2019 So Far

Well, here we are at the midpoint of the year. How has it been for you so far? I have to say, a lot of my friends are struggling with a deluge of incidents and situations. When it rains, as they say…

As for me, this year so far:

  • Put our house on the market and sold it
  • Bought a new house
  • Started a new nutrition plan… then dumped it
  • Had surgery
  • Moved
  • Enrolled two of my kids in their new schools (one of them is staying at his current school)
  • Daughter graduated from elementary school
  • Oldest son celebrated his bar mitzvah
  • Was long listed for a RONE award but couldn’t garner the necessary support to make the short list, so I quit writing
  • Helping my son plan for his student ambassadorship to Japan in October
  • Planning my own trip to Japan for next year with my best friend

I know the RONE thing makes me sound petulant, but it was really just the straw that broke the camel. I’ve been trying for years to get friends, family, and readers to act on my behalf, even just to leave reviews or spread the word about my work. Because if an author can’t get even their closest loved ones to vote for them in something, how can they hope to make it? Over the years it’s become increasingly clear, however, that I can’t get anyone to support me. And since I can’t do it on my own, I’ve shut down that side of my life. Actually, I’m pretty sure my family is happier now that I’m more focused on them anyway.

So then what do I have to look forward to? Well, again, mostly family stuff:

  • Prepping my son for band camp
  • Family vacation
  • School starting
  • Pool renovations
  • Having the house painted
  • Finalizing my son’s plans for that Japan trip

That takes me through October, at least. We may or may not do anything fun for Thanksgiving or winter break. I guess I still have a birthday to look forward to? And some theatre tickets… Also another year of being on the PTA board.

I suppose my career crashing and burning still puts me better off than a lot of people. But I don’t have to be happy about it. And I know filling my time with house and family will only go so far. I mean, I don’t want to be one of those mothers who lose their identities in their kids and then fall apart when all those kids grow up and leave home. (Assuming they leave home, which I certainly hope they do.) But yeah. The year has definitely been one of big shifts, some in great directions, but some… not so much. Guess we’ll see what the back half brings.

Television: Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”

I’m not really going to focus on this episode specifically so much as discuss… Well, anyway, let’s look at why some people were angry with Daenerys’ arc, etc. At least as much as I understand it, though I’d be happy if others would weigh in via the comments. (So long as you remain polite and respectful.)

Dany spent the first few seasons struggling, gathering, strategizing. She became a powerful woman, and she became what many considered a possible savior to free the Seven Kingdoms from Lannister evil. Certainly she felt that way, that it was her destiny to rule, and she persuaded enough people to back her. So when she skewed toward becoming a tyrant herself, many people felt this was out of character for her. Many were upset that this strong female character was being eclipsed by Jon Snow, the “rightful heir.” Jon being painted as a completely good, decidedly uncomplicated guy who “always does what’s right.”

But, truly, Dany showed tyrannical tendencies early on. She’s always been ruthless and focused on her singular goal. So I didn’t find it out of character at all, really. And I can understand the irritation about the way women are portrayed in GoT. The ruling women were invariably autocratic, though their motivations were always different. Cersei wanted power for power’s sake; Dany truly believed she would remake the world as a better place.

What about Sansa and Arya then? The bone of contention there is that both became strong female characters through a certain amount of personal trauma. My understanding of the backlash is that women in GoT are never just strong in their own right. They’ve been beaten into swords by enduring the heat of the fire and the blows of the hammer against the anvil. The underlying messages of: “A woman who wants power is bad” and “a woman cannot be powerful unless she’s been traumatized or disowns her gender” are problematic. The narrative of “this nice [white] boy will save us” is also not great.

Still. I have no real problems with the way the story played out except that it felt rushed in the final couple seasons. A bit more character development could have saved everyone a lot of vexation, so that things like Jamie’s departure from Winterfell wouldn’t have felt so abrupt. The past couple season have barreled through plot points, which I feel is part of what has left some viewers unsatisfied.

I am not one of those viewers. While I can wish differently for some of the characters, realistically this feels fair. (To me, anyway.) It feels true to the nature of the show and to the world as it has been built. This was never a fairy tale. It’s always been a story about how people who want power probably shouldn’t have it, and what happens when they get it and are greedy for more. It’s a story of how any one person (or family) holding that power creates ever more problems. And yet… despite much upheaval, the system remains largely the same. People live and die, wars are fought, and the world goes on. For better or worse. It balances itself.

