Does Fiction Matter? Fiction, Fantasy & Social Change

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

We had a very lively and interesting debate over the 50 Shades cultural “phenomena” on Friday. I’m deeply grateful for all those commenters who posted such thoughtful opinions, even those who didn’t agree with me. I actually am not afraid of people disagreeing with me andhave zero interest in my blog simply being an ideological echo chamber.

Yet, there are a few things I’ve “heard” in the comments or even on Facebook which leave me flummoxed and I believe these assertions call for a closer examination.

It’s ONLY a Story. It is FICTION. JUST a FANTASY.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

One argument that baffled me was this idea that 50 Shades is just a book and only fantasy. I do not begrudge James her success nor am I lambasting anyone who likes the books. To each, his or her own. I never called for banning, burning or censoring.

Since I never read the book in totality, I never left a review. I also didn’t review the film because I am not a reviewer. I never commented on the quality of the prose, film, actors etc. etc. only the message.

And, as an abuse survivor and someone who has spent years working with battered women? I feel my opinion is more educated than, perhaps, many who finished the books. Grey exhibits all signs of a sociopath by Chapter Three (which is right about when I quit reading). More on sociopathy HERE.

I didn’t want to go there. Lived it. Don’t need to read it. I’ve also read many novels and watched many movies I would not recommend because I had to put down the book thirty pages in or walk out of the film in the first half hour.

In my opinion, that is as viable of an opinion as someone who gutted through all 90 minutes of Showgirls to know it was crap.

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***If I were a reviewer then it would be my professional duty to formulate an opinion based on the entire body of work…because that would be my JOB.

Yet, the reason I did feel a need to discuss this work is because it has gone beyond being a book and has become a cultural force. With over 100 million legitimate copies in circulation (not counting for borrowed copies from friends and libraries, pirated copies or used purchases) that many books will make a societal impact by sheer volume.

It’s the equivalent of a literary comet strike.

Add in a possible hit movie? Could be an extinction event.

THIS was when I felt it necessary to step in and state my analysis and at least posit the hard questions.

Fiction is NEVER JUST a Story

Hubby. Sigh.

To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?

To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.

It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).

During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.

Neil Postman, in his book “The Disappearance of Childhood” cites one of the first legal cases where an adult was censured for hurting a child. It was a woman who gathered orphans and fed them, but put out their eyes with knitting needles then planted them on the street to beg. Apparently, blind kids made more money.

When the woman was finally brought to court, she was not punished for cruelty, rather fined for “destruction of property.” In fact, animal rights organizations had been established a good ten years before anyone thought children might require similar protection.

A Christmas Carol was one of the many literary works that led to society establishing legal protection for children, which didn’t exist until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Oops, Did I Do THAT?

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Sometimes the author even misses the mark. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to highlight wage slavery and the horrific treatment of immigrants in the Chicago meat-packing industry. The story, however, had a very different impact than the author intended.

Readers were horrified about the conditions of the FOOD. Public outrage and political pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry, which was renamed the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

Sinclair later bemoaned that his work had ended up helping the very institutions he’d rightly demonized and issued that famous quote in the October, 1906 Cosmopolitan Magazine—“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Thus for us to say that fiction is only fantasy is to say that “Red Badge of Courage,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and others are equally fantastical and benign.

And before anyone says, “Well, E.L. James is certainly NOT a literary master and no one will hail this work as a classic” we are wise to appreciate a couple factors.

First, what we today view as a classic was often mass market pop fiction of its time. It’s often only in retrospect that we can witness how a novel, a play, a movie, a whatever, shifted the trajectory of a culture. Secondly, “literary classics” aren’t the only transformative works.

Pop Culture

WOMEN on the BRIDGE? An AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN on the BRIDGE?

WOMEN on the BRIDGE? An AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN on the BRIDGE?

Star Trek only ran three seasons before being canceled in 1969, and yet I feel it did more to impact race relations and redefine women’s roles than any piece of legislation. Though as Trekkie, I FEEL Star Trek a classic, I have yet to see it on any syllabus at a university.

Additionally, Horror was once an extremely popular genre, giving us such classic tales as Frankenstein (which greatly impacted science) and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau where Moreau crafts humanoid-animal chimeras via vivisection. Yet, The Island of Dr. Moreau also addressed deeper issues of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility and scientific tampering with nature. It was instrumental in forming our modern scientific standards of ethics.

But, one movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre redefined what the public viewed as “horror” and almost single-handedly laid waste to the genre.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Granted, there were probably slasher flicks like this before TSM, much like there were rape fantasy books before FSoG. But THIS one was the one that HIT and served to alter the genre.

Soon, there were no longer “Horror” sections in bookstores because the silver screen gore porn (and public demand for these movies) had tainted the genre.

Horror stories then had to be hidden under such categories as Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, etc. so that these works could distance from the stain left from the plethora of slasher films that became so popular after Vietnam. Horror, as a genre, has never fully recovered since “horror stories” are too often held up next to Saw Part 15 or Friday the 13th Part 26.

How did this happen?

Follow the Money

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If no one bothered with the early slasher flicks, Hollywood would have never bothered making more. They also wouldn’t have felt the need to keep upping the ante with every movie. More blood, guts, and shock. Soon we were anesthetized to suffering because it became all too common.

And, before anyone laughs, remember those early bad 50s horror movies scared the bejeezus out of people. Now? We laugh at giant spider puppets that, at one time, had people fleeing from the theater to calm down.

Tarzan was criticized because Tarzan and Jane were living in the jungle together without being married ;) . Today, audiences would laugh at such a puritanical notion. Just watch HBO for an hour and tell me times haven’t changed.

But It’s So PRETTY, How Can it Be BAD?

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How could it be harmful? Often some of the most dangerous substances don’t show consequences until later. It reminds me of the Radium Girls who painted watch dials with radioactive paint during WWI. The glowing paint was pretty and harmless and “cool.” Their employer told them they could just lick the end of their brushes as they worked, so surely it was harmless.

Right?

The women, thinking radium was safe, painted their nails and faces so they could glow in dark for their men at home. And they all died slow horrible deaths years later.

Ideas (books) can act similarly. They can seem no big deal until they are. AGAIN, I am NOT for censorship, only critical thinking. Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care ;) .

The Coming Generation

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

As I stated in the last post, my concern is less for the older reader and more for the youth who will go see the movie. I am a social media expert and we have an entirely new generation that is completely immersed in multimedia.

Young people have all the impulses, hormones and emotions of an adult, but lack maturity, experience and a fully developed frontal cortex that governs critical thinking and discernment. They have a far more difficult time separating fantasy and reality.

Young people do a LOT of dumb stuff. Hey, I did. And as a teen I argued with my mother that Me So Horny was “just a song” and now as an adult, I can see why she sat down and had a LONG talk with me.

Teens or even tweens don’t see that sexting can come back to bite or that pic in lingerie on Tumblr might affect them getting into college.

