what her house looked like inside or even what other family members looked like until I stepped inside to fill food bowls and scoop litter boxes.

Facebook can be very personal and that is a GOOD thing. We need more of that. I have had some fantastic debates and discussions with people who are very unlike me and oddly, more often than not, we find out we really are a lot more alike that it might appear on the surface.

I’ve taken trips to hang out with people I met on-line. In turn, they’ve come to stay with me. I’ve gotten people jobs, helped them relocate, or even introduced them to other WANA Facebook peeps who might be in the area where they are moving so they have an instant group of friends in a new city.

My FACEBOOK friends have been there to offer emotional support through accidents, surgeries, death, support I could NOT get from family because they were just as distraught. I was not ALONE at two in the morning when Spawn was in emergency surgery after a terrible accident knocked his four front teeth up into the maxilla.

It was a FACEBOOK friend (and WANA) Rachel Funk Heller (a purple-haired liberal Flower Child) who stayed up talking to me to keep me awake when I was the lone caretaker after my sister-in-law had an excruciatingly painful surgery on both eyes. I COULD NOT go to sleep and miss giving Kim her pain meds. It was Rachel who kept me awake from Hawaii by making zombie jokes.

Facebook friends are as real as it can get. Yes, some are closer to me than others, but ALL are real and ALL are friends (to me).

And on the business side of things…

Connecting with people is the WANA Way for building an author platform. In a sea of endless choices we will default to who we “know” and like and these relationships can be critical to our success. If we hope people will buy our books or recommend them, the least we can do is consider then a friend for-reals.

The Bad

Original image via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Manuel W.

Original image via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Manuel W.

Using the word “friend” should mean something. Yet, often when someone does or says something hurtful or is on the opposite end of being hurt, I see things like, “Well, these are just Facebook friends, not ‘real’ friends.”

Thing is, that specific word elicits something in the human mind. It makes an association. X Person=Friend.

We have to be careful being dismissive of this (likely) subconscious phenomenon in others. It’s akin to using someone for a purpose (interaction, conversation, connection) then placing little or no value on that individual or their feelings. There are no consequences for being hurtful because the “Other” wasn’t ‘real’ anyway.

Though maybe this is a poor example, it’s like that one-night stand where one person thinks there is a relationship beginning and the other just had a great time and has moved on.

The Ugly

Meet the "Facelessbook Friends"

I HATE politics, religion and social issues being meme-ified, especially when they are hateful or negative. These are SUPER COMPLEX issues that just can’t be boiled down into a meme. Most of the time, these attack posts just evoke raw knee-jerk emotion for those on the other side.

No thoughtful debate comes from this, just hurt feelings and more division. I am adamantly opposed to ANY meme that makes ANY group the “Faceless Other.” It’s dangerous and is the beating heart of hate, bigotry, racism and on and on.

If we study history, that is DANGEROUS territory. When we can make another group less than human? Fill in the rest.

I’ve seen memes comparing all Christians to Westboro or the KKK. I’ve seen memes calling all Muslims rabid Jihadis. That is just moronic, unproductive and, bluntly? Cruel. I might not support or agree with a group, but I will not tolerate them being dehumanized.

***Westboro is the exception and they did it to themselves :P

Anyway…

I found myself on the bad end of this a couple days ago. A Facebook friend who I know and like, posted a meme essentially comparing Texans to Al-Qaeda Jihadis (and this wasn’t the POINT of the meme, but it was not a CLEAR meme).

And BOY did I have a PTSD moment. All I felt explode inside me was anger and hurt.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.49.05 PM

I was transported back to the moment my 6’6″ husband came home from drill and broke down in tears because he’d just been given orders to deploy to Afghanistan. All I felt was the six months of hell, the non-stop crying when I noticed EVERY cemetery, funeral home and gravestone maker in DFW. It was as if I’d been emotionally side-swiped (which I KNOW was NOT the intent of the person who posted and we made up and all is good.).

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.47.22 PM

This isn’t to say we need to be all happy-happy melba toast, but let’s be honest. Most of the time? We know “those” memes when we see them.

Some we might even agree with or find funny, but that doesn’t mean it’s good to publicly share. My challenge to all of us though is to simply take a moment to think before we share. There could be someone on the other side it could devastate, especially because the “attack” is coming from a “friend.”

A Better Approach?

Having been abused, I steer clear of any meme or article or video about child abuse unless it is something POSITIVE and empowering. For instance, this is BRILLIANT. It’s a sign using lenticular printing. Someone the size of an adult sees one version of the poster. Anyone the height of a child sees a way to reach out for help when they are in a high-risk situation (and ADULTS cannot SEE IT).

This is VERY different than posting graphic memes of little kids who’ve been victimized. Yes, I want to support something I believe in, but those on the other end aren’t subjected to something that might be traumatic. It’s also EMPOWERING. We don’t feel sucker punched by our feed.

If there is something graphic we might want to share, it’s better done in a link with a warning, so the person has a choice to go there or not. I even do this with funny stuff. I am generally PG-13 in all I post, but if there is a REALLY funny video, I will say, “Hey, adult language.”

We Can Change the World by Being POSITIVE

Susie Lindau, the bravest WANA of all bringing breast cancer awareness in her won Susie Style...

Susie Lindau, the bravest WANA of all bringing breast cancer awareness in her won Susie Style…

All of us have faiths, beliefs, ideas, etc. and we have a right to have them and be different. We have a right and a duty to be passionate about those beliefs. And guess what? I don’t have to agree with others and they don’t have to agree with me. And that’s OKAY. Anything else is a police state, which is the definition of un-fun.

We can all support our beliefs by being passionate about we love instead of bashing what we hate. Love is always more powerful anyway. When memes or links or whatever are non-threatening, people might pause to listen and maybe even see another point of view. We change minds by changing hearts.

But here’s the thing. A hardened heart needs to be softened to be remolded ;) . When we spout off attacks, all we do is build armor so thick the heart disappears and might even wither and die.

Facebook is a tool. How we USE it is our choice. Make people MORE human or render them faceless, heartless “things?” We have the power to decide.

