Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wonder Women — in fact and in fiction

As we have seen in this month's posts, the term "Wonder Woman" creates different images for different people. For example, some might argue the women pictured above are not Wonder Women. Really? I'm fairly certain they can do a lot of things I can't do, which makes them Wonder Women in my book. In this article, however, I'd like to address one flesh-and-blood variety and three fictional ones who in very diverse ways also fit this category for me.

In the past, I've shared my admiration for fantasy author S. K. Randolph. As her editor, I've witnessed her evolution into a true Wonder Woman Writer who creates and develops three-dimensional characters of salvation, of purpose, and of revenge. A former ballerina and dance instructor, she has transferred her creative skills into a choreography of words. Her first novel, The Dimensioner's Revenge published in 2011, took seven years to write because she was working full time. The following three novels and eleven companion shorts (all together totaling some 738,000 words) have since been completed and published, a most respectable accomplishment. Beyond the impressive word counts, she exhibits a rare excellence in her expressive use of language and overall attention to detail, imparting not only extraordinary stories, but also moments of insight and wisdom appropriate to readers of all ages and genres.

One of Randolph's many memorable characters, Jaradee Myrlindah dedicates her life to preserving her people and her culture from annihilation, thus qualifying for Wonder Woman status. Loyal, focused, and committed, she sacrifices herself to save her young daughter. Her story, related in Jaradee's Legacy, speaks of the powerful good that women can bring to the most desperate situations.

Speaking of characters who make the Wonder Women team, I would like to submit two of my own. Katherine Kohler, protagonist of my soon-to-be-released A Brother Betrayed, endures the death of her beloved husband, the loss of her job, the wrath of her daughter, and the vendetta of her brother-in-law to regain control of her life. At times in doubt of her ability to cope with one more tragedy, she finds a strength she didn't know she possessed to push ahead against overwhelming odds that seem determined to defeat her.

Another character from this novel who earns Wonder Woman kudos, Yoshiko Yamamoto loses her mother at an early age, lives under the thumb of her emotionally distant father, and falls into the clutches of an abusive man. Walking a tightrope of terror to protect herself and her young son, this gentle woman finds support in others who see hints the strong person residing behind the wall of fear that rules her life. Finally mustering the strength to face her demons, she emerges to become more than she ever believed she could be and a true Wonder Woman.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and offers private mentoring as well. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com. Also, you can visit her at DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wonder Woman versus Atomic Blonde

Women have longed for female protagonists portrayed as strong, resilient, intelligent, intuitive, multi-faceted individuals in fiction and in film. To prove they are as capable as men ... with both hands tied behind her back while wearing four-inch heels.

The film Wonder Woman was released this year to much fanfare, proving a woman superhero could carry a film on her slender shoulders, a feat film writers believed would never happen.

Wonder Woman is a goddess raised by Amazons with superhuman strength and magic powers. She is appalled by the mindless killing she encounters during the war with Germany. She intends to save humanity in spite of their flaws, only to learn humans are warlike by nature. I wonder if she grew weary of the endless conflict over the decades? (I know I am). From Nazis to Ares God of War, her love saves the day. She is the more noble kick-ass heroine, but she takes punches in stride.

In an attempt to right past wrongs and make up for lost time, we now have a spy as (unrealistically) brutal and violent as male heroes.

The recent film release Atomic Blonde stars actress Charlize Theron as an MI-6 agent. There is an extended brutal fight scene no real person could walk away from, but she does, shrugging the abuse off like a tattered shawl. Finally, an article opined, a female showing she can take a punch without vulnerability. She is just as cool (and as promiscuous) as James Bond. There is no enemy she can't overcome or overpower.

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled we have strong female protagonists in film. I just wish it wasn't at the expense of our humanity. For that reason, I prefer Wonder Woman over Atomic Blonde.

I am sickened by the extended torture scenes and obscene body counts in contemporary films. I wish characters, male and female, didn't have to be vicious to be considered "strong." I realize we live in a violent world and villains don't respond to "Please" and "Thank You." Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. But our collective addiction to increasingly brutal fighting in fiction and film is a trend that should raise alarm.

Writers have a duty to illustrate their world. But they also have the power to challenge, perhaps change, the narrative. We could redefine heroism as using one's intellect and skill to avoid physical conflict as much as possible, to limit the body counts. And when a character, no matter how evil or violent, dies we should acknowledge the seriousness of ending a life.That murder should be an act of last resort not a first response.