My bigger concern is that, when we package sociopathy as “romance”? Sadists as Alpha male heroes? That is a confusing message (and a dangerous one) for everyone, but most especially for those still forming opinions and identities. In fact, I probably would have had NO problem with FSoG had it been in the genre of psychological thriller or horror. But slap “ROMANCE” on it? Whole ‘notha’ ballgame.

The Bottom Line

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Read what you want to. Watch what you want to. I have an opinion, you have one. I’m never for censorship, EVER. But, I feel we have to at least own what we are doing as consumers, but most especially as writers. We cannot be Janus-faced over this. Either fiction is vital and transformative and matters…or it doesn’t.

History has proven we have almost no control over what will shape culture or even how it will shape it as The Jungle illustrates. We also have almost zero control over what will be considered a classic in fifty or a hundred years.

And if fiction is ONLY a story and has no power, then why should we care about literacy, libraries and freedom of speech? If fiction is only fantasy and doesn’t impact the world? Why bother? Why does it matter?

Food for thought ;) .

What do you guys think? And again, I have no problem if anyone disagrees so long as we remain polite. Do you feel we can have our cake and eat it too? That as a culture we can contain the genie? Or do we have to choose? Either fiction is powerful or it isn’t? And if fiction doesn’t change the world, then why are we even doing this job?

Do you hope your characters and stories will create a better world? Challenge ideas? Reinforce what you think is good and noble? Topple what should be done away with? Do you think (as I do) that many people are unaware how powerful writers and artists actually are? That maybe even some writers fail to appreciate the influence they could one day wield?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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122 Comments

Is Romance Devolving?—50 Shades vs. No One Puts Baby in a Corner

Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.

Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.

I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to go here, but alas, here we are. Today, 50 Shades of Grey the MOVIE will open for…*record screech* Valentine’s Day. Nothing says I love you like predatory emotional manipulation, sociopathy, abuse and non-consensual sex acts.

Find THAT on a Hallmark card.

And yes, I know there have been other kinky books like this, but 50 Shades sold over 100 million copies and the movie (despite ZERO plot) is expected to gross in excess of $60 million which means I just threw up a little in my mouth this “story” has tipped from fringe to mainstream and that scares me more than a little bit.

No, I didn’t read the book. I don’t need to. Nor do I need to watch gang-rape prison porn to know it probably is unhealthy for the future of women (or even men). Guess what? I didn’t have to eat the chicken I forgot in my fridge to know it would probably make me sick.

Some stuff just stinks and that should be enough to warn us away.

And I’ve debated even blogging about this because I try to make it a policy to never talk badly about any story or book. I also hate EVEN MORE attention given to this crap than it’s already garnered, but my conscience won’t let me remain silent. We are playing with fire.

Redefining the POWERFUL Man

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

I watched the trailer and instantly felt the bad juju *Spidey senses go NUTSO*.

Grey doesn’t choose Ana because she is a confident, assured woman who can emotionally handle this sort of contract, um relationship, um abus…ok, hell I got nothing. A confident woman would have told him where to put his private jet.

What gets me is he sees a woman girl who clearly already has a low opinion of herself and he pounces. Wow, sounds like the beginning stages of a relationship that is going to end with a body bag, jail or at least a restraining order. He smells blood in the water and goes for it, wanting to dominate a woman who, frankly, is just looking for “love.”

And this is my old curmudgeon self coming out. HOW is that a powerful man?

I know they give him all the accoutrement of “powerful.” The surface stuff like custom suits, a job where he never really works, fast cars, etc. But, to me, that isn’t power. That’s actually small man-part behavior (which is actually deep insecurity manifesting in a fancy watch).

Powerful men. REALLY powerful men? They empower women. They don’t prey on and victimize them. It reminds me of my formative years and the movie Dirty Dancing. Sexy? Yes. Push social boundaries? Sure.

But?

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In Dirty Dancing Johnny Castle pushes Baby (Jennifer Grey :D ) beyond her comfort zones, but it’s in a way that makes her more whole as a human being. He always makes sure she is truly on board and always makes her safety a priority. Remember the fancy lifts? Practicing the lifts in the lake so if she fell she’d be okay?

And all the older gals go, “Awwww, I LOVED that scene.”

A REAL man lifts his woman UP...

A REAL man lifts his woman UP…

Johnny pursues Baby because he likes her as a human being, and, instead of preying on her, he protects and nurtures her. THAT, in my book is a powerful man. Not some trust fund baby assclown with a closet full of leashes and too much free time.

Abuse is NOT Power

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There are so many things that scare me about this book and it would take more than one post to explore them. But women have faced thousands of years of not being able to defend themselves against victimization and rape and now we have a cultural phenomenon that is redefining sex and blurring the lines of consent (which are already pretty damn blurry, especially after a drunken frat party).

I kid you NOT. I am waiting for the 50 Shades Defense when some poor college girl is brutalized and the guy’s defense is, “Well, she did sign a contract.”

And not only is this a sticky wicket for women, it’s a train wreck for men. When millions of women are fanning themselves over this crap, men are left even more confused and more vulnerable. Pair this with super destructive pop hits like Blurred Lines?

I have a son and pop culture really should be handled with care. I recall being in the car with a family member who has two impressionable sons. Blurred Lines comes on and they are all humming to it. I gasp and turn it off then asked, “Have any of you paid attention to the WORDS to this song? It’s a date rape song and it is unacceptable.”

And now it is clear why Kristen wasn’t invited to the parties in high school and college.

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you….

Let me liberate you? How about I show you what a TRIANGLE CHOKE is?

Lowering the Standards of Expectations

It’s Grey’s lines like, “I don’t do romance” that kinda more than piss me off. Women used to be worthy of courtship and eventually a ring and a commitment. Then we decided to break glass ceilings and we’ve been fighting a battle of, “If a woman doesn’t want to be married she must be frigid or a lesbian versus any woman who wants a ring and a commitment is just out to trap a man.”

There is also the, “Women who want to be married are settling.” And was already seriously confusing without this tripe.

I remember living across from a young couple and the pretty blonde had been living with this jerk guy for EIGHT years. She wanted to be married and he wanted all the benefits of a marriage without any of the legal obligations (like having to part with HALF his stuff or having to pay alimony if they broke up).

And he’d been dangling a potential ring/proposal in front of her for EIGHT FREAKING years.

Well, I am just not ready yet, but I probably will be…

Later, Dude. Tempus fugit.

And trust me, back when I was dating, that crap was a nightmare to traverse. But, at least I could expect some romance. Now? A man who doesn’t DO romance is…sexy?

In my book he’s selfish and lazy and move on. Characters like Ana have opened a WHOLE ‘notha can of worms when she refuses to tell Grey NO or to stop or even that he’s crossing a line and hurting her because “then she’d lose him” *gags* and tolerates the intolerable.