We Need to Get Over Hurts

I know a lot of reflex options involve, “Report” or “Block” or “Unfriend.” You know what? I got over un-friending people who hurt me ONCE when I was about five. If someone hurts our feelings? Cry, dust off, then shake hands and go ride digital bikes. We need to be grown-ups. Now, this doesn’t mean if someone is relentlessly spewing hate and ad hominem attacks we have to tolerate that. We shouldn’t in life. Both extremes are BAD.

We all need to learn to make up and move on. Image via Wikimedia Commons

We all need to learn to make up and move on. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Hitting an Un-Friend button is a lazy shortcut that doesn’t repair relationships and leaves an open wound. Life is better when we are whole and when others are there to make us better than who we are alone.

What are your thoughts? Do you view Facebook friends as real friends? Maybe it is just my personality. If I SAY you are my friend, I MEAN it. I say what I mean and mean what I say. But maybe I am being childish.

Do you know your on-line friends better than people you know in person?

Have you ever been sucker-punched in your feed? Have you had posts you liked and then stopped yourself from posting because you were concerned you might unwittingly hurt someone? Do you seek out all kinds of friends? Or do you stay in the comfort zone? Why? And feel FREE to disagree just be nice or civil, please :D.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

SATURDAY is my  Antagonist Class  ( June 27th). Use WANA15 for $15 off. This class will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

For more help with your social media/author platform/author brand, please check out Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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76 Comments

Free Falling, Ground-Fighting & Learning to Start Over

Image courtesy of Morgan Sherwood via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Morgan Sherwood via Flickr Creative Commons.

Like all of you, okay most…all right maybe only one or two of you, I kinda wish I had a Delorian so I could go back in time and slap myself. So many things I have done wrong, and still do wrong. I swear sometimes it is a miracle I make it to bed in one piece. This is the great thing about WANA (which stands for We Are Not Alone). We’re a club…or probably a cult.

***Note: We don’t make you dance with snakes until your second third meeting.

WANA is about being smaller than yourself, thus making you greater than you could ever be. When we focus on others and loving others, life is bearable and even kinda awesome, because there are a LOT of un-awesome times we all have to go through. But what I always longed for WANA is it is our safe-haven where we know it is okay to cry, dust off and start anew.

Writing has, historically, been a lonely business and I started WANA because I knew what it was like to have a dream and no one be there.

I was mocked, hated, ridiculed and very, very lonely. And that was just the writing part. Here I was, struggling to do what others thought was a foolish hobby and then life used me like one of those punching clowns that all kids of the 70s got for their birthday that SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF THEM bobbing in the dark at night. The one you punched over and over and it popped back up…until it ate you in your sleep (or deflated).

WANA as a movement has made great strides, binding weirdos great creative people across the globe via a common love for writing. As a business? I’ve tried a lot of stuff and kind of feel like Wile E. Coyote, but am still here. Have some cool ideas in the pipeline, namely WANATeens. There are a lot of kids who suffer from having writer parents and have inherited this madness to combine words into something others might want to pay to READ.

HELP THE CHILDREN

I believe WANA is the best place to cultivate this budding talent, since we used to be those kids…scribbling away on stone tablets beating off Stegosauruses (Stegosaurusi?). I am creating some curriculum specifically for teenagers, since word on the street is that I have the mentality of a 14 year old boy, ergo am PERFECT for the job :D .

The crux of what I want to say is I have been down A LOT over the past months. Ever have one of those days weeks months years? I kid you NOT, we have had FIVE deaths, three major (MAJOR LIFE-THREATENING surgeries) in two years and my beloved grandmother is suffering dementia and has had two small strokes in the past month. I take care of her tomorrow.

On top of this, I FINALLY took a couple days off to get my head screwed on straight and we came home to water leaking through our living room ceiling from a clogged AC unit overflowing. Thank GOD we caught it before the ceiling caved in and the damage was eh…not catastrophic? W…T…H?

All this to say, please feel super sorry for me…wait, no. Um. All this to say LIFE STILL GOES ON. This is what WANA is about. All of us have good times and bad and the bad times can be very dangerous for artists because the first thing to go is the dream. We tend to put the dream on the shelf and dig in to fight the wildfires. But truth is? There will always be wildfires and WANA is here to remind you that you aren’t alone.

Even me. Maybe mostly me.

I love the moniker WANA Mama because it fits. I LOVE all of you and want all of you to realize your dreams. I KID YOU NOT, I sometimes wake up at night with ideas for YOUR novels (Antagonist Class). It’s a JOY to see these cool but amorphous, gelatinous ideas become….a NOVEL. A GOOD novel. A GREAT novel! It’s like being a literary midwife and helping all these cool babies be born into this world, each one with its own unique fingerprints and your DNA. Babies that we will love and maybe who will one day change the world.

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A Little Side-Story

Due to the freakish amount of stress, I finally made the plunge to go back into martial arts. Part of this was instigated by Spawn being fired from nursery school at AGE FOUR because he loved zombies too much (yes, I am NOT kidding and am framing the dismissal letter because that is SO my kid and will blog more on this later bur for the original rant, GO HERE). I’d always pondered homeschooling but it seemed this amorphous thing in the future that suddenly became the PRESENT.

AAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

So, I did what any (Texas) mother would do, I got pissed and put him in karate where they would appreciate his need to fight the undead and save the day. Long story short, I used to teach Jui-Jitsu and only quit because of a fractured back (was testing for my brown belt). I have been in martial arts on and off since age 5 and studied at least four forms of martial arts and never made it to BLACK BELT.  Which makes me twitch because I am OCD.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 9.17.03 PM

Anyway, I signed up for Brazilian Jui-Jitsu and guess who is a WHITE BELT ALL OVER AGAIN? And there was a time this would have bothered me and ruffled my ego BIG TIME, but now? Eh. Whatever. See, being successful has a lot to do with how well we can begin anew. How humble can we be? Can we let go of the old to embrace something new and maybe even better?

The true mark of a great person isn’t how big they can be, but how small they can be and still have joy.

