You’re Not the Boss of Me

No woman can expect to be regarded as a lady after she has written a book –Lydia Maria Francis Child (paraphrase) 1802-1880

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public — Mom

Yes, that’s right. Another blog post from me. Nothing for months and then two posts in one week. I am neither moderate nor consistent, nor do I strive to be.
Recent events have set me to thinking about censorship, and before your heart sets to racing and you start forming rebuttals in your mind, let me assure you that I am NOT speaking of censorship in the word’s legal definition. I’m talking about personal, internal censorship.
Artists of all stripes – and writers in particular – hate censorship. It’s our C word.
To write anything, and I do mean anything , from a sweet story of a mother loving her child, to the chilling mother/child relationship in Mike Miller’s Murderous – to write at all – requires exposing our innermost selves to strangers. To reveal ourselves day after day requires that we guard against any and all who seek to shut our mouths, close our minds, dictate what is and is not acceptable.
I’m talking about censorship as a mental state.
Let me give you an example.
A few months ago I posted a blog about my grandmother, one of the most important people in my life as a child. Grandma was a smart, funny, nurturing woman. She valued me, listened to me, encouraged me. She was also an alcoholic. The point of the post was that people are never all good or all bad. That we love people for who they are, not what we want them to be. That perfection is not a prerequisite for love.
A week or so after that blog post, I received a letter from my mother in which she said, among other things, “Your grandmother would be so disappointed in you. Thank God she died or she’d be crying right now. Never write about me or anyone in our family again.”
That is censorship.
Is it legal for my mother to make the request? Of course.
Is it understandable that she did so? Absolutely.
Is it possible to accept this edict and still write? No.
No, no, no, a thousand times no.
Because to write anything at all, from a love scene, to a fight scene, to a tender story of mother and child, we must draw upon personal experience. There is no way to write except to expose ourselves to the reader, dig deep and re-experience that first kiss, first love, first lust. Allow ourselves to fall, once again, into grief or rise up into joy.
And the second we allow that internal voice of censorship to whisper in our ear or shout in our face, we stop growing as writers, I suspect we stunt our growth as humans. The creative process cannot survive worry about the reaction of others to our words. Internal censorship kills the ability to tell the truth, demands that we twist and mutilate the past in order to avoid offending the reader.
Many of the skills required to be a writer can be learned. We can be taught to rattle off our opinion on the Oxford comma, to rail against passive voice, or falling out of point of view. The ability to reject censorship – that is a personal journey, one on which we must embark if we are to become tellers of tall tales and revealers of truth.

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Hillbilly Revolution

Originally posted on Pamela Foster:

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When Jack and I strapped the leashes of Chesty and Rocca to our wrists, came out of retirement in the lovely tropical country of Panama, and returned to the USA – specifically to Northwest Arkansas – our families and friends were flummoxed.
“You’re moving to the Ozarks? Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
“Well, at least you’ll save money on dental care. Fit right in when those teeth just fall right out.”
“Seriously? The Ozarks? Are you crazy?”
Since we heard the exact same incredulous tones when we moved to Mexico, and when we immigrated it Panama, neither Jack nor I argued with the stereotype, but neither were we swayed. There is no stronger bias than that which is based on unsubstantiated beliefs.

Click on cover to purchase from Amazon. Click on cover to purchase from Amazon.

Besides, we had those two giant mastiffs to worry about getting back onto the passenger section of a Delta jet in order…

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Beware the Tums

You may have noticed it’s been a while since I posted a new essay on this blog. Or maybe you haven’t noticed at all. At any rate, I was in the hospital for two weeks and am still recovering. That’s my excuse.
I keep trying to write an explanation of what happened to me, but honestly other people’s health issues are as interesting as mud, so I’m going to share with you two details and then we’ll move on to more entertaining posts.
• I almost died from taking too many Tums
And, moving on to the interesting part,
• When you have calcium poisoning, you hallucinate. A lot.
An entire village of people visited with me during this time, but the two whose company I enjoyed the most were a stoic, white-faced geisha and a Samurai whose face was a roadmap of pain and suffering. The geisha’s kimono and the Samurai’s armor were both heavily decorated in shiny gold, glowing silver, and flashing gems. The intricate details of their attire morphed and twisted and became an entire universe of beasts and forests and interlocking mazes.
There were other beings around too, however, and these others looked like ordinary men and women. Nice folks who crept close, spoke pleasantly, and peered into my soul before dropping their masks and revealing their true, evil natures. I did not enjoy the company of these individuals. Especially as it was so difficult to separate them from the doctors and nurses who drifted in and out of my room at all hours. I kept thinking of the line Stephen King stole and put to such good use.
“Is it real or is it Memorex?”
Here’s what I learned from my adventure through the terrifying world of hallucinations:
• Don’t ignore your health, no matter how busy you are, no matter how much someone else is depending on your to care for them, stop your life and see a doctor if you have a chronic medical issue. Like heartburn. Oh. And never, ever take more than two Tums a day. You might get unlucky and end up with a body that just decides not to eliminate excess calcium but to collect the chalky stuff in order to dish up fascinating and terrifying hallucinations on its way to killing you dead.
And even more important:
• Evil, Memorex or ‘real’, cannot be defeated with hatred. Nor will anger do more than fatten the fear so that it grows stronger, and ever more powerful. No. When one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, the only way to defeat evil is to become a conduit of God’s love and acceptance. Light defeats darkness. Every single time.