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No one to HEAR you? How in 50 Shades of HELL is this remotely acceptable?

Ladies, when a man controls what you say, wear or who your friends are? That is BAD.

DANGER—Abuse NEVER has an HEA

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Thing is, in the book maybe it can end well. In life? A guy who won’t take no and wants total control, AND has unlimited funds when the woman does not? Watch Discovery ID and we can see the end to this story. Usually it involves an unidentified body found in a cooler in the desert.

Or, feel free to re-watch the sequel to 50 Shades, made back in 2002—“Enough.”

In fact, years ago I knew a woman who was in this sort of relationship. It began as sexy and exciting until he killed her dog (who was trying to defend her from his blows) and then he broke her jaw. She ended up working as a prostitute because every time she moved and tried to work legitimate employment? Her ex found her and hospitalized her for leaving.

The REAL Man

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My husband is a GIANT. At six foot six, he’s well over a foot taller than me. This is the man who was in Special Operations and on a military shooting team, but I’ve spent every summer helping him rescue mice, lizards and geckos out of glue traps. The man even rescues rattlesnakes who want to sun on our porch at the ranch.

And KITTENS. OMG, the KITTENS!!! Kittens are his kryptonite.

Meet, "Odin" my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR

Meet, “Odin” my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR

We are one cat short of Hubby being the Crazy Cat Lady. He also works extra hard so his wife can take Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and is almost always in the audience cheering me on. He isn’t afraid of a strong woman and even encourages me to be stronger.

I really hope this 50 Shades phase passes, but…

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I hope that you will spend your Valentines Day doing or watching something truly romantic. If you and your partner want to add some spice and roughness? I recommend taking a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu class together :D .

Additionally, I recommend checking out The Atlantic post by Emma Green, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of 50 Shades.

So *cringes* what are your thoughts? Do you think 50 Shades grossly misrepresents BDSM? Do you see the same perils? Am I overreacting? Feel free to disagree just please be polite. Is this a dangerous trend? First with Twilight making stalking “sexy” and now this?

I know many who’ve read this book and love it are older, but should we be concerned about how this might mainstream for our youth and affect their perceptions of “relationships”? How it might even impact victims in courtrooms? Is this type of story confusing for men and women? Is this even more devolution of what we consider to be “romantic”? Or am I jumping at shadows?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

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340 Comments

Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers

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These three professional blunders can hang on like the smell of dead fish and stink up our author career, so avoid them at all cost. I understand that many of you who follow this blog are new, so if you’ve made one of these mistakes, you’re learning. We all oops (especially in the beginning), so don’t sweat it. Yet, I see these three behaviors far more often than I’d like.

You’ve been warned ;).

NEVER Be Nasty in a Blog Comment

I am fully aware that my blog can’t make everyone happy. I work my tail off to entertain and enlighten but I know I can’t be all things to all people. If I’m not your cup of tea? Just click the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the e-mail WordPress sends you or e-mail me and I will happily assist you leaving (and cry later *sniffles*).

There is no need for this:

Ohhhh-kay.

Ohhhh-kay.

The irony was 1) I didn’t even write this particular post. It was a guest post and an excellent one at that 2) It wasn’t negative at all. It just wasn’t coated in glitter and fluff. Professionals don’t have a lot of time and shouldn’t need to be handled with kid gloves and 3) Was it really necessary? I’s written over 600 posts at the time, and one wasn’t her cup of tea? So we just carpet bomb?

I once wrote a humor post about my many failed attempts to join the military. It was a humor post. It was posted for Memorial Day and to honor those willing to sacrifice for the very freedom this person liberally uses…

Yes, this counts as a troll...

Yes, this counts as a troll…

Oh, and a warning. Trolls will bait you with the, “You will censor my right to free speech” to get you to approve a nasty comment. But they forget we actually don’t have universal 1st Amendment Rights or we’d be able to yell “FIRE!” in a movie theater or stand and scream profanities and threats in the middle of an Applebee’s without being arrested. Don’t fall for it. Your TRASH function is there for reason.

Also, blogs count as a benevolent dictatorship.

And my personal favorite?

Um...OUCH.

Um…OUCH.

See, the thing is, if you want to tell a blogger she has the brain of a retarded chimp, that she’s a loser-poseur fake, don’t do it in the blog comments (or at all, for that matter). AGAIN, the comment is there forever, complete with the commenter’s name and face.

Oh, and it’s spelled “expertise” by the way ;) .

Most of the time, when I get nasty comments like these I just send them to the trash. They aren’t heathy for the comment community and everyone has a bad day, which is why I didn’t include the gravatars or names of these nice people. But, remember, not all bloggers will be nice.

I have the right to be wrong and y’all have the right to un-sunbcribe, never buy one of my books and tell all your friends that oatmeal is smarter than I am. I get that I can’t please everyone, but there is a way to disagree and remain polite, respectful and professional. There’s no need for ad hominem attacks.

If someone writes a blog you don’t like? Fine. But keep in mind that this person worked hard and for free to offer you something of value. All they ask in return is for some common human decency.

People have long memories regarding those who are needlessly cruel. And sure, a blogger might be a new, unpublished nobody. Doesn’t mean he or she’ll remain that way. We never know who we might need one day, and burning bridges is a bad long-term plan.

If you do goof and hurt a blogger, just e-mail them and apologize or apologize in the comments. A lot of bloggers (I’d like to believe) are reasonable. Own the mistake and ask for gratis.

Never Be Nasty on Twitter

Twitter is a wonderful tool, namely because it can help us go viral. Yet, that’s precisely why we must handle it with care. It can go VIRAL. A random woman on Twitter tweeted a nasty remark about rapper Ice-T’s wife and millions of fans pounced.

This woman had to delete her account and practically go into witness protection. I am certain she didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but it shows that tweets should be handled with care.

Sure, we can delete tweets, but often by the time we realize we need to delete one…it’s already too late. Twitter goes quickly, so it can get out of hand quickly.

Never Write Bad Book Reviews

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

This doesn’t apply to book bloggers and book reviewers. That’s your job and we love that you give us guidance on what to read. But, as authors? I believe in what Candace Havens calls Writer Karma.

If I can’t give a book a great review? I just don’t review it. Again, publishing is a small world and we all need each other. The world is already out to throw us under a bus. We need each other to keep from turning into cutters.

***And yes, I KNOW “experts” tell writers to blog book reviews, but that’s a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE no-no in my book. First because writing reviews is a HUGE time-suck. Average of twelve hours to read a book then time to craft a review. Even if you posted once a week, that is 36-40 HOURS per month we could have spent on the novel. Second, book reviews will never go viral, EVER. And thirdly? Reviewing books muddies and undermines the author brand.

If a writer really bungled and you just cannot remain quiet? Send him or her an e-mail outlining the problems and maybe suggestions how to do better with the next book. This way correction is private and we aren’t publicly and permanently humiliating a peer.