See, I used to believe I was this uber-talented editor-writer and was so full of myself X-rays demonstrated I had a cranium up my own @$$. Then, I grew up and learned that small stuff matters. Beginning matters and it is OKAY to be NEW. In fact, that is the best time because it means someone is being BRAVE.

I do this Antagonist class and it is my FAVORITE, especially the Gold Level where I work with people one-on-one. And yeah it costs more, but trust me it is a LOT of work on both sides. But why I love it is because there is such a high rate of success.

Most of human history was based on being an artisan. You became an apprentice to a master who guided you. None of this throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks stuff.

Gry is one of my favorite examples. She was a student out of DENMARK and is 19 and brilliant. Anyway, she won the Gold Level from attending WANACon and came to me with this high fantasy that was so complicated it took three meetings (2 hours a piece) to even understand what the hell her story was about. Problem was she’d gotten bogged down with world-building and her core goal was fatally flawed. But, after several sessions, we peeled away the Literary Bond-O and she finally could see the story she originally wanted to tell…and had a viable log-line and PLOT. And her new and improved story ROCKS.

The hardest part? Letting go of all the other “stuff.” Her story was still in tact. This wasn’t a Kristen Lamb retread. It was the story she originally wanted to share, but didn’t understand how to construct. And the coolest part is the excited letters I get from her now that she “gets” the process. I am immensely proud of her and can’t wait to hear she has a book deal. She worked her tail off and I know it was heart-wrenching letting go of a lot of what she’d already done.

Been there.

***Note: That is actually one of the coolest parts of what I do. “My writer baby has a BOOK DEAL!” Even had a writer baby who now can put NYTBSA in front of her name ;) .

Anyway, a great editor takes your lump of shiny coal and chips and polishes until you have a diamond. A great teacher teaches you how to do this yourself.

Free Falling

One of my favorite Bible scriptures talks about how God will give us beauty for our ashes. Thing is, we have to let go of the ashes to get the beauty (which is VERY contrary to our nature). Maybe this is a book that we have been working on far too long. We need to let go, start over, or even let a pro look at it to show us how to reconstruct. Maybe it is an idea of who we were, that maybe we DON’T want to be in sales, telemarketing, ferret-grooming because we want to be a WRITER.

Maybe it’s realizing the public school is going to crush the joy out of your kid, so you now need to figure out how to not damage him permanently teach him from home…and still WRITE.

Change Your Thinking and Change Your LIFE

One of the weird things I’ve had to overcome in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is to reset my thinking. See, in Judo/Jui-Jitsu, being on bottom was generally BAD. It meant being pinned and GAME OVER. In Gracie, this is not the case. The person on bottom has just as much if not MORE power. And in Gracie, falling to the ground offers the best advantage. Watch any MMA tournament and many fighters have one goal, “DON’T GET ON THE GROUND OR IT IS OVER.” Why? Those skilled in ground-fighting know most people aren’t and they can dominate the game.

So when life throws you to the ground? Breathe. You’re a WANA. You got this ;).

I do want to hear from you guys!

Do you have kids who might like to become WANATeens? Some thoughts on classes? Have you ever had to scrape yourself off the pavement and try again….and again? TELLL us your WAR STORIES! We LOVE to hear the encouragement! Are you going through a rough time. too??? Ceiling fall in?I KNOW how you feel.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

TONIGHT is my First Five Pages Class  and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on June 27th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

For more help with your social media/author platform/author brand, please check out Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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45 Comments

Selling LOTS of Books and Why Bright Ideas Can Go BADLY

The Reliant Robin: Image via "Top Gear"

The Reliant Robin: Image via “Top Gear”

Writers must understand structure if they hope to be successful. Yes, it might take five years to finish the first novel, but if we land a three book deal, we don’t have 15 years to turn in our books. And the key to making money at this writing thing is we have to be able to write books…the more the better. If we can write GREAT books quickly? WINNING!

Understanding structure helps us become faster, cleaner, better writers.

Plotters tend to do better with structure, but even pantsers (those writers who write by the seat of their pants) NEED to understand structure or revisions will be HELL. Structure is one of those boring topics like finance or taxes. It isn’t nearly as glamorous as creating characters or reading about ways to unleash our creative energy.

Structure is probably one of the most overlooked topics, and yet it is the most critical. Why? Because structure is for the reader. The farther an author deviates from structure, the less likely the story will connect to a reader.

As an editor, I can tell in five minutes if an author understands narrative structure. Seriously.

Oh and I can hear the moaning and great gnashing of teeth. Trust me, I hear ya.

Structure can be tough to wrap your mind around and, to be blunt, most new writers don’t understand it. They rely on wordsmithery and hope they can bluff past people like me with their glorious prose. Yeah, no. Prose isn’t plot. We have to understand plot. That’s why I make learning this stuff simple, easy and best of all FUN.

And for those who’ve heard my clever stories before, just be polite and laugh and for the sake of the new kids.

Does Your Plot Have “Chemistry”?

Learning narrative structure ranks right up there with…memorizing the Periodic Table. Remember those days? Ah, high school chemistry. The funny thing about chemistry is that if you didn’t grasp the Periodic Table, then you simply would never do well in chemistry. Everything beyond Chapter One hinged on this fundamental step—understanding the Periodic Table.

Location, location, location.

Here's the Per--ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Here’s the Periodi–ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

See, the elements were a lot like the groups at high school. They all had their own parts of the “lunch room.” Metals on one part of the table, then the non-metals. Metals liked to date non-metals. They called themselves “The Ionics” thinking it sounded badass. Metals never dated other metals, but non-metals did date other non-metals. They were called “The Covalents” and liked to wear hemp and put flowers in their hair.

And then you had the neutral gases—The “Noble” Gases. The nerds of the Periodic Table. No one hung out with them. Ever. Okay, other nerds, but that was it.

Period.

All silliness aside, if you didn’t understand what element would likely hang out where and in what company, the rest of chemistry might as well have been Sanskrit….like it was for me the first three times I failed it.

Novel structure can be very similar. Today we’re going to cover some basics. We must understand basics before we ever worry about things like Aristotelian structure, turning points, rising action, and darkest moments, subtext, parallel timelines and where the heck we can buy a Flux Capacitor to go back in time and slap ourselves for spending five years on a seriously dumb plot idea (that seemed GENIUS at the time).