I fear that day will never come as the nightly news displays viral brutality spreading, mutating, and devouring millions across the globe.

For now, it appears not only will boys be boys, but girls will be boys too ... bad boys.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

We Are Women, Hear Us Roar

We are mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, girlfriends, nieces, lovers. We are doctors, nurses, athletes, homemakers, lawyers, counselors, songwriters, test pilots, educators, chefs, scientists, writers, mathematicians, coaches, astronauts, steelworkers, Olympians, manufacturers, dentists, importers, store owners, librarians, poets, race-car drivers, soldiers, activists, entertainers, salespeople, dog walkers, inventors, factory workers, CEOs, CFOs, industrialists, computer experts, photographers, maids, florists, gardeners, filmmakers, actors, architects, explorers, artists, veterinarians, technicians, newscasters, journalists, therapists, models, designers, law enforcement, auto mechanics, psychologists, royalty, entrepreneurs, caregivers, senators, researchers, astrophysicists, prime ministers, physical therapists, FBI agents, etc. Anywhere things need doing, there’s a woman, and she can do more than one thing at a time. Sometimes three things, and many times she can do them better than a man.

YET, on average, we’re paid $.77 for every dollar earned by a man. YET, our insurance rates are higher, though we live longer, which means we take better care of ourselves, but the cost still burns. YET, legislation devised by men wants to make it difficult for women to get reproductive health care. YET, a woman running for president is vilified for decades because she’s a strong, independent woman and because she’s judged by different standards than a man. YET, many actresses are paid less than an actor in an equal role in the same movie or TV series. YET, some men feel it is their prerogative to grab, abuse, and defame women because they think it’s their right, and much of the time they get away with it. YET, people, including other women, judge a woman’s looks and body, but they rarely do the same to a man. Why? YET, there are still dozens of glass ceilings to be broken, and no one seems to have an answer why they haven’t been crashed. YET, women have a harder time becoming partners in law firms, Wall Street firms, and on industry boards and in government. YET, YET, YET…

This year we’ve had some terrific images of strong women. Some are fictional: Wonder Woman, and Atomic Blonde; some are real: Hillary Clinton, the women of Hidden Figures, a new political candidate and retired combat aviator, Lt. Col. Amy McGrath; a tech giant, Sheryl Sandberg; a new senator, Kamala Harris, and a singer/songwriter, Taylor Swift, who refused to let a man get away with what he thought was his right to physically assault her. We are more vocal to our daughters and granddaughters about who they can be, and if they want to reach for that glass ceiling badly enough, they have a better chance to succeed than in the past. Girls and women everywhere are setting new standards, but it’s still like running a race with a man who has a hundred-yard advantage.

Still, we are unstoppable. We are fearless. We are strong. We are smart.

We are women; hear us roar--with a big shout-out to Helen Reddy.

Leave a comment on what you think I missed, who I missed, and where you think we go from here.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wonder(ing) Woman

On the outside, I'm staring blankly at the screen, my fingers frozen on the keys as my once-steaming cup of coffee congeals. On the inside, I'm hurling enough blistering invective at the neighborhood dogs to turn any listeners within a three-block radius into pillars of salt.

The barking is driving me nuts.

Come on, focus. Wonder Woman; I'm supposed to be writing something about how Wonder Woman relates to my writing. Psht. Yeah. I wonder how I ever get anything done; how about that?

Hey, that could work.

How does Wonder (insert gender here) manage to do All The Things without collapsing in a sobbing heap at the bottom of a carton of Dark Chocolate Caramel Espresso* ice cream?

Ah, I see that you are now on the edge of your seat, hoping that I will reveal either The Secret or the location of said ice cream. Truth be told, they are one and the same. In two words: self care.

Back when my husband was diagnosed with the second of six cancers (I tell you, he's a freaking overachiever), our son was diagnosed with Autism. Our already busy schedule of chemo, hospital and doctor visits, and trips to the store to buy barrels of hand sanitizer ramped up considerably. Every time I set foot outside the house, some kind soul would remind me to "take time" for myself.

I kind of wanted to punch them. There is no more time to take, so where am I supposed to find any for myself?!