Some writers might not respond well, but I know I’ve gotten e-mails that actually were really helpful. Readers who spotted typos or formatting errors that could be corrected. The idiot stuff? I just ignore, but I do appreciate that it was handled privately.

If you goofed on this and now feel badly, remove the review. In the future, focus on reviewing what you love.

Our BRAND is AUTHOR, not “book reviewer.” My opinion is we can’t do both.

Book reviewers have to be forthright to be taken seriously. This means some books will get shredded. This can undermine how our fellow writers feel about working with us as authors.

“Hey, I publicly shredded your first novel with a two-star but thoughtful review. I have a new book coming out. Can I guest post on your blog?”

“SURE! Just as soon as you send me a lock of your hair to complete that voodoo doll I crafted in your likeness.”

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

I have a post that delves deeper into this conflict of interests HERE. Remember, we can be Siskel & Ebert or Steven Spielberg. Tough trick to be both.

We Are Human

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I’d love to tell you I’ve never made a mistake, that I am the shining example to all, but I’ve had bad days too. I’ve screwed up and had to apologize. Just own it and say you’re sorry.

We all need grace, let’s just try not to make a habit of needing it too often. We’re wise to remember there’s a human on the other side of that screen. The digital world is wonderful, but it takes work (and sometimes holding our tongue fingertips) to keep it a positive experience.

Have you ever had someone shred you publicly on your blog? On social media? How did you handle it? Did you cry? I used to. Have toughened up. Do you delete the comment or leave it up so everyone will know they’re a jerk and steer clear? When you see comments on a blog that are rude and in bad taste, what do you do? Do you make note of the name? Defend the blogger?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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135 Comments

Life on Purpose—What to Do When Dreams & Goals Fizzle

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

We’re a few weeks out from the New Year and many of us are struggling. I don’t think I am saying anything crazy when I assert that most of us would LIKE to improve. We want to learn and grow and be better over time. No one dreams about being broke, stressed, overweight and unhappy. That’s a given and you might even laugh at that notion.

Yet, nature abhors a vacuum.

I dream of a floor I can’t find because I’m SO behind on laundry it’s more of an archaeological project than housework.

Yeah…NO.

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But I need to ask the hard question: If we aren’t dreaming of all that bad stuff? What are we dreaming about?

I’ve consulted countless business people and writers. Conversations are VERY telling. Some people are so afraid of failing that they never make a decision. Yet, no decision is STILL a decision. Additionally, I will talk to people, and they’ll tell me ALL the things they can’t do. Okay, tell me what you CAN do.

See, if we don’t focus on something positive, achievable and actionable, we leave a vacuum and that’s where entropy (chaos) loves to creep in.

Since no one sane is likely to have a goal of never finishing a book or living in stretchy pants forever or being sick, broke and tired, we can already dismiss this notion that we deliberately set negative goals. Most of us aren’t going to do that.

Ah, but we can end up inadvertently setting negative goals by not putting something we WANT in the vacuum.

We are born to create. Humans are creative beings. Now, we can create beauty, destruction or wasted space, but our nature IS to create. To deny our nature is a formula for frustration.

Leave a preschooler unattended ten minutes and this proves my theory. If we as parents/adults fail to provide that kid with something positive to act upon? Lord help the electronic devices, because that kid is going to test the theory of “How Many Goldfish Will Fit in the XBox?”

I look away FIVE MINUTES!

I look away FIVE MINUTES!

Thus, the first step to changing is to set goals. We’ve talked about this before and setting goals is a great start because we can’t get to a place we haven’t taken time to define.

And this is not Inspiration Guru Positive Think Your Way to Wealth Stuff. The nature of our JOB as authors has changed and we are much more active players in the business side of our business.

Show me a business with no mission statement, no business plan, no actionable and measurable goals? I’ll show you a space that will be up for rent within the year.

The Mind is POWERFUL

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

I love reading inspirational works. I highly recommend them. Why? Because society is seriously screwed up. And it MAKES money off keeping us screwed up, so society has zero intentions of EVER being positive and healthy.

When we were kids and wanted to be a writer or dancer or astronaut, adults all clapped and cheered. Then we hit this age when suddenly the grown-ups changed their tune. “Yeah that’s cute, but time to grow up, Kid.”

This is when most dreams die. We are bombarded with negativity. We are told that dreams are reckless, dumb, unachievable, blah blah blah. In fact, we are told this SO much, we need deprogramming or we can become our own worst enemy.

We can’t achieve what we can’t conceive. Our mind is the map, so stop letting others spill goo on your map!

This is one of the reasons I’ve done a lot of blogging about relationships and setting boundaries and limiting contact with toxic people.

We all have them or have had them. People who like to complain, make excuses, indulge in their feelings all the time. People who have a new dream every other week. I wanna be an actor, no a writer, no a vacuum salesman, no a journalist!

Ditch writers (and other people) who spread stinking thinking. Laziness, apathy, and whining are contagious. Treat excuses like EBOLA. A friend coughs blood excuses all over you, and, within two to three days, you start coughing up blood excuses, too…until your dream of being a writer liquifies and bleeds out and I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Killer.

Faith Without Works is Dead

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We’ve already established that the condition of our mind and spirit is VITAL. We are going to have a really hard time achieving anything notable (like getting out of bed) if our mind is crapped up with:

I’m too old, too poor, too short. Why bother? 

Okay, I gotta stop typing before I depress myself. Y’all are smart and get the idea.

However, this next step is where I believe a lot of inspiration-self-help falls short. YES, we must learn to discipline our mind and emotions. Show me a successful person and I will show you someone who developed self-discipline.

Here’s the thing. I can “envision” I have the body of an athlete all day long. It’s probably better than going around calling myself fat all the time.

But the rubber must eventually meet the road.

I need to get in the gym. What we feed will always grow stronger. If we feed the idea we can do nothing? Guess what? If we feed the idea we can achieve something remarkable? It grows. Starve out the bad and feed the good. How do we feed? With thought and ACTION.

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My goal is to one day be a New York Times BSA. Great goal, but I only have limited control over this. Remember, goals should be defined and actionable. Since I am fairly sure no unfinished book has become a NYT runaway success with an HBO series, I can start with, “I am a finisher.”

This is why I don’t put a lot of stock in the Name It and Claim It. Or Envision It and It Will Magically Manifest. Yes, our will and emotions need training. When we’re new, our mind and emotions resemble a puppy that pees on the carpet and chews on shoes. Yet, wishing cannot replace working.

We can stand in the mirror and repeat, “I am a NYTBSA” over and over, but deep down, our spirit will call us a liar (because we are). BUT, if we make the goal of becoming a NYTBSA and break it down? We now have something actionable.

I am a finisher.

I prioritize writing/exercise/family/financial discipline.

Baby steps count.

I believe in sacrifice.