Often, structure is the stuff most new writers don’t understand, but I am going to save you a ton of rewrite and disappointment. Prose is not a novel. Just because we can write lovely vignettes doesn’t mean we have the necessary skills to write an 65-120,000 word novel.

When we lack a basic understanding of structure we have set ourselves up for a lot of wasted writing.

Ah, but understand the basics? And the potential variations are mind-boggling even if they are bound by rules, just like chemistry :D . Carbon chains can be charcoal, but they also can be frogs, ferrets and fluffernutter.

And BABIES!

And BABY SPAWN!

Now before you guys get the vapors and think I am boxing you into some rigid format that will ruin your creativity, that’s a lie. Boundaries, even loose ones, actually intensify creativity.

Don’t believe me? Watch any show about maximum security prisons. Those inmates are some of the most creative folks on the PLANET. Who knew a spoon could be so useful?

Anyway…

Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better.

Structure is about timing—where in the mix those elements go.

When you read a novel that isn’t quite grabbing you, the reason is probably structure. Even though it may have good characters, snappy dialogue, and intriguing settings, the story isn’t unfolding in the optimum fashion. ~James Scott Bell from Plot and Structure.

Structure has to do with the foundation and the building blocks, the carbon chains that are internal and never seen, but will hold and define what eventually will manifest on the outside—banana or butterfly? Paranormal Romance? Or WTH? Structure holds stories together and helps them make sense and flow in such a way so as to maximize the emotional impact by the end of the tale.

If an author understands the rules, then the possible combinations are limitless. Fail to understand the rules and we likely could end up with a novel that resembles that steamy pile of goo like from that scene in The Fly when Jeff Goldblum sends the baboon through the transporter but it doesn’t go so well for the baboon. The idea was sound, but the outcome a disaster…okay, I’ll stop. You get the idea.

Structure is important.

We are going to first put the novel under the electron microscope.

The Micro-Scale

The most fundamental basics of a novel are cause and effect. That is super basic. An entire novel can be broken down into cause-effect-cause-effect-cause-effect (Yes, even literary works). Cause and effect are like nucleus and electrons. They exist in relation to each other and need each other. All effects must have a cause and all causes eventually must have an effect (or a good explanation).

I know that in life random things happen and good people die for no reason. Yeah, well fiction ain’t life. If we wanted real LIFE, we wouldn’t read FICTION.

So if a character drops dead from a massive heart attack, that “seed” needed to be planted ahead of time. Villains don’t just have their heart explode because we need them to die so we can end our book.

Now, all these little causes and effects clump together to form the next two building blocks we will discuss—the scene & the sequel (per Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure). Many times these will clump together to form your “chapters.”

Cause and effect are like the carbon and the hydrogen. They bind together to form carbon chains. Carbon chains are what make up all living organisms. Like Leggos put together differently, but always using the same fundamental ingredients.

Carbon chains make up flowers and lettuce and fireflies and all things living, just like scenes and sequels form together in different ways to make up mysteries and romances, and thrillers and all things literary.

Structure’s two main components, as I said earlier, are the scene and the sequel.

The scene is a fundamental building block of fiction. It is physical. Something tangible is happening. The scene has three parts (again per Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure, which I recommend every writer buy and READ).

Statement of the goal
Introduction and development of conflict
Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster
Goal –> Conflict –> Disaster

The sequel is the other fundamental building block and is the emotional thread. The sequel often begins at the end of a scene when the viewpoint character has to process the unanticipated but logical disaster that happened at the end of your scene.

Emotion–> Thought–> Decision–> Action

Link scenes and sequels together and flesh over a narrative structure and you will have a novel that readers will enjoy.

Oh but Kristen you are hedging me in to this formulaic writing and I want to be creative!

Understanding structure is not formulaic writing. It is writing that makes sense on a fundamental level. On some intuitive level all readers expect some variation of this structure. Deviate too far and risk losing the reader by either boring her or confusing her.

This is where “literary-artsy writers” often chime in and want to bring up examples of how “Thus-and-Such won a Pulitzer by writing an Epic-Fantasy-Self-Help told only by using combinations of haiku and emoticons.” Fine. Go for it. I’m here to teach how to write a commercial product, which is something consumers want to…consume. Code for “buy.” Just because we are creating something commercial doesn’t mean it is less-than or “not” art.

One word…Ferrari. Has four wheels, doors in logical places, the steering wheel isn’t in the trunk and people pay BIG BIG MONEY to own one.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kosala Bandara

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kosala Bandara

Cars come in all sizes shapes and variations. The engine can be in the front, in the back, powered by sunlight. Cars can be one color or all colors or have a COOL WIZARD airbrushed on the sides. But, there are fundamentals that the Scion and the Lambourghini should share or it can go badly—“rules.” For a good laugh: Ten Bad Ideas That Seemed Good at the Time .

When we start getting clever for the sake of being clever? Our story can do this:

***WARNING: Do not drink liquids while watching.

Granted, to a small group of collectors and aficionados, these products are valuable. Heck, even that lampshade hat made of prime rib jerky Lady Gaga wears to award ceremonies cost a pretty penny, but most of us will stick to wearing a regular ball cap ;).

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Do any of you have tricks for plotting you would like to share?

I do want to hear from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

TOMORROW is my First Five Pages Class  and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on June 27th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

For more help with your social media/author platform/author brand, please check out Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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How to Tell if Your Story is On Target—What is Your Book About in ONE Sentence?

You missed….

You missed….

This past weekend, I indulged a little and we went to TWO movies. First, date night with Hubby. We saw Maleficient and it was AWESOME. Sunday, we wanted to take The Spawn to X-Men, but there wasn’t a convenient showing so we settled for the new Spiderman movie, or as I like to call it…The Movie That Would NOT END.

No spoiler alerts here other than save your money and go see Maleficient. The Spiderman movie was dreadful. I kept checking my watch.

The only saving grace is that Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey were really likable people. But the movie dragged on…and on…and yes, ON.