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The Week of Darkness

“Mercedes Benz”
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

Black Friday has become The Week of Darkness.

I don’t know about you, but I have far more things than I need or that are good for me.

Therefore, this Christmas I’m not buying gifts for you, my friends and family, and I’m asking you not to buy anything for me. Oh, none of you have been naughty. In fact, most of you have filled my year with joy and lifted me up when I’ve fallen. Some of you have very nearly smothered me in advice and love and concern. I thank God for showing me His love through you.

Most of us are generous with our gifts to those less economically fortunate during this season. We do what we can to keep Christ in Christmas, some of us work to keep God in Hanukkah, others strive to keep the teaching of Mohammad in Ramadan.

This year I challenge each and every one of you to double your efforts to feed the hungry, to help those in pain, to reach out to those who are having a year that’s maybe not quite as great as ours has been. We all have good intentions. But, sometimes we think about making that donation, or reaching out to that lost soul, but end up just dropping an extra five in the Salvation Army Santa’s red bucket and trying to feel good about our generosity.

This year I challenge us all to donate to one of the causes listed below, or to post one of your own favorite charities in the comments section. Please, share with me what you’re doing this year to keep this season one of joy and spirituality in the best sense of those overused words.

Soldier on Service Dogs provides trained service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Toys for Tots  Check out this video and donate, please.

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lies

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I write cross-genre. Or so the folks that need to know where to put my books on the Barnes and Noble shelf tell me. Since Barnes and Noble isn’t doing particularly well right now, and publishing in general is a kind of crap shoot, I don’t take that cross-genre label too seriously.
However, my newest book, The Perfect Victim, will be released in a few weeks and that’s got me thinking. You see this newest novel is labeled a suspense. And it is. It most surely is. And I’ve not written a suspense before so technically, this is a new genre for me.
But, in truth, I’m a story teller.
Some stories are funny.
Some are dark and gritty.
Some are suspenseful.
Some are fun and light.
Some open doors that make us uncomfortable.
Like life itself, stories are often a mix of all the above.
Those of you who follow this blog know my goal as a novelist is to reveal the truth by telling lies. I wrote The Perfect Victim in order to tell a deep truth. I’m not going to reveal to you what that truth is simply because there is no way I can do so without giving away the plot of the book.
But I hope the book will encourage discussion. I hope some of the scenes in the book make readers uncomfortable. I hope readers close the book with a better understanding of a complicated and difficult subject. I hope book clubs and teachers and librarians and police departments recommend the book and invite me in to discuss the truths revealed in the lies I told. I also hope the book entertains, draws readers into a world they might not be familiar with, and keeps them turning pages all night long so that they go into work the next day with a helluva book hangover and a desire to see what other books I’ve written.
Because in the end, the genre of a book matters little to me or to the reader. It’s the story that matters, it’s how well the lies are told.

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There Be Monsters

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Yesterday Jan Morrill, the award winning author of The Red Kimono, and a good friend of mine, posted a blog about the beast within us all. Her point, if I understood it correctly, was that these monsters must be embraced by the writer of truth and exposed to the reader in all their awesome, horrendous beauty. As so often happens among good friends, Jan’s words came at a perfect time in my own life.
I too am struggling with the exposure of a naked, twisted monster.
The Perfect Victim, my seventh book, will be released next month. Those of you who are fans know my books are about relationships. Yes, the characters occasionally have sex. But there has never before in my writing been any need to take the reader inside the bedroom in order tell the story. In fact, it is my belief that we all have active, rich, layered memories of sexual encounters and exploits which generally far exceed reality. I do my best to lead the reader to the open door of the bedroom, invite them inside, and then back slowly away and let imagination fill in the nooks and crannies of the scene.
But for this latest book, The Perfect Victim, I had to bring the reader inside explicit sex. And not sex between two people who love and respect and desire each other but violent, twisted, power-hungry sex. Sex that has little to do with love and everything to do with domination. The book is about how our past so often dictates our present, how a child raised in an abusive household seeks comfortable, familiar patterns in their adult relationships. It’s also about healing and revenge and a woman who wrestles the past around until she can look into the face of the monster and strike a mortal blow.
The story cannot be told without the reader experiencing the peculiar mix of terror and shame, love and acceptance that is carried within children of sexual abuse.
One of the novel’s beta readers told me, “I put the book down over and over, wanted to walk away, but each time, concern for Mary (the point of view character) brought me back within minutes. I HAD do know what happened to her, was cheering for her every step of the way.”
I hope you will feel the same when you read this book, that you will be appalled and frightened and made uncomfortable by Mary’s choices and by the terror-strewn path down which these choices lead. I also hope you will come away with a better understanding of the complexities and long-term consequences for a child for whom trust is broken.
This was a difficult book to write and yet the words poured out of me and onto the page. The entire book was written in eight weeks. Two months of sixteen-hour days in front of a computer living inside the character. This one cost me to write. This one opened a very dark place inside, a place where there be monsters. Grotesque, open-mouthed, hungry beasts that burst forth from my psyche and spilled all over the page.
I hope you will read The Perfect Victim, allow yourself to be seduced by the twisted beauty of the monster exposed in this story, be caught up in the heroes quest, and healed by the transformation of pain into self-acceptance. Like Mary, we all have monsters within us. We also have heroes and saints. In the end, we must accept them all as part of who we are, or live a life where joy is tarnished by the past and dulled by secret denial.