Fortunately, the message eventually sank in, and the clock slowed down. Instead of hovering over my husband, making sure that he was still breathing often enough during naps, I blew the dust off my spinning wheel and made yarn, checking in during trips to the kitchen for more coffee. Instead of sitting by the phone, wondering if the school might call, I hauled my laptop/knitting/newest book purchase to the local coffee shop and indulged in a mocha.

I ate the ice cream.

The past five-plus years have been a learning experience in a lot of ways. The biggest lesson? I don't have to be Wonder Woman and do All The Things. Not all at once, anyway. Most of it can wait until I reheat this coffee.

Audrey Lintner is the Owner/Chief Editor/Head Gofer of ALTO Editing Services. When she's not at the computer, she's likely to be found knitting and listening to her son relate the first few hundred digits of pi. Her celebrity crush is Lewis Black.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Give Yourself a Break

Photo by Roy Chan, via Flickr
I have a problem with guilt, probably because I was raised by a workaholic father who was raised by a Puritanical mother. It is hard for me to do nothing. It is especially hard for me to write nothing. Because that’s who I am, see? I’m a writer, so if I’m not writing, then guilt spreads its snarly tentacles throughout my brain. The unfortunate part of this mindset is that guilt does not produce much.

So when I talk to other writers, I advise them to not be like me. Here’s what I tell them:

Take a day off and do no writing at all. Don’t even turn on your computer. Forget you are a writer. Pretend you are a plumber, or an accountant, or a scuba diver. Go for a walk. Call your brother and give him some advice. Go shopping and buy something you never thought you’d wear. Go swimming at the YMCA to exercise more of your body than just your fingers. Take a bubble bath. Sing folk songs at the top of your lungs. (You can sing in the bath if you want.)

It doesn’t matter what you do on your day off as long as you don’t write anything. Not even a check or a shopping list. Pretend the keyboard, the pens, and the pencils have been sprayed with vile chemicals that will make all your hair fall out immediately.

Do this exercise at least once a month. Eventually you will become sane again.

Sometimes I even take my own advice.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

#FridayReads : Emily, Jenny, Wonder Woman, and Me

I have a confession to make. I have been writing a memoir about the years I lived in Yemen for about three years now. At least, that is what I pretend. In reality, I wrote several chapters in a streak of inspiration, then ran into a wall. In my case, the wall consisted of my uncertainty about writing about the time we spent in a small village that was under siege by rebel forces. Uncertainty is not the right word. Inability is more like it. So, there the manuscript sits. Occasionally I pull it up and start writing, only to quit in frustration after a paragraph or two. I don't know how to convey the reality of that time in a way that will make it understandable to my readers.

Make that "I didn't know how..." because, as often happens, everything aligns to give some clarity just when we need it.

The first star that aligned occurred in a writing group I am in. I was expressing my frustration with myself and my writer's block, and mentioned that all I had been able to write about that time in my life was poetry. At that, Jena, the facilitator, said, "So write that chapter as poetry."

Well. Duh. It had never occurred to me to mix genres. My memoir is pretty straight up prose, yet as a writer I have long played with different forms of writing, including all sorts of types of poetry and prose. Why couldn't I mix them up, not just for this chapter, but maybe even for the entire book?

Number one reason that came to my head? I am so NOT Wonder Woman. Sure, I run a homestead pretty much single handedly. Yes, I teach and support my family. Uh huh- I sew and knit and crochet and make soap and bread and...all that stuff. And, yes, I write. But I doubted very much that I have the talent to write something that defies categorization, crossing cultural and genre boundaries in a single bound.

Oops. Wrong superhero.

Jena's words stayed in my head, and I continued writing poems about that time, that village, and what happened there- but not as a part of my memoir. Then came the second star in the lineup, in the form of a book, The Illustrated Emily Dickinson Nature Sketchbook: A Poetry-Inspired Drawing Journal by Tara Lilly.

This is a book that transcends boundaries. Lilly has chosen poetry from Dickinson that celebrates nature, illustrating each with lovely, whimsical illustrations that bring different aspects of each poem to the forefront. In addition, she has left space for the reader to write, draw, color, paint - whatever she likes, inspired by the poem, Lilly's drawings, or nature itself. Part poetry book, part book of illustrations, and part sketchbook, it sets the imagination on fire on several levels. I am no artist, but I have really enjoyed playing with this book.