Characters are important. I don’t buy into the notion of character-driven or plot-driven stories. We need both. No one cares about the plot if we don’t care about the people. Conversely, we can care about the people, but PLOT is the crucible that drives change. A hero is only as strong as the problem he faces.

One can see that Spiderman 2 was in trouble simply by looking at the log-line from the IMDB:

Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of super villains against him, impacting his life.

What’s the GOAL? Where’s the ticking clock? What’s the hero supposed to accomplish? This log-line does an excellent job of telling precisely what this movie is about. Nothing, oh and everything. “Impacting his life?” Really?

O_o

The log-line tells us exactly what to expect. Instead of genuine dramatic tension, we’re served bad situation after bad situation to the point of tedium. Running a gauntlet is NOT interesting. It’s CGI indulgence.

Even The Spawn (Age FOUR) fell asleep.

Additionally, the movie revolved around Parker keeping Gwen safe. This is a passive goal. It’s like “containing Communism.” Doesn’t work and just drags on.

Back to the Log-Line 

Basically, we should be able to tell someone (an agent) what our story is about in one sentence. That is called the “log-line.” Log-lines are used in Hollywood to pitch movies. In fact, a book that should be in every writer’s library is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on screenwriting, but every writer can benefit enormously from Snyder’s teaching.

In the world of screenwriting there is a tenet, “Give me the same, but different.” This axiom still holds true when it comes to novels. Our story cannot go so far off the deep end that readers cannot relate, but yet our story needs to be different enough that people don’t just think it’s a bad retread. We as writers have to negotiate this fine balance of same but different, and that is no easy task.

Let’s look at components of a great log-line:

Great log-lines are short and clear. I cannot tell you how many writers I talk to and I ask, “What’s your book about?” and they take off rambling for the next ten minutes. Often why writers are so terrified of the pitch session is that they cannot clearly state what their book is about in three sentences or less.

Here’s a little insider information. When we cannot whittle our entire story into three sentences that is a clear sign to agents and editors that our story is structurally flawed. Not always, but more often than not. Your goal should be ONE sentence. What is your story about?

Elements of a Great Log-Line

A good log-line is ironic. Irony gets attention and hooks interest. Here’s an example:

The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.

What can be more ironic than a murderer having the power of healing? Think of the complex emotions that one sentence evokes, the moral complications that we just know are going to blossom out of the “seed idea.”

A good log-line is emotionally intriguing.

A good log-line tells the entire story. You can almost see the entire story play out in your head.

A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.

This is the log-line for Maleficient. It’s rich with emotion, complication and irony. In the protagonist’s anger she creates the story problem. How can she heal the kingdoms? We also get a glimpse of the character arc (vengeance to forgiveness?) and the goal (break the curse).

A good log-line will interest potential readers.

Good log-lines exude inherent conflict. Conflict is interesting. Blake Snyder talks about taking his log-line with him to Starbucks and asking strangers what they thought about his idea. This is a great exercise for your novel. Pitch to friends, family, and even total strangers and watch their reaction. Did their eyes glaze over? Did the smile seem polite or forced? If you can boil your book down into one sentence that generates excitement for the regular person, then you know you are on a solid path for your novel.

Yet, if your potential audience looks confused or bored or lost, then you know it is time to go back to the drawing board. But the good news is this; you just have to fix ONE sentence. You don’t have to go rewrite, revise a novel that is confusing, convoluted, boring, arcane, ridiculous, etc.

Think of your one sentence as your scale-model or your prototype. If the prototype doesn’t generate excitement and interest, it is unlikely the final product will succeed. So revise the prototype until you find something that gets the future audience genuinely excited.

You Have Your Log-Line. Now What?

Your log-line is the core idea of your story. This will be the beacon of light in the darkness so you always know where the shore is versus the open sea. This sentence will keep you grounded in the original story you wanted to tell and keep you from prancing down bunny trails.

****This is what I teach you how to do in my Antagonist Class. At the Gold Level, we work one-on-one until you have the one sentence DOWN and then plot from there, which is WAY easier with a solid log-line. Use WANA15 for $15 off.

The Fear Factor

Fear is probably the most common emotion shared by writers. The newer we are the more fear we will feel. A side-effect of fear is to emotionally distance from the source of our discomfort. The log-line will help you spot that emotional distancing and root it out early.

Is your log-line on target?

Is your log-line on target?

I’ve seen two behaviors in all my time working with writers. Either a writer will wander off down the daffodil trail because he is afraid he lacks the skills to tell the story laid out in the log-line, OR the writer will water down the log-line to begin with. Through future plotting the writer will realize hidden strength…then he can go revise the plotting or revise the log-line.

The best way to learn how to write log-lines is to go look at the IMDB. Look up your favorite movies and see how they are described. You can even look up movies that bombed and very often see the log-line was weak and the movie was doomed from the start. Look up movies similar to the story you are writing. Look up movies similar to the story you want to tell.

Solid novel log-lines will have 1) your protagonist 2) active verb 3) active goal 4) antagonist 5) stakes.

Here is a log-line I wrote for Michael Crichton’s Prey.

An out-of-work computer programmer (protagonist) must uncover (active verb) the secrets his wife is keeping in order to destroy (active goal) the nano-robotic threat (antagonist) to human-kind’s existence (stakes).

For this literary folks, here is a log-line for The Road.

In a post-apocalyptic Earth where every living thing but humans has died, a Man (protagonist) must travel cross-country with his son to the ocean (active goal) while battling organized, militant group of cannibals who hunt people (antagonist) and yet must still protect their sacred humanity in the face of certain death by starvation (stakes).

Plot Goal: Make it to the ocean Character Goal: If they resort to eating people they fail.

So here’s an exercise. See if you can state your novel in one sentence. It will not only help add clarity to your writing and keep you on track, but when it comes time to pitch an agent, you will be well-prepared and ready to knock it out of the park. Practice on your favorite movies and books. Work those log-line muscles!

What are your thoughts? Have you nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to get your story into one sentence? Have you used this log-line technique and discovered you had to change it and make it stronger? Did it save you needless revision?