This is when small actions begin to reinforce our bigger ideas. When I finish cleaning out a closet, I am buttressing that new core goal that I am a finisher. When I turn down a movie to finish revisions? I have a small victory that strengthens that new belief growing inside.

Eventually these “small” victories create confidence and habits that are essential for achieving that BIG goal. Maybe I will never be a NYTBSA, but I stand A LOT better chance if I learn to finish what I start (and practice that habit in multiple areas of life).

Though it would be a super cool power, I have not wished almost 1000 blogs and 5 books into existence ;) .

Order is NOT Natural

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Yes, we are creative beings. That is our nature, but we also have to appreciate the nature of Nature.

Whoa, that was deep.

Ever gone driving in the country? Maybe to some places people haven’t been? In your travels, did you round the bend and stumble across a field of perfectly lined rows of plants producing abundant crops and no weeds in sight? It just did it on it’s own. Like all the peach trees lined up one day and rebuked all dandelions and crabgrass?

Have you run across a perfectly manicured spot of ground? You know. All the grass was lush and green and only 1.5 inches tall and the edges perfectly sharp? And nature did this all by itself?

Um, likely not.

The thing is, Nature is awesome, but it’s also chaotic. Leave a parking lot abandoned a couple years and what do you see? Nature likes weeds and chaos and rubble. There are rocks and large ant hills and, if no rain falls, the soil (at least in Texas) turns into a BRICK.

What this means is that to make the most of our nature we have to tame Nature. We are going to have to do things that are VERY unnatural. It is NOT natural to sit and write 100,000 words. It is NOT natural to choose cleaning out the garage over going to a movie. It is NOT natural to eat chicken instead of a double-fudge brownie. When in a fight with a significant other? It is NOT natural to put aside ego.

In fact, when we make these New Year’s Resolutions, the largest hurdle we have is we are now doing a LOT of stuff that is NOT natural. And thing is? For most of us?

It never will be.

I consider myself a fairly disciplined person. I work out a lot because I do Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and I take a beating 3-4 days a week (which, willingly signing up to get your @$$ kicked is NOT natural). And I do great…and then the sink breaks and Hubby gets a cold and the e-mail piles up and, because of all the chaos? I get out of the habit.

EASILY.

Pretty soon that next season of Warehouse 13 is looking A LOT better than going to the gym. Pthththt. I can always start back next week. And I know I was going to make chicken for dinner, but then I’d have to clean the kitchen, and…

Why is this?

It’s because as disciplined as I love to believe I am? My NATURE digs entropy. My nature LOOOOVES stretchy pants and scrunchees. My nature starts questioning the sanity of walking up 105 flights of stairs that go nowhere… O_o .

Thus all of this is to say, yes. You probably are tired and likely that diet and exercise program started collecting dust about three weeks ago. You still haven’t finished the book and on and on and on and guess what? Don’t sweat it. Just start again. Drag out the mower and edger. Keep this as a cheat-sheet:

Clean up our thoughts. Nothing edible grows in poisoned soil.

Choose friends wisely. No company better than bad company and all gardens fare better with a FENCE.

Make the big goal(s).

Break down the big goal(s) into actionable pieces.

Act on the goal(s).

Smaller successes will reinforce the belief we can ACHIEVE the goal(s). Increased confidence=increased momentum.

Understand we will always be taming our nature. When setbacks come? Understand they will. It’s just how life works. It’s life. No one gets out alive :D .

You got this! Have you been feeling a bit down and out? Maybe you lost sight of where you were headed? Have you struggled against your own nature? I have. Didn’t always win either. Do you find it hard to set boundaries? Are there toxic people you KNOW are poisoning you and yet you just can’t seem to get that fence built? Have you learned to become a finisher? What did you do differently?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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81 Comments

A Country in Crisis—How Pop Culture is Devaluing Men AND Women

Meet the "Facelessbook Friends"

Age and Invisibility

Back when I was in sales, we had a saying, “Say it once. Say it twice. Say it three times. Say it four times. Say it five times and they will believe.” Traditional marketing has hinged on this tenet for generations. The more people see product, an idea, etc. the better chance it will become “sticky” and meld into the collective consciousness.

This is also the foundation of any dictatorship, a concept those of us in political science called a “Cult of personality.” Propaganda is powerful.

Last post, I blogged about how seemingly innocent ads and blogs are anything but. Yes, I agree, some 20-something telling women over thirty they shouldn’t wear sparkles or eyeshadow shouldn’t affect how I feel about myself and frankly? It doesn’t.

She can go pound sand.

The problem is when an idea or attitude becomes SO pervasive that it translates into a socioeconomic or cultural reality. These snipes, jabs, “jokes” and stereotypes seep in and eventually forge the norm. Let’s explore a couple modern examples.

Blondes are Stupid/Slutty

He's a FRENCH MODEL...

He’s a FRENCH MODEL…

When I bought a red Honda Civic years ago, I never noticed how many there were until I drove one. Thus, being a blonde, I tend to notice how we are portrayed in the media probably more than others. I will NEVER do business with State Farm because of some of their commercials.

In one commercial, there is an African American male documenting a fender-bender on his smart phone while the blonde waits for her date she found on the Internet (because everything you read on the Internet is true). She found a “French model”, who turns out to be a giant doofy phony she saucers off with extra proud of her “find.”

Try reversing this and making a person of color look that stupid and we’d have march on D.C.

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It’s the blonde mother who can’t figure out that Benadryl has single serving portable doses for when Junior is sneezing at the park. The brunette mom rolls her eyes at the blonde mother struggling with a spoon and a bottle.

Or the blonde who can’t figure out teeth-whitening strips. The brunette obviously knows there is the Aquafresh whitening tray (because apparently whitening strips are super advanced technology beyond a blonde woman’s mental capabilities.)

It’s the birth control pills the blonde is too dumb to figure out and on and on. Now that I’ve pointed this out, I’m fairly sure you will see it, too.

In film we’re often portrayed as sluts, morons, home wreckers and villains. I had one author I really enjoyed, but by the third book I read where the blonde was the evil tramp? I was done. Stereotypes= Lazy Writing.

And one might say, “Oh, Kristen, just brush it off. It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.” Here is the thing. It doesn’t. I love being blonde. I’m Norwegian and embrace how I look and am secure in who I am. BUT, it impacts how others view ME.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.46.16 AM

Case in point, years ago I had a chemist approach me to ghost write a HIGHLY technical book. Why? I have a very strong science background and at the time was a technical writer for firearms, defense, and computer companies.

Anyway, we are in the middle of a critique session when his wife barges in and calls me everything under the sun, certain I was having an affair with her husband even though EVERY interaction I’d had with this person was via copied e-mails and in a large group (um, because I’m a professional and no, not THAT kind of “professional”).

She was certain because of my appearance I couldn’t be a “real” writer, especially NOT a high-tech writer.