Then came the last star needed to push me into action. It was another book, this one by Jenny Lawson, better known, perhaps, as simply The Bloggess. See, that even has superhero undertones!

The book is You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds. Lawson is well-known for her insightful, often humorous blog in which she shares not only what is going on in her life, but her struggle with mental illness. This is how I came to know of her. Then one day my twenty year old son showed me some of her drawings that he had found on the internet. And WOW. They ran a gamut from fantastical to haunting to lovely to fun. In short, she is as gifted in her art as she is in her writing ability. In this book she brings both together, but even her writing is unexpected. Instead of lots of text, Lawson chooses to write in short, thoughtful, often inspirational bursts that rarely take up even half a page. Opposite each is a drawing that often has another message snaking through it. The drawings are black and white and invite the reader to pick up a marker or colored pencil and start filling in the lines - or drawing outside of them. Like Lilly's book, Lawson's defies categorization. In addition, it is an example in and of itself of breaking personal boundaries, being bold, and following our inspiration.

So that's it. Jena's simple statement, two books that showed that it really is okay to color outside the lines as a writer, and my natural inclination to slap on my cool bracelets and be Wonder Woman, and the wall is starting to crumble. How it will turn out is anybody's guess, but I will get my story told.

Do you have any example of books that cross genre lines? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to break out of the familiar and step into new territory in order to get your story told? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

About the reviewer:  Khadijah Lacina  lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What is Your Superpower?

One of the games we play at our annual Summer Drama Camp is a name game that includes everyone saying their name and what superpower they have. It is a way to help the campers get acquainted, but it also invites them to start thinking about tapping into their imagination for understanding the creative side of what we are doing at camp. Sure we have fun, but that is only a small part of a drama camp.

What I have found very interesting when we play that game, is that the kids rarely say they can fly like Superman or climb up the sides of buildings like Spiderman, or run with the blinding speed of Wonder Woman. Often they share things like; "I can remember things." "I can sing very high notes." "I am good at drawing." "I can make my dog sit."

That last one is good if we need someone to corral an unruly child.

This camp, which I started 15 years ago with a handful of campers and two other adult volunteers, has evolved into a major event. For the past five years we have had 25+ kids in the program, three paid camp leaders, three or four teen helpers and two or three adult helpers. The paid leaders are professionals and work with the kids to write and produce a musical production, which is performed on the weekend following the second week of camp.

Everyone brings their special gift of creativity - their superpower - to the process of writing the songs, writing the script, and staging the show. In addition, we do lots of art to decorate the gallery part of the Winnsboro Center For the Arts, which is where all this fun and magic happens. The artwork then becomes the summer exhibition at the art center, and the pieces will stay up until the first part of September. The kids are almost as excited about the exhibit as the show.

This year we had a Beginner Camp, and the art from that one is part of the exhibit.
So why am I talking about a drama camp when the theme for this month at the Blood-Red Pencil is Wonder Women?

Because watching the repeat campers expand their talents from year to year is not unlike the way Wonder Woman discovered her special powers over a period of time. For her, it didn't happen all at once.

Neither does it happen for the kids.

Or for most of us.

It comes through the months and years that we are open to our superpowers of creativity. When we give them free rein, it's amazing what we can do. Part of having that loose rein is exploring new ways of perfecting our craft. New ways of finding creative energy through art and music and theatre. And new ways of using technology.  Twenty years ago if someone would have said that I would be writing a blog and maintaining a website, I would have asked if I could have some of what they were drinking. But here I am. And there I am, and I am pleased to be able to say I have not allowed myself to become stagnant.

This was my last year as Camp Administrator, and my amazing team surprised me with a tee-shirt. Of course it made me cry, but it also made my heart swell.

This is the front of the shirt.
When I saw what was printed on the back, I cried some more. But now a couple of weeks later, looking at it with less tears, the shirt reminds me that I do have a lot of creative superpowers, and even though I have never made a big splash in the pond of fame, I have made a big splash here in my hometown.

And we won't make any kind of splash at all if we don't keep exploring avenues of creativity.

The back of the shirt.
 So, what are your superpowers? How have you discovered them over the years?

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Yes, she will miss the drama camp.