I LOVE hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help with branding, blogging and social media, please check out my latest book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

My Antagonist Class is coming up. At the Gold Level, we work one-on-one until you have the one sentence DOWN and then plot from there. The beauty of this class is once you’ve been through this process, it will make you a faster, better leaner plotter in the future and will save SO MUCH rewrite. Use WANA15 for $15 off.

If you think you might need some professional help, I have my First Five Pages Class coming up. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Also there is a GOLD level. This is NOT line-edit. This is ripping apart your first pages and then SHOWING you how to fix the problems not only in the beginning of your book but throughout.

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Writer Victory!—Yearning, Empathy, & How Political Correctness is Killing Diversity in Literature

Edie didn't care the Johnny was the funniest looking puppy she'd ever seen.

Edie didn’t care the Johnny was the weirdest puppy she’d ever seen.

After deviating last week, today we tackle the final letter in our Writer Acrostic. Thus far, we’ve covered: V is for Voluntarily Submit. Anticipate trials and challenges and understand there is far more strength in bending than breaking. I was for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t fix what we fail to acknowledge. Our profession hinges on us writing better today than we did yesterday. C was for Change Your Mind. We can only achieve what we can first conceive. Make your mind and set it and keep it set.

T was for Turn Over our Future. When we let go of things we can’t control, we’re far more powerful to drive and direct that which we can. R was for Remember Writers are Magicians. This isn’t a hobby or “playtime.” Our society is only as evolved as the artists who drive the change. Show me a country without writers and I’ll show you a country doomed.

Y stands for Yearning. Natural talent has very little to do with being a great writer or a successful writer. We have to want the dream. I can teach you guys structure, technique, POV, etc. but I can’t do the work for you. You have to want it.

Over Memorial Day, Hubby and I watched Lone Survivor. There was a really neat quote in the intro: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.”

A Writer’s Work is Never Done

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Benjamin Watson.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Benjamin Watson.

Unless I’m sleeping, I’m always on the job. Even then, y’all should be privy to some of my dreams. Since my fiction involves a lot of complex science, it’s not uncommon for me to bolt up in the middle of the night with an A-HA! I make a joke that I do my best work while sleeping.

One of the reasons I tell writers NOT to start a writing blog is that teaching writing and writing are two completely different skill sets. Writers are not necessarily good teachers. In fact, I will go so far as to say some of the most brilliant authors I’ve ever met were dreadful teachers.

I remember being at Thrillerfest and one of the mega-authors (who I won’t name) had somehow been coaxed into teaching a class. This was a writer I…worshipped. BRILLIANT man.

I battled for a spot right in the center so I could take notes and learn all I could. The poor author, though? I was waiting for him to chew off his own leg to escape. He kept saying things like, “Well, I don’t know how I do it. I just…do it.” *looks at watch* *looks for fire exit*

Writers (novelists) are not all craft teachers and that’s fine. Readers won’t care about plot or dialogue unless we screw it up. What WE are experts at and what we should be experts at is storytelling. Paying attention to life. We explore questions regular people might not even know they have. They just have this deep dark niggling they can’t articulate. We see what others miss. We make the seemingly trivial relevant. We pay CLOSE attention.

I don’t think it’s an accident that science and art use many of the same parts of the brain. In ways, writers are scientists. We extend the logic.

We ask things like, “What would happen if the government was allowed to completely rule our lives?” “What would happen if suddenly an alien race ‘answered’ all these messages we are sending out?” “Could humans keep their humanity in a world with no food source other than other people?” “How would a Muslim girl cope with trying to balance two vastly different cultures?”

I have been devouring John Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. It has been immensely popular with young boys and male teens, the toughest demographic to get to read. This has inspired me. After I finish the novel I’m working on, I want to write a YA series for boys using two of my son’s favorite things to talk about—zombies and dinosaurs. I want to pen books my son will love.

Talk about a brain-bender. How can I get zombies and dinosaurs in the same book without it being the stuff of Sharknado? What diseases can I use? What disease might affect humans and yet affect reptiles differently? Is it an engineered bioweapon? What timeline should I use? How does the disease work?

Maybe incorporate time-travel? Perhaps unknowingly infected scientists go back to the Jurassic Period to explore and are made into snack food. Infects dinosaurs and immediately alters current timeline for those in the future. Humans now face a two-front war. Bio-weapon has unleashed hoards of the undead and suddenly creatures that should have been dead are very much alive.

How would this affect our world? What would be the bigger “human” question?

I have a log-line:

Borders and beliefs no longer matter. Humanity is now facing extinction from the extinct and the undead.

Maybe it’s lame. Maybe not. The puzzle is what keeps the yearning in me alive. It’s a challenge.

Yearning is vital. It’s what makes us do the stuff we might not like (I.e. branding and social media). Yearning challenges us to grow where we are weak. Yearning keeps us going even when others think we are nuts. Yearning asks WHY, even if the question goes nowhere or the answers are uncomfortable.

Yearning Leads to Understanding

It's good to walk in shoes that aren't ours….

It’s good to walk in shoes that aren’t ours….

After my post The Disease of Self-Importance—Can We Find a Cure? Jami Gold wrote a fabulous follow-up piece about how PC could endanger diversity in books. If we allow PC to reign, will it discourage authors from writing about a diverse mix of characters? I believe yearning is what makes us good at writing other characters.

***And PC kills yearning because it makes us afraid to just talk to each other and ask questions out of fear of “offending” someone and being labeled a racist. My POV.

I have a confession. Y’all ready for it?

I have never been a dinosaur.

Now, don’t tell AARP that or the folks sending me coupons for hearing aids and information on prepaid funerals (I AM ONLY 40!). But, I might make the dinosaurs sentient in my book. I’d have to use empathy to imagine what it would be like to have the brain the size of a walnut (might call Congress for tips :D ).

I’ve also never been SHOT and hope it stays that way. But I have written characters who’ve been shot.

I believe yearning is often what makes us good at writing characters unlike ourselves. I know my male characters are almost ALWAYS better than my female characters. Why? As a chick I take too much for granted. Since I’m 99% sure I’m not a man (or a dinosaur), I pay attention to mannerisms, speech, beliefs, etc.