The wheel doesn’t break. It just turns.

As for petitions to rewrite things, well… I think in the day and age of social media, where there is more contact than ever before between fans and (sometimes) content creators, fans feel entitled to dictate the direction of the shows they enjoy. And that, to me, is unmerited. Fans aren’t in the writers’ room, they don’t get to pitch the story lines they’d like to see. That’s what fan fiction is for. And I’m sure there’s about to be scads of GoT fics.

More Writers, Fewer Readers

What to Do?

I’m currently reading iGen by Jean Twenge, which discusses all the ways the iGeneration ( b. ~1995-2012) is different from previous generations. There’s a ton to unpack, and I’m not even very far along in this book, but as a writer I wanted to focus on the data that shows this generation doesn’t read. At least not for fun.

Are we surprised? Not really. Attention spans are getting increasingly short, cut into tiny slices of memes and video clips and text messages. As per the anecdotal evidence Twenge cites, most members of the iGeneration find reading boring because it requires them to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention. The result are slumping SAT scores in reading comprehension, which Twenge says we shouldn’t ascribe as either “good” or “bad” but… I can’t help thinking it’s bad. We want critical thinkers and problem solvers, but the up-and-coming generation can’t be bothered to work their brains that hard. (Twenge suggests ebooks that include videos and are written in very short chapters/info bursts, but really? We have to dumb things down for these kids?)

Okay, okay, so I’m an old fogey. That’s beside the point. In a world where (for good or ill) getting published is easier than ever, we have more content out there than ever, too. And we have fewer and fewer readers interested in buying or consuming that content.

Hmm.

“What about all those YA novels that sell so well?” you ask. Well, turns out it’s a lot of adults reading those novels and not that many, er, young adults.

“But older people still read!” Yeeeesss. But we need new readers to sustain publishing. And not just new content, since there is clearly plenty of that.

“So just write stuff they want to read.” Yeah, except they don’t want to read anything longer than a listicle.* Hell, short stories try their patience.

*Here’s an interesting tangent: iGen’ers don’t party as much, aren’t as into drinking or sex. So all these “old” people writing books for them… Books that look like something out of the 80’s, with parties and sex and alcohol… These books don’t reflect the current teen experience. Write a book entirely in text messages and memes and you’d be closer to the mark. And they’d be way more likely to read it. Especially since it probably wouldn’t take as long as reading it in prose form.

Bottom line/takeaways: the youngest generation isn’t reading books beyond those assigned to them at school (and sometimes not even that much). They have short attention spans and aren’t interested in an activity that takes time, patience, and concentration. We have more books and writers than ever and fewer readers. [Yes, I know those who do read often read avidly and voraciously, but again, we need new readers in order to sustain writers and publishing.] Already magazines and newspapers are desperate, and publishing is next in line; only people writing pithy (and short) articles online will be safe. And because trends move more quickly than ever, even then one is only likely to be a brief success.

Where am I going with this? Well, to be honest, I haven’t been writing much lately anyway. I’d already seen success (as I personally define it) as unattainable for me. So this data only reaffirms that I made the right choice by walking away. The situation is only likely to worsen.

Then again, once enough writers quit the field, those left might still find an audience, eh? Good luck out there!

The Romance is Gone

First off, sorry for being absent. I had surgery and now I’m in the throes of a house move. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing or blogging. And the truth is, I don’t feel much like writing these days. Despite having a number of projects on hand, nothing is speaking to me.

Or should I say no one is speaking to me?

I was trying to get to the bottom of why I’m not feeling the urge to write. In the past, I’ve had times when I don’t feel like writing, but the pressure builds up in me until I can’t not write. But this feels different. I’m oddly content, even though I’m not writing.

And I have all these WIP, filled with pretty solid stories and characters, but…

Ah. BUT.

I like a lot of my current characters. But I don’t love them. And that, I’ve discovered, is what I really need in order to feel pushed to write. I have to be totally, head-over-heels in love with my characters. (Or at least one of them.) And right now I’m not. I’m the author equivalent of single.

So what I need is a new romance with someone fictional. Until I find him or her, though, it appears I won’t feel that drive to write. Oh, I could try to force it, but we all know that love really can’t be manufactured. That’s true in fiction as much as in real life.

The right one will come along… Eventually…

Should Streaming Movies be Oscar Eligible?