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Aha Moment

Carry Me Home

When Mutual of Omaha sent me an email inviting me to participate in their Aha Moment, I knew exactly which moment I wanted to share.
But sharing that moment in a thirty-second commercial? Holy smoke, you all know me. I have no problem exposing my emotional vulnerabilities but it takes longer than thirty seconds for me to say good morning, let alone draw back the curtain verbally to reveal an epiphany.
Still, I put on my makeup, combed my hair and trotted down to Mutual of Omaha’s cute little Airstream trailer set up on the Fayetteville town square. Now, I do a bit of speaking in front of large groups and I’ve long ago gotten over any stage fright in front of crowds. But this was a whole new experience.
The technicians, a friendly young woman and man recorded my information and brought me inside the Airstream. Told to take a seat in a tiny, curtained alcove surrounded by equipment, I perched my butt on a narrow stool and wished I’d lost those twenty pounds I keep promising myself to lose.
“Just relax,” the lovely young woman said.
Two giant lights came on, and the temperature instantly leaped twenty degrees. My carefully applied makeup began to run in little flesh-toned rivulets. I blinked my eyes. Swallowed. Reminded myself that squinting would intensify those two gigantic vertical wrinkles between my eyes.
“Tell me your story.” A gentle voice said from between the two blinding lights.
Well, here’s the thing.
When I do public speaking, I count on, feed upon, desperately need eye contact from individuals in the audience. Inside this tiny trailer, I was looking into blinding lights. It felt a bit like talking to God. I took a deep breath and remembered the power of the experience I wanted to sharem aank into the strength of the individual man, and the incredible men in general, who gifted me with that moment.
And then I started to talk.
Jack and I were at the VA for one of his appointments. Married to a Vietnam vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine just outside Danang in ’65, I spend a good bit of time at one VA facility or another. My Life with a Wounded Warrior, my latest book at that time, had just been released and was being used by the local VetCenter to help combat vets in our area of the world.
I was tired and hungry and at that point in a day of VA doctor’s appointments when I felt as though I’d been there forever and there was no hope of ever leaving. Seriously, there comes a point at the VA when I can actually hear Rod Serling’s voice in my head.
A very large man made eye contact with me from down the hall and his eyes immediately crinkled at the corners. Long, salt-and-pepper beard, hair tied in a leather thong at the back of his thick neck, black leather jacket with a small skull on one side and a 1st CAV patch on the other – this grinning man strode directly to me. It was crowded in that VA hallway, but folks got the hell out of his way. He never slowed, came directly to me and wrapped me in a hug.
“You wrote that book.” His breath warmed my neck.
“I did.”
“Thank you. Thank you for writing it and thank you for accepting and understanding us.”
He gave me one more breath-stealing squeeze and then turned and walked away.
I’ve written a lot of books. God willing, I’ll tell more stories and entertain more people as the years go by. But that day, standing in that crowded VA corridor, I understood that in writing that particular book, in exposing my own vulnerability– the pain and joy and challenges and rewards of living with a combat veteran with PTSD – I helped to heal both myself and others.
That was my Aha Moment.
Now, please, clink on this link and watch the video. Vote, of course vote every day from now until October 10th so that this thirty seconds can air on national TV and people will pause for just that brief moment and think about how we might all do a better job as individuals to welcome our warriors back home, to accept and love and understand them for the remarkable men and women they are.
Think too about how we all spend so much of our lives trying to look good to others, when really, it’s sharing our flaws, our imperfections and struggles that help best to heal ourselves and others.
I think that friendly young man and woman from Mutual of Omaha did a fine job of squeezing all that into thirty seconds, don’t you?

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