Really. I wish I was making this up.

When I was in the business world, I’d come up with a new idea or strategy and no one would make a sound. Then the man sitting next to me would repeat what I’d just said and suddenly it was GENIUS!

One of my cousins, also a natural blonde, and as gorgeous as any supermodel, eventually dyed her hair brown because she found people listened to her ideas and took her more seriously as a brunette. Her career had slammed to a halt as a blonde, then suddenly took off when she changed hair color.

Thus, tell me again how pop culture has no impact on perception. What are we telling blonde little girls about who they will grow to be? Don’t get me wrong, the jokes make me laugh, but when it’s ALL jokes? Eventually, I’m not laughing.

One of the main reasons I LOVED “Frozen”? It was the first time in generations Disney had a blonde that wasn’t asleep waiting for a kiss or for a man to figure out her shoe size so she could get on with her life.

Media and Men

If I had a dollar for every commercial that implies grown men are idiots, I’d be writing this blog on a beach somewhere. Apparently, according to television, men are incapable of feeding themselves, watching kids, grocery shopping, and they need help from mommy when calling in a car accident. Mom, wife, girlfriend, kids and even the dog has a higher IQ than a grown man.

Here’s an infuriating enlightening compilation of what I’m talking about…

I feel the past 25 years has Homer-Simpsonized men. If a man is over thirty, he’s incompetent and needs mom or wife-as-mom. He’s not even smart enough to order a pizza on his own (another commercial that sent me fuming).

Show me a strong, assured handsome older man? I’ll show you an E.D. commercial…with a man sailing off in a boat alone. WTH?

Huh? Wow, apparently older men can’t even think to pack a WOMAN on the trip. Should have called mom first.

As the mother of a boy, I think these media/cultural images are dangerous. I’ve had my own dealings with schools punishing Spawn for what 25 years ago was simply, “being a little boy.” Boys are loud, rambunctious, have a lot of energy and many times, aren’t going to behave like girls unless medicated. As in sit still and be quiet for hours at a time.

I was once called up to school because Spawn was playing Zombie on the playground (age 4).

Me: Was he biting anyone?

Administrator: No.

Me: Was he touching or grabbing anyone or hurting them?

Administrator: No.

Me: Well, then what was he doing?

Administrator: Moaning and wandering around with a blank stare.

Me: Well, sounds like every DMV employee I’ve ever met, so what is the problem?

Administrator: He just…likes zombies. We also think he lacks imagination and he refuses to answer to his name. He will only answer to Zombie-Robot.

Me: I think I need some air.

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And NOW we unschool.

Culture Crisis

Even though society (in REALITY) has changed, why aren’t commercials reflecting this? We now live in a world where both parents work more often than not, and yet the majority of commercials still portray Mom as the one in charge, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Why are dads absentee in reality? I ask why are they absentee in advertising? I was SO thrilled that Cheerios took this on with their new campaign #HowToDad, which portrays a WONDERFUL example of a husband AND father. It made me want to stand and cheer! Why can’t we have more of these kinds of commercials?

Writers Create the Future

Writing forges culture and attitudes, meaning words and images are POWERFUL. If our pop culture keeps implying anyone over 30 is irrelevant (stupid, incompetent, lazy, invisible), guess what happens?

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.05.40 AM

We are facing a CRISIS in this country. Age discrimination is RAMPANT.

If we can’t see it, we can’t BE it. What does the strong, confident sexy over-30, 40, 50 + person (male or female) LOOK like? What does a great husband, confident and capable father look like? There are a lot of single fathers. Who is speaking for THEM?

We “older folks” are the group with the most spending power, yet how much marketing is directed to those groups who need our credit card to make a purchase? And this affects products created and offered. I would LOVE to dress chic, but when Target offers 15 versions of skinny jeans and super-short shorts in the Misses section? I’m limited what I can buy.

I’m a professional. I can’t wear micro-minis and short shorts and be taken seriously (or be comfortable for that matter).

This means I live in t-shirts and yoga pants, reinforcing the stereotype that women over 30 just don’t care what we look like. It’s a double-bind for ALL of us.

Men AND women.

I can’t say much about this, but right now there is a LARGE group of people suing a BIG company because this company essentially wholesale got rid of anyone over 40 (mostly men) and replaced them with 20-somethings out of college.

There was NO concern for the years of experience these older workers had, the relationships with customers they’d spent years cultivating. They were old, ergo irrelevant and replaceable…which turned out to be a bad move because the newbies required so much training and had no industry experience. This meant they made a LOT of COSTLY mistakes.

Work had to be redone and redone…and redone when the older workers had ten times the output and projects/orders done correctly the FIRST time. So did the company really save money?

Thus, when people say, “Brush it off.” “Move on.” “It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.”

This is true.

The problem is that we’ve been “nice” so long that now we’re seeing these stereotypes become cultural and economic realities. Yeah, sure, I can feel great about how I look and I like a good self-deprecating joke or three. But I kinda like being EMPLOYED, too.

A Country Without a Heart has No Brain

My degree was in Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. Often when you study third and fourth world countries, what you find is that women aren’t valued. This means a country only has access to less than half of their workforce and intellectual/creative reservoirs (since women typically outnumber men).

The Western World likes to believe it’s “evolved” but we’re seeing major shrinkage in population sizes with each generation while simultaneously mothballing the more mature workers/contributors. If the population over 30 or 40+ vastly outnumbers the young? And we fail to value the more mature generations?

You see where the logic is headed.

Youth is beautiful and wonderful and I LOVE young people. Work with them all the time. They are our future. But I think this is why it is incumbent on those of us in the older generations to speak up. Sure, we can take a joke. But it seems that we are BECOMING the joke, and that’s uncool.

Many of you reading this are writers. Embrace the power you have. Writers are responsible for more social change than any legislation ever passed.

We have the power to change hearts and minds, but we have to confront. We have to write companies and tell them we won’t buy from them because they don’t represent us, or they are demeaning us. We should support companies who value us. Money has a LOT of power as well.

Support companies who empower you. I refuse to purchase anything from a company that can’t respect me as a person. We can be funny without being demeaning and cruel. And if their ad people can’t? Hire better writers. Advertise to make us laugh, but not at our expense (Hello, CHEERIOS ad? Funny and awesome).

This one made me get tears! What a PRO-BOY commercial!

So I am going to go buy some Cheerios :D  and support the great, wonderful fathers, friends, dads and MEN out there along with the gals.

But first, I have to go do a 3-D rendering of this tooth-whitening strip. I’ve already gotten three stuck in my hair :P . I’m all for gal-power, but we are in this together. We are not alone ;).