When I saw Steven Spielberg was a streaming topic on Twitter, I worried. I’m at that age, after all, when my idols are aging and dying off. But as it turns out, the chatter is just about how Spielberg plans to push an anti-Netflix agenda at the next Academy board meeting.

The question on the table: What should be the basic minimum requirements for a film to be eligible for an Oscar?

To be fair, the rules were originally made when the world of film could not conceive of streaming, and when the distribution channel was one clear tunnel of release in cinemas, then release on video (once video was a thing), then show some edited version on television (until movie channels came along and did not require ADR to mask the curse words). Now movies can be released in cinemas and on streaming simultaneously.

So maybe the deeper question is: What makes a movie a movie?

That may sound weird, but bear with me. We’ve long had a division between film and television. Movies that show on television are called television movies, just to differentiate. And television movies can win Emmys but not Oscars.

So is a movie a movie because it shows in a cinema? What if it only shows once? What if it shows in a cinema and on television at the same time? These are the questions the Academy needs to address.

And a large portion of the argument comes down to politics. Campaign finance to be precise. In this instance, it’s the fact that Netflix has a ton of money to throw into campaigning for films like Roma. Netflix can buy a few cinema screens outside of the usual distribution channels and therefore meet a bare minimum requirement that allows its films to qualify for an Oscar. So… should there be a cap on what can be spent on campaigning?

Another bone of contention is that Roma only spent three weeks in cinemas before moving to Netflix streaming. Should the Academy demand a longer period between theatrical and streaming?

It’s all a matter of opinion and perspective. I haven’t seen Roma, though I’m sure, based on all the enthusiastic feedback, that it is a lovely film. However, I’m inclined to agree that there should be more definitive guidelines regarding what is Oscar eligible. I don’t think of Netflix as a film studio. I don’t think of Amazon as one either. Or Hulu. And maybe I’m old-fashioned in that. I honestly don’t know.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are bringing out content very different from all the superheroes the studios keep churning out. They’re making quality products. But… Are they movies? Or television movies?

Used to be, movies were either made to be shown in cinemas or made to be shown on television. The processes themselves were different. The quality of the film, the aspect ratios—different. Now people have televisions that are almost as large as movie screens. Now the quality of what’s being made for television is as good or better than what’s being made for cinemas. Everything is blurred.

There’s a certain amount of snobbery involved, too, of course. We can accept that FOX studios decided to have a television channel. We have a harder time thinking of Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu—all of which started out showing second-hand content on television—as a legitimate film studio. I mean, if HBO produced a movie and sent it to cinemas for a couple weeks then aired it on their own channel… Would it be up for Oscars or Emmys? Both?

It’s a knotty problem and one I don’t have an answer to. While I’m inclined to agree with Steven Spielberg, the bottom line is the Academy has to lay out some very clear criteria. A lot of it will look and feel arbitrary because it pretty much is. But without lines and guardrails on these roads, the situation is headed for a crash.

Once in a Lifetime?

We had an extra ticket to Hamilton, so we invited my 13-year-old son’s best friend to come with us because we knew she really loved the musical (well, its soundtrack anyway). She took pictures of the theater, the cast list, and said to me, “I’m taking pictures of everything because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I’ll never get to see a Broadway play again.” To which I replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. You never know.”

It got me thinking about the first time I had the treat of seeing a touring Broadway production. It was My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain as Henry Higgins. I’d always loved the movie and was so excited to see the play. And I guess I had the same feeling as my son’s friend—that this would not necessarily become a regular event in my life. (Though I also got to see Camelot with Robert Goulet as Arthur that same year.)

My son and his friend came out of Hamilton very happy and talking about how they’d like to do drama in high school. I’m so glad we were able to give them this experience, but I’m also a bit sad that for many people it really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, if that. Sure, some people aren’t at all interested in theater (their loss, in my opinion). But for those who might be, it can be inaccessible. It was to me for the longest time. I was fortunate that my school took us to the symphony, the planetarium, and other amazing places. But with schools trimming arts programs to the bare minimum, these outings are less and less common as well.

I understand why theater is expensive. The work that goes into it: sets, wardrobe, tech, acting, directing, choreography… And a lot more. Even the community theater productions I used to help with were quite involved, so something on the scale of a Broadway show? Yeah. And I know many shows have student discounts, or even special showings for schools or other groups. I just… I think this girl’s remark surprised me. I think people (like me) who go to the theater regularly begin to take it for granted. And that’s a shame.