Same with characters of different racial groups. Years ago, I wrote a novel that won a major award and the BEST character was an African American female. Last I checked? I’m still white.

I’ve won awards on three short stories with protagonists vastly different from me. One was from the perspective of a suicidal middle-aged white male and the other two were love stories from the POV of the elderly WWII generation.

Great writers must have empathy. The stronger the empathy the better. Just like we don’t have to be kidnapped and beaten to be able to write about it, I don’t feel we need to be another race, religion, orientation to write those characters. In fact, if we can’t write characters who aren’t us, we’re in BIG trouble.

Yearning fuels empathy. Empathy leads to appreciation and understanding. We yearn to understand the perspective of another. This is why diverse characters and diverse books are so vital. Rot and Ruin was from the perspective of a young teenage boy, and because I could spend time in that unfamiliar head, the book gave me new insight of how to be a better mother to my son. Maberry highlighted areas that a boy needed that a mom might not be aware of.

Yearning is the fire that fuels the passion and the progress.

What are your thoughts? Do you have to read books or attend conferences to reignite your yearning? Are you always on the job, too? Hubby has forbidden me from speaking during movies. Do you like coming up with insane story ideas and seeing if you can make it plausible without being ridiculous? Do you write characters who are different from you? Do you have the same experience? That maybe the characters unlike you are actually stronger? Do you think PC is anathema to diversity in literature? Maybe makes writers afraid to explore and thus leaves only the stereotypes and tropes (ironically fueling more misunderstanding)?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Note: I’ve just gotten over a nasty bout of bronchitis, so will announce May’s winner later this week.

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Upcoming Classes:

I am running my First Five Pages Class on June 20th. The first five pages are essential and often symptomatic of bigger weaknesses in the book. Hook hard and hook early. For those who want a DETAILED critique of the first five pages, I offer the Gold Level. This is WAY more than simple line-edit and is a thorough analysis of your writing. Use WANA15 for $15 off.

Also running my Antagonist Class. This will teach you how to make sure your core story problem is as strong as it can be and also how to generate tension on every page. Will teach you to become a master plotter and FAST. Excellent class for anyone wanting to write multiple books a year or even series. Again, use WANA15 for $15 off.

I also offer the Gold level for this, which is one-on-one time with me. Clear up a confusing plot, fix a weak plot, plot a series. I am here to help.

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The Disease of Self-Importance—Can We Find a Cure?

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

Jester Baby from Scarborough Faire

After blogging about the new terrifying trend of Empathetic Correctness, I figure I’ll go for broke this week after running across a Yahoo News article Is America Starting to Target Thought Crime?

First, a little bit of history. In the days when monarchies were all the rage, there was one very powerful position some might not be aware of…the court jester. Every ruler had at least one jester and the jester was allowed to mock, poke fun and joke about those in power without repercussions.

The role of the jester was to offer honesty and perspective. Monarchs knew that being surrounded by too many Yes Men who feared reprisal was unwise and dangerous. The jester’s job was to ground rulers and keep them from getting too full of themselves.

I’ve been blessed to travel more than most people ever will, and not all my destinations were nice places. One thing every police state has in common is that no one has a sense of humor. Even innocent comments can be twisted into something dangerous because one is in a world where everyone is jockeying for even the slightest wedge of importance, even when it means bending the truth. Those closest can become “whistle-blowers” against crimes imagined or real. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Charlie Chaplin. Image vie Wikimedia Commons

Charlie Chaplin. Image vie Wikimedia Commons

Public Pool Politics

Sadly, I’ve been at the other end of this. I love to laugh and relish in making others smile. Put me in a room and I’ll have them in stitches in less than five minutes. My teaching style has been compared to “If Robin Williams taught writing.” When I was a kid I studied every comedic act down to the timing and tone of voice.

In 1999 I traveled with my best friend to live in a Palestinian refugee camp. Since my Arabic was less than stellar, it was tough. Syria, like all places, has its beauty. I loved the food and people and believed I’d made some friends. One day, my guides took me to enjoy some recreation at the women’s pool where the hijab can be set aside to splash around and let loose. Being the only blonde many of these women had ever seen off a television, I was soon surrounded by eager friendly faces asking questions about my home, wanting to know about Texas and if I had a job.

In my broken Arabic I made jokes and got them to laugh. We parted ways and I was happy as a clam. The next day, my hosts warned me that it was too dangerous to return to the pool and to stay away. Apparently, one of the women had spread through the camp that I was talking smack about Assad Sr. (the ruling dictator of the time).

Errr?

I’d never even mentioned Assad. Yes, I was a naive Westerner but I wasn’t THAT stupid. My last weeks there were pretty scary and I’ve never been so relieved to be on a plane.

One pivotal lesson I took away from this experience is that a nation is only as free as its sense of humor. When innocent remarks, observations or disagreements can be used against us? This is a MAJOR warning we are no longer in a free country. When certain groups are immune from criticism, jest or commentary? Houston, we have a problem.

The PC and EC Divide

I know the original purpose of political correctness was well-intended. I’m sure EC (empathetic correctness) has good intentions as well. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I was a child of the 70s and 80s and often think it was a really golden time to grow up. My best friend from the age of six was an Egyptian Muslim (and we are still friends almost thirty years later).

Our neighborhood gang consisted of Charo (Mexican), Ngyuen (Vietnamese), and Regina (African American), Veenah (Indian), Cathy (Jewish), Elizabeth (Mexican), and Erica (Choctaw)…and none of us were aware of that.

We were friends who karate fought in the yard because Ngyuen was Asian and so he was supposed to be a Kung Fu master, right? Veenah helped with science and Charo taught us soccer, because Indians were smart and Mexicans were good at soccer. Regina made us laugh because she was black and loud and fun and could Double Dutch so well we were sure she was a cyborg. Erica could decorate our hair with feathers and we could play Navy SEAL Indian Princess. Cathy declined to join us for Vacation Bible School because she was going to Jewish Camp (and we never understood why we couldn’t go to Jewish camp because the Jewish pool was AWESOME).