What are your thoughts? Do you get tired of being the butt of the joke? Have you seen pop culture impact how you are treated as a person? What are some positive ads, commercials, images that you think we need to see more of? How could Madison Avenue do a better job of speaking to us? And MEN, speak up! We love hearing from you, too!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

***January’s Winner is Nolan White. Please send your 5,000 word Word document to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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96 Comments

Taking on the Blogging Bullies—Ageism, Fear & Misbehaving “Old” Women

Fashion for the Over 30 Woman

Fashion for the Over 30 Woman

Writers have a LOT of power. A LOT. Art often not only defines and reflects a society as it currently exists, but it can be a compass for the direction that culture is heading. This said, there was a blogger who sent me into the STRATOSPHERE on Saturday and had me sharpening kitchen knives. As a writer, I strongly believe in giving credit for the writing, but this is a sticky situation.

I won’t mention her name or her blog for a number of reasons.

First, she doesn’t deserve the traffic I might send her. Being a jerk shouldn’t be rewarded and bad attention is still attention. Secondly, I couldn’t trust myself not to be a troll, so I won’t subject her to comments she deserves because, since I’m older?

I’m classier than that :)

Since she’s simple enough to locate on Twitter, FB and the blogosphere, I’m not going to set her up as the easy target she’s already made herself.

Women—REAL women—watch out for one another (even the twerps).

Yet, the overall tone of the blog bothered me DEEPLY and though this “writing” was meant to simply be a fashion blog, it said way more about our culture than simply what not to wear.

How It Happened

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

In between writing or cooking or cleaning I click on posts. It’s part of my job as an author. I’m a woman and admit to my own level of vanity, so when I saw a post about X number of things NO WOMAN over 30 should EVER wear, I was curious (being almost 41).

I thought my head would EXPLODE, not because of the list, which I can always disagree with. Rather, it was the shi#!$ commentary, the ageism and the immeasurable level of disrespect that followed the “tips.” Here are a few of my “favorites.”

Graphic Tees—You are what we call a “grown-up.” Now, dress like it, please.

Reply: You are what we call a snot. Stop speaking before you get hurt.

Non-Matching Socks—By Age 30, you should be able to keep better track of your socks.

Reply: Talk to me after you’ve had some kids.

Hoop Earrings—Only girls in high school can pull off hoop earrings.

Reply: Did you ask the Latinas about this? You might have a bounty on your head. Might watch your six.

Old Sneakers—Grown women should not be seen in rundown tennis shoes. If you can’t afford a new pair, then it’s time to reevaluate life as a 30 year old.

Reply: Old sneakers are great for throwing.

Glittery Eyeshadow—Save the glitter for things that should actually sparkle.

Reply: We are NEVER too old to sparkle :P . Try a good attitude, a smile and being positive. Glitter simply enhances these attributes you clearly do not yet possess.

Abercrombie & Fitch—Do thirty-year-olds even FIT in A&F clothes?

Reply: I will CUT you O_o

Let's talk some more about how I am old and ugly….

Age and treachery….

Anyway, as y’all can imagine, this generated QUITE the heated discussion on my Facebook page. This blogger should have titled the post “How to Piss Off Women Globally 24 Ways.” Yet, among the comments a few of my friends were well-meaning.

They’d say, “Pthththt, ignore it.” “A blogger shouldn’t dictate how you feel about yourself.” “Just move on. She’s a b%$#@.”

And there are plenty of times I ignore asshattery and DO move on. If I ranted against everything that rubbed me the wrong way, I’d be in a coma by lunch. Yet, this blog DID land in my crosshairs because it is the definition of evil. It’s misogyny, ageism, narcissism, and BULLYING wrapped in one ad-crammed package.

By the time I finished reading the tips, I was curious if the blogger would find THIS as an acceptable gift for female 30th birthdays….

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

A Little Respect, Please?

When one looks deeper into this “innocent” blog, it becomes clear it is FAR from innocent. Here is a girl not just giving tips to her elders, but also passing judgement in a highly disrespectful manner.

I am about to be 41, a mother and wife, a C.E.O., have a degree and was living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria when she was fighting acne in high school. I’ve been a writer longer than she has had a driver’s license. I feel I’ve earned a measure of respect.

She obviously mistook me for her peer. This is the narcissism I’m referring to.

And we are seeing A LOT of this these days. Well-meaning parents wanting their kids to be their “friends” forgot to add that yes, we are friends, but we are NOT equals.

Unfortunately, this causes a lot of problems. First, those younger than us can endure needless suffering because they refuse to believe older people might actually have some sound advice.

In the workplace, many younger people are doing poorly because they simply won’t follow simple instructions without a detailed explanation of WHY from a highly vexed superior.

Because I am the boss. Just DO it.

This can actually be very dangerous. I’m part of the military, medical, and law enforcement culture. There are far too many young nurses, recruits and cadets who are simply not teachable.

They ask WHY, WHY, WHY with no thought of who is standing there. This insubordinate attitude undermines the authority of the person in charge and, frankly, in these jobs? Failure to listen and take instructions is a good way to die (or have someone else die).

In Corporate America? They just fire said snit and said snit ends up working as a barista clueless why he/she can’t get ahead despite that expensive degree.

This failure to respectfully communicate also harms us older folks. Instead of being able to harness what youth DOES bring to the table—boundless energy, creativity, a fresh perspective—we are too busy thinking if their lifeless body will fit in the office’s recycle bin.

She asked WHY one too many times and I SNAPPED!

Ageism 

Yes, something as small as a “fashion blog” can perpetuate eventual ruination. How? Because posts like these are “small” people say. “Oh just ignore it.” But these images are everywhere, like army ants. Small destructive buggers. Alone? No big deal. But millions of them left ignored?

Even the LIONS run...

Even the LIONS run…

Our society is in a crisis. We don’t value older people and older workers the way we should. I once worked for a company who had never once had a person make it to retirement. Employees hit a certain age and were badgered, bullied and written up until they quit or could be “legally” fired—then replaced with two college graduates who ask WHY all the time.

*head desk*

There was so little appreciation for the wealth of knowledge, instinct, and maturity that older worker brought to the table. Yet, how much of our entertainment culture is fueling this attitude?

If I don’t want to buy Cosmo, and maybe read a magazine with women my age in it? The pictures are all of food and housecleaning devices.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 8.01.28 AM

The Double-Bind Age & Invisibility

Women over a certain age seem to vanish off the screen, or are recast as a mom or grandmother. Sean Connery can be a love interest in his late 60s, but a woman? EW!

41, with my EYESHADOW and Call of Duty Shirt :P

41, with my EYESHADOW and Call of Duty Shirt :P

There are 20 year-olds advertising wrinkle creams and teenagers modeling underwear for women. The fashion industry has been far too silent for the largest consumer demographic with the most disposable income.

This particular “fashion blog” did a great job of pissing me off  but what are the affordable alternatives? She took great pains to knife me over and over, but where is something helpful I can use?

Okay, no eyeshadow or glitter. Why? And, HELLOO? What’s better than eyeshadow and glitter?