So what’s the point of this post? 1. To observe that, for some people, going to the theater is a dream and/or rare experience. And that’s too bad, but I don’t actually have any suggestions to change that. 2. To also observe that, for those who do go to the theater often, it’s nice to remember the value of that. And even nicer to take along someone who doesn’t get to go, or has never been. Because their joy is infectious. And will be a fantastic reminder of all the reasons you’re lucky you get to go.

Valentine’s: Yay or Nay?

Happy Valentine’s Day! In our house, it’s pretty much an average day, except that the kids come home from school with armloads of candy and cards. Feels to me like a waste of paper in most cases. There’s nothing particularly sincere or sentimental in these cards; in fact, they usually aren’t directly addressed to my children, only signed by whichever classmate handed them out. That’s how they do it now. Saves time if you can just drop it in whatever bag or box the kids have decorated without searching for the exact one addressed to the right person.

Aside from the economy and marketing, I’m not sure why school kids celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. Sure, as they get older and begin to form real ties of friendship and affection, it makes sense for them to give the people they truly care about a card or token. But other than that? My third grader really doesn’t care. Except about the candy, of course.

And yet, it’s my third grader whose class is having a party. My fifth- and seventh graders are completely disinterested in Valentine’s Day because it is uncool and embarrassing. So even though they are the ones with strong social circles, they won’t be exchanging valentines.

It’s all just a bit backward.

But I’m hardly one to talk. My husband and I also do not usually observe Valentine’s Day. This is the night when, if you do go out, places are crowded and the food isn’t as good. We’d just as soon go out some other night. Which is what we do anyway when we have date nights. For Valentine’s Day, we don’t buy cards, and with my diet restrictions, I can’t have candy. Heck, I probably can’t even eat from the “Valentine’s Day Menus” at most restaurants. So why bother?

On the flip side, Valentine’s Day (and the days surrounding) is a cluster of my friends’ birthdays. For whatever reason, I seem to draw to me people born around this time of year. So I’m just as happy, or happier, to give them all the attention. As someone born near to Christmas, I know what a pain it is to have a birthday near a holiday that eclipses your day. Romance can happen any day of the year, but birthdays should be special.

How about you? Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Am I just taking my marriage and husband for granted by not making a bigger deal of the day? Do your kids care about Valentine’s Day, or are they over it? And how do you feel about birthdays that fall on or near holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Good vs. Memorable

Sometimes I’m asked, “What books do you think are good?” and that is a very broad question because “good” is subjective. Also, it depends on your criteria for “good.” Do you mean “well written”? Do you mean “entertaining”? Do you mean books with characters I fell in love with? Or do you mean books that have stayed with me for years, despite whether I actively enjoyed reading them?

There is, perhaps, a fair argument that a book cannot be very good if it can be forgotten the moment you finish reading it. However, not all writers are aiming to live in long memory. While I hope readers enjoy Brynnde and Faebourne, I understand that those books and others like them are often kind of like candy floss, melting away as the reader moves on to the next thing.

Then again, just because a book is memorable, that doesn’t mean it is (or was) enjoyable to read. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite—we remember books (or movies) precisely because they had such a negative impact on us. Yet one could argue the author has done a “good” job because he or she has made the book into something you will never forget. No such thing as bad publicity? Some authors and filmmakers actively attempt to shock and discomfit their readers/viewers. If they do so, they consider themselves successful, even if critics and viewers hate their work.

Sometimes, though, it’s a neutral thing that, for whatever reason, leaves an impression. I was once talking to a friend of mine about (if I remember correctly, and if I don’t, it probably disproves me) Needful Things by Stephen King. And at one point we both said at the same time: “When Alan catches the glass.” This references a very specific scene in the book, one that has stuck in both our brains for years. After all, I’ve only read that book once, when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old. I don’t remember much about it, but Alan catching the glass is burned into my brain… and velvet Elvis paintings.

At the same time, there are plenty of books I can recall liking, but if you asked me for specifics now, I wouldn’t be able to give you any. I loved “The Turn of the Screw” (and The Innocents), but I can’t give you any details on what about the story or film I particularly enjoyed. I only have this general feeling of: Oh, yes, I liked that one. This is true of so many books and movies, probably because we’re designed to remember what we dislike—what affects us badly—more than what we like. This is an old part of the brain, a holdover from the days when we needed to remember which plants made us sick or which animals were dangerous. But it’s the part of the brain that, today, makes us more likely to write a letter of complaint, or a bad review, than to praise something.