And all of this is racist and utterly politically incorrect.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stephen Depolo.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stephen Depolo.

We never knew we might offend Charo by asking him to teach us to bounce a soccer ball on our knee. We never realized how we might damage Ngyuen by assuming he’d trained in a Shaolin temple and that we didn’t even have the right country. I didn’t know I should have been ashamed to play Indian Princess with Erica or that I might hurt Regina by offering to share a slice of summer watermelon. I should have been aware that I might harm Veenah by asking for her help with my science project. In high school, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked my best friend and date to the Senior Prom, Donnie (gay), for fashion advice.

I was blissfully uneducated about how offensive I was.

We just loved each other, grew up loving each other and still love each other. Gihan (my Muslim friend) and I are still BFFs. I just had dinner with Charo and other pals a couple weeks ago. Erica invites me to birthday parties for her children. I was Ngyuen’s prom date when I was a junior and we only lost touch when he joined the Marines. I still go by his father’s house when I’m in the area even though his English hasn’t really improved since 1983…but he still loves me. Donnie and I talk long into the night when he isn’t exploring the world.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Loyal, Friendly, Resilient MUTT

We grew up in an America of Mutts. I’m not saying that everything was roses and unicorn kisses, but we were American and America was stronger because we could blend all these cultures and races together. Children had this strange appreciation that we all bled the same color when we fell off the monkey bars. We cared less about the color of your skin and more about the color of your bike. They have RED????

We could tell the difference between a joke in love and someone being a racist bigot and Lord help the kid who crossed that line.

We were kids who wanted to roller-skate and who constructed ramps, guns, and swords out of every discarded piece of wood. In the glow of a streetlight everyone was pretty much the same color.

Bullfrogs ran from all of us.

No One’s Laughing

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

These days, I find myself less prone to joke or make conversation with others of a different ethnicity or culture because, bluntly, it’s exhausting and I always seem to screw it up. I find myself hedging everything I say, backpedaling, and struggling to remember my proper and approved PC vocabulary.

I once was trying to be polite when I referred to someone as Hispanic…only to be razed for the next half hour how this person was from Argentina and NOT Hispanic and I was a jerk for not knowing this. I referred to someone as African American only to get my tail handed to me that this person was from Jamaica and didn’t like that term and it figured a white girl would be so insensitive.

If someone is mixed race? *breaks down weeping*

When others make comments about me being a racist simply because I’m white and I point out that I actually have probably the most diverse group of friends anyone could ask for…well that’s precisely what a racist would say: “I have black friends.” But *stammering* I do have black, I mean African American I mean…oh, hell I give up.

This Affects ALL of U.S.

This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to “white people,” either. I remember my husband coming home from work distraught. He worked in Corporate America at the time. One of his team members was Mexican (as in her parents immigrated from Mexico and happily embraced the American Dream). Well, on Cinco de Mayo a fellow employee (also Mexican) asked her if she was going out to celebrate with “her people.” She gave him a genuinely confused look and said, “Huh? My people? I’m American.”

The next day she was being written up by Human Resources for being culturally insensitive. Her coworker found her offensive and turned her in. My husband was having to write out her defense. A MEXICAN female was in trouble for not being Mexican enough?

How does this make any SENSE?

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 8.44.37 AM

The real crisis in the country is we are laughing less and less. Everyone is special and fragile and needs to be handled with care. PC was to make us more sensitive and BOY did it work. Our nation has the skin of a grape. Self-importance is taking over like a malignant cancer. We walk on eggshells to avoid “offending” someone. We no longer can make mistakes. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

For anyone reading this who is a “person of color” please try and talk to a “white” person. They probably aren’t a racist, they’re simply terrified they’ll say something stupid.

And if we do say something stupid, just forgive us.

I AM the Reason for Many Blonde Jokes

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

As much as I read about theoretical physics, math, politics, economics, I can be…well, an idiot. I drove my Honda for three years and all the while heard this weird whistling that I couldn’t get rid of. One night, I’m in a drive thru line and accidentally hit a button near the steering wheel and discovered my car had a sunroof *head desk*. This past spring I was in Tuscon and couldn’t get in the back door of my hotel no matter how many ways I laid my electronic key on the metal pad. I assumed my key was broken and kept asking for new keys. Then I returned from dinner with Piper Bayard and her daughter (a brunette) opened the metal BOX and inserted the key. I once accidentally drove to MISSOURI.

Kill me now and keep me from breeding.

Just leaving all of this to say we need to laugh more. The world is amazing and fun but we have got to lighten UP. Yes, seek out legitimate injustice and crush it. I’ll be here for help if you need.

Maybe we should all go outside and catch lightning bugs and make the longest Slip-And-Slide EVER. I get my lawn bags from Costco, so maybe we could make it reach DC ;).

I love all of you and thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts and stories. I am a better person every day because of you. And know I was scared to write about this and that should speak volumes in itself. But, I miss just being a kid. I don’t want to be an adult anymore.

But…if anyone reading this is an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jew, can we be friends? I don’t have an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jewish friend. Yes, you can dress me up but you can’t take me anywhere :D .

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you, unless you have no sense of humor. Then might I recommend posting on AT&Ts Facebook page…

What are you? I’m a Scandinavian-Scottish-French-Huegenot-Sami-Cherokee. ADD THAT to your diversity portfolio!

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163 Comments

Something Wicked This Way Comes & Why Writers Could Be in Great Danger

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.

What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.

Trying is all that matters.

Deep.

Deep. Never mind the TYPO. The person “tried.”

We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.

We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”

In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?

I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.

Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.

The Culture of “Special”

Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.

But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?

Showing up is the basest of requirements.

What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.

If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.

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In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.

*head desk*

I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Scarlet LetterThe Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.

But isn’t that the point?

My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.

I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.

It was meant to be.

The High Cost of “Higher” Education

Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.

That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.

When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).

My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.

I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.

Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.

And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?

As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:

Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?

Writer Beware

I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?

Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.

I’m not laughing.

And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.

My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.

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Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.

What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?

We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them. 

I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label ;) . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.

But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?

What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.

What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

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261 Comments

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