NOTHING. The answer is NOTHING. Unless Predator Drones and trebuchets are options and then I will have to think on that.

Kristen at almost 35...

Kristen at almost 35…

Sure, if I could afford Chanel, Gucci or even Ann Taylor, I might be able to “age gracefully” (so let’s add in classism to our list). But in a regular store? Women over 30 have four choices—Tragic Pole Dancer, Government Employee, People of Walmart, Church Choir Director.

Thus, many women find we can’t win for losing. If we are over 30, 40, 50 or older and wear glitter and sparkles and makeup, we are being gross and acting like a tween. Yet, if we bow to the “be plain and blend into the wall” then we get, “Well, older women just aren’t considered attractive because they are lazy and don’t try.”

This blogger’s comment about worn out sneakers?

Grown women should not be seen in rundown tennis shoes. If you can’t afford a new pair, then it’s time to reevaluate life as a 30 year old.

When I was 30 all my clothes came from Goodwill and my sneakers were DEFINITELY rundown. Why? First, I decided to chuck the well-paying sales job I loathed to become a writer. Secondly, I was taking care of an ill mother, and watching my nephews (Age 5 and 1) so my brother and sister-in-law could finish college.

I sacrificed something as superficial as “fashion” and now mom is healthy and both brother and SIL have degrees and own their own companies.

And frankly, if a person is going to judge me and not be my friend because of my shoes? Probably not a person I would want to hang out with anyway. If a woman is going to ignore helping others because then she can’t wear the latest trends? DEFINITELY a person I don’t want to hang out with.

Oh, and this adorable commentary….

NO Abercrombie & Fitch

“Do thirty-year-olds even FIT in A&F clothes?”

Me at 34.

Me at 34. Size 2.

So Over 30=OBESE. Really? I refuse to wear A&F because I am old/mature enough to recognize an assclown company and refuse to wear overpriced crappy clothes to advertise for a company I loathe with the power of a thousand suns.

And yes, I have been plus-size, too.  So PTHTHTHTHTHTH.

Me in NYC @ Size 16 and only 5' 3"

Me in NYC @ Size 16 and only 5′ 3″

Call Bullying What It IS

I think the largest reason this fashion post lit my fire is that I’ve been a target of bullies my entire life. When I was a kid, it was because my clothes came from Kmart or I had the wrong shoes or my thighs were big (was in karate and ballet). I didn’t have the right hair, car, backpack or whatever and we think we will reach an age where this petty crap is behind us.

NOPE.

Women? We have to stick together. We live longer, are now in positions of power and we are an economic force. We have the ability to make fashion and society to hear our voice. WE ARE NOT ALONE and WE ARE NOT DEAD.

Call me old again. I need time to reload….

Call me old again. I need time to reload….

This blog was sheer meanness and bullying wrapped in a title of “Fashion Advice.” We shouldn’t “ignore” it or move on. We confront.

We cannot change what we will not challenge.

We need the guys to help out, too. We are all facing this nonsense. Men, I know you guys have your own challenges and I could write a WHOLE other blog about that. Apparently, men over 50 only want to go sailing alone or ride a motorcycle with other dudes after taking Viagra?

*HUH?*

Since I believe that darkness can only be countered with light, I started a Pinterest board “Old” Women Dressing and Behaving “Badly” and invited some of my FB gals to join, follow, and IDEALLY, add your pics.

Though you can see most of them (I pilfered a few from friends for this post) and add more of your own images to the board, I figured I’d showcase some of our “older” beauties here breaking and reinventing ALL the rules….

Lanette Kauten, Age 42

Author Lanette Kauten, Age 42

Christina Mitchell, Age 35

Author Christina Mitchell, Age 35

Christina Anne Hawthorne, Age 55

Author Christina Anne Hawthorne, Age 55

Author Monica-Marie Vincent…and NOW I want purple bangs.

Author Monica-Marie Vincent…and NOW I want purple bangs.

Chloe Jeffreys Age 50

Author and Blogger Chloe Jeffreys Age 50

Rachel Heller 53

Author Rachel Heller 53

Elaine Rogoza, Age 59

C.E.O. and Author Elaine Rogoza, Age 59

My mother Candice Lamb, Age 63

My mother Candice Lamb, Age 60. Registered Nurse

Ingrid Schaffenburg, Age 37

Journalist Ingrid Schaffenburg, Age 37

Author Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Age 347 (she is a vampire)

Author Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Age 347 (she is a vampire). Definitely over 30…. :D

My DEAR friend for 8 years, Kitty Corvette. Over 30 and a TALENTED bass guitarist and model.

My DEAR friend for 8 years, Kitty Corvette. Over 30 and a TALENTED bass guitarist, model, and BUSINESS OWNER.

My stunning, classy, talented and "mature" stylist Lan Nguyen.

My stunning, classy, talented and “mature” stylist Lan Nguyen.

We DEFINE Beauty

Never let anyone tell you not to sparkle. All of you are precious, beautiful and fabulous in your way. There has been and only EVER WILL be ONE of you in all of human history. Claim your page. And I think there are countless men on our side who are just as ticked as we are, who enjoy a more mature woman or a lady with some sass, curves and wit (and they are wondering who keeps HIDING us).

As writers and artists we hold the power to change the world and life is a LOT more fun if we are there to love and encourage and fill the world with smart@SS t-shirts.

My FAVORITE t-shirt… SHARKS with LAZER EYES!

My FAVORITE t-shirt… SHARKS with LAZER EYES!

What are your thoughts? I hope this is leaving you feeling a bit more inspired. Okay, a LOT more inspired. We are living much longer lives, so are you ready to claim the rest of it? Seems sad that some think we only have a good 15 years out of 80 that we are worthwhile :P . Do you refuse to give up your sparkles, Converse tennis shoes and graphic tees?

Do you think we ignore too much? We pass over these “small” things and they just grow BIGGER? Do you think a lot of this fashion or health/fitness advice is borderline (or even outright) bullying? What is your favorite feature? Your favorite “verboten” fashion? I collect insane t-shirts :D .

And MEN! We love you and need you on our team! What are some of the BS things you deal with as you age? What commercials make you want to buy a reloading machine? Are you tired of all the weird E.D. ads, too?

****Let me know if you want to join our board in the comments. It helps if you have a Pinterest account.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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).

***Will announce January’s winners next post.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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218 Comments

Creating Dimensional Characters—The Blind Spot

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Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa ;) .

I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND.  Check it out if you have a bit of time.

Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.

Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.

Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).

It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.

These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.

Me at 5'3", 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Me at 5’3″, 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.

But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.

Beyond “The Wound”

Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.

The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.

Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.

How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde."

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”

To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.

Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.

Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.

Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.

Application

To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.

He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.

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Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.

This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.

Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.

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He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).

The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.

A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.

He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.

The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.

Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.

Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?

As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?

For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.

Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.

This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).

Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.

But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?

I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.

Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.

But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?

What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.

Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting ;) . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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