So what am I getting at here? I’m only pointing out that “good” is measured in many different ways. You can say, “I liked it,” but can you articulate why? And even if you don’t like something, if it stays in your mind and follows you around, does that make it “good,” at least on some level?

What books or movies have stuck with you over time? Did you like them? Or have they made an impression precisely because they were terrible? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Ageism in Writing and Publishing (a birthday post)

I was reading an online message board in which an author asked about whether anyone had experienced ageism when trying to find an agent or publisher. While I didn’t feel qualified to answer, it did make me stop and think.

I’ve noticed many writers—well, the ones announcing having landed agents and made deals—are younger than me. I guess that happens as you age; everyone seems young! But I do think that things have changed. It used to be that authors were relatively invisible aside from occasional book tours (if they were big enough names) or conference appearances. But with the advent of social media, being an author is now like being any other famous person. Suddenly it matters what you look like. And just like aging actresses get booted to make room for the young, pretty things, I do sometimes suspect the same about authors.

It probably varies by genre, though. I think it’s YA authors that skew young. Agents and publishers seem to think that younger readers want authors who “get it.” And of course us old fogeys can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a teenager these days. We can’t even imagine, despite our jobs being to do just that. However, romance writers can be older because *ahem* “experience”?

There are surely gender biases, too. Just as handsome older actors continue to get cast in big motion pictures, old white men get to keep writing and publishing books.

At the same time, this is impossible to prove. That’s the difficulty with ageism. Especially in a subjective business where it’s perfectly reasonable for agents or publishers to say, “This just isn’t for me.” Whether it’s the work or something about you—age or otherwise—you may never know.

To be clear, I’m not bitter. This is really just meant to be a reflection piece. The nice thing about modernity is that, even if agents reject you because you’re “too old to write YA,” that doesn’t have to stop you from being published because you can publish yourself. It’s hard work, to be sure, but at least then you can know for certain whether your writing is good enough (and your age never mattered), or if the agents/publishers were right all along. As the saying goes: You’ll never know until you try.

My History with Pink

I took one of those random Internet quizzes today about what color I am, and the result was:

Your color is pink! You are a loving, kind, and generous person. You are very approachable, as people are attracted to your warmth and softness. You are also instinctively protective and tend to take care of others first.

I don’t know why I take these quizzes except to see who, if anyone, “gets” me. Deep down, we all want to be understood.

As for pink, I don’t mind it, and when I was young I considered it my favorite color. Except… I don’t think it actually was.

Let me explain. I was a child (and am a person) who very much wanted to meet and exceed expectations. And I felt like I was supposed to like pink. So I liked pink. Or thought I did. But if given a choice about things, I didn’t typically pick the pink one. I leaned more towards purple. Yet if anyone asked, I would say my favorite color was pink. Because that was the “correct” answer.

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to win approval. My parents were very lax in a lot of ways, which meant they never seemed very impressed by anything I did. For the most part I’m extremely grateful they weren’t the pushy, demanding kind of parents, but over time I’ve come to realize that the lack of praise affected me, too. I ended up looking to my teachers for approval, and I got terrific grades, so there was that at least.

“Liking” pink, then, was just another attempt to be dutiful and hopefully win some appreciation from the adults around me. (I’m an only child.) But deep down, I liked purple. That happens to be my dad’s favorite color, too, so I never wanted to admit that I liked it because in my childish mind that would be taking away from him and/or showing favoritism toward him. I even chose my first My Little Pony based on the fact that she was purple with green hair—my dad’s and mom’s favorite colors combined. I was dead set against playing favorites and hurting feelings. (The pony was Seashell, btw.)

I would even color pictures in purple, green, and pink in an effort to combine my and my parents’ “likes” and not leave anyone out.

It’s been a long, hard road in coming to understand myself and my constant search for acknowledgement. I wanted the gold stars, the stickers, the pats on the head… And I still do. I feel crushed when I don’t receive them. I wonder what went wrong, or what is wrong with me. So I struggle now to remember that my worth is inherent and that it doesn’t matter if others recognize and affirm it.

It’s okay that pink really isn’t my favorite color.