Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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Yesterday wasn't a good day, for a variety of reasons, and I didn't write very much. But here's where I'm starting today.
I have a longish short story -- approximately 14k words -- that I wrote back in about 2003. Genre is murder mystery with some comedy, no romance. I don't think anyone has ever read it, except for one scene that I used in a class. In fact, the story itself was written around that scene.
I then wrote a synopsis of the story and sold an "option" on it to a guy who was going to use it as part of a pitch for a cable tv game show. I thought his idea was completely non-viable, but he was willing to pay me for a 1-year option, so I took his money. His idea never made it out of his living room.
Anyway, I then wrote the whole story and never did anything further with it. Murder mystery is not my genre, so I'd be delighted if anyone wants to read The Case of the Preacher Without a Prayer. I can put it in PDF format and email, or whatever transmission method works for anyone. I'm not sure if BL message system will accept a file that long, but I can try!
I come from a very touchy feely huggy family. It's second nature to me to offer hugs of condolence or gratitude without even thinking. I'm sure there have been times when "without even thinking" has caused me to offend people who are less welcoming of being touched. To all of them, I'm sorry. I should have asked. I probably wouldn't have, but I probably should have.
In my defense of the indefensible, there's something squicky and grotesquely insincere about saying to someone, "Oh, I'm so sorry your mother passed away unexpectedly. Would it be all right if I give you a hug? I don't want to infringe on your personal space, so feel free to say no."
Does this mean I think it's all right for men to touch, fondle, kiss, sniff, or otherwise behave inappropriately toward women without permission? No, I don't.
I took a class at ASU in 1999 or 2000 titled "Gender and Sexuality." I recently sorted through some of the papers from that class and contemplated tossing them but chose instead to scan them as PDFs. I may never use them again, but they're no longer taking up any shelf space and someday I just might want them.
On the first day of class, the professor asked us to explain the difference between a wink and a blink. We were all juniors, seniors, and grad students majoring in some area of the social sciences, so this wasn't exactly a trick question. Yet most of the students offered definitions based on the physical act of rapidly opening and closing one or both eyes. In fact, however, the difference is in both the intent/purpose on the part of the blinker/winker and the perception of the person blinked/winked at.
Did Henry Gondorff ever actually wink in The Sting?
Or do we just remember a wink? Can there be a wink without a blink?
Moving into someone's personal space is not a good thing. Whether it's touching someone's hair or arm, patting someone's fanny, squeezing a person's shoulder, sitting too close to them on the subway, whatever it is it's not good.
But . . . .
In 1972, Avon Books published a paperback original novel by an unknown first-time author named Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. The acquiring editor was Nancy Coffey. The Flame and the Flower hit newsstands and grocery stores and book stores and the publishing world was never the same. The virginal heroine Heather is forcibly raped by the hero Brandon, but they later fall in love with each other and end up living Happily Ever After.
If hundreds of thousands of women readers hadn't bought copies of The Flame and the Flower, there would never have been The Wolf and the Dove or Devil's Desire or Sweet Savage Love or any of the other thousands of sexually explicit historical romances published by Avon and Ballantine, Warner and Playboy, New American Library and Pocket Books, Jove and Onyx and Charter and Ace and a few others I can't remember off the top of my head.
I still have my First Edition of Devil's Desire.
Prior to 1972, virtually all women's romance fiction was devoid of graphic sex. Harlequin/Mills & Boon dominated the paperback romance market, and Harlequin Romances were "clean." The gothics of the 1960s were "clean." No explicit sex, and in many cases no sex at all. Not off the page, not behind closed doors. Nancy Coffey, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Heather Simmons changed all that. In 1973, Harlequin began its "Presents" line, turning up the heat in contemporary romances to tap into the market opened up by the sexy historicals.
Women bought and read these books because they liked them. My contention has always been that while it's unquestionably rape in the context of the book, it isn't in the context of the act of reading, because the reader understands the conventions of the genre and knows that victim and rapist will fall in love and live Happily Ever After. The reader provides the consent that's missing from the text.
Does this make rape okay? Does it make "forced seduction" okay? Does it make the stairway scene in Gone With the Wind okay? No, not really, not quite, not in real life.
Not in real life, unless maybe he were the latest heartthrob from Game of Thrones or Aquaman or whatever pop culture phenomenon is at the top of the heap these days? Would it matter then? Would it matter less?
Helen Hazen, writing in 1983, responds in a rather expected manner as a reader to the notion of rape: "I would like to be raped, but I want it to happen to me exactly as it happened to Cressida in Vice Avenged" (8).
Hilton, Linda. Half Heaven, Half Heartache: Discovering the transformative potential in women's popular fiction . . Kindle Edition.
Vice Avenged is a historical novel -- maybe a romance? -- by Lolah Burford, published in 1971, in which the virginal heroine is violently raped by the handsome, wealthy, powerful hero . . . and they all lived Happily Ever After. So we have a book published a year before Woodiwiss, and an opinion written eleven years after!
How far would you actually allow that Sexiest Man on Earth to go if you found yourself seated next to him on a red-eye from SFO to LGA? What if you both fell asleep and his head ended up on your shoulder or his hand on your knee? What if he helped you get your carry-on down from the overhead bin and he brushed up against your backside and someone snapped a picture with their phone?
I'm not defending rapists or predators and won't. There's a hard line there.
Nor am I blaming victims.
Brandon Birmingham raped Heather Simmons, pure and simple. Yes, it's fiction, but it's also fact. It's not forced seduction; she fought him and did not even hint at consent. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, R. Kelly and all the rest used power and position to victimize. They believed they could get away with it because . . . they got away with it. It didn't have to be forcible sexual intercourse; we've broadened the definition of rape.
We've also broadened the definition of sexual assault and sexual harassment. What I accepted as normal behavior from a boss in the workplace in 1967 would mean potential jail time in 2019. Was it wrong for my boss to expose his genitals to me and solicit oral sex while I was delivering the mail? Of course it was. But it was also . . . normal. Normal in the sense that nothing would ever be done about it. (I quit on the spot.)
Times change. People change. Standards change.
We want to legalize marijuana and let all the pot smokers out of jail, because attitudes have changed. We want to legalize sex work and even romanticize sex workers, because attitudes have changed. We've legalized same-sex marriage because attitudes have changed.
What we haven't legalized are apologies.
I despise the Patricia Gaffney romance To Have and To Hold. There are few books I hate as much as I hate that one. (Nothing will ever top The Thorn Birds for hatred.) I despise it because the hero never apologizes for his treatment of the heroine. He finds excuses for his behavior, and claims to have suffered for his behavior, but there is no process of redemption. He doesn't suffer for the sins he commits against her. He doesn't give up anything. He doesn't sacrifice.
She does it all. She sacrifices, she suffers, she relinquishes. And he never offers her her freedom from it. She is forever powerless, forever his victim. And he has no remorse.
In a romance novel, it's all okay, especially if he's handsome and/or rich and/or powerful. The reader forgives all.
In real life there is no forgiveness. There is no room for apology. There is no possibility of redemption.
How much have we, the female readers (and writers) of sexually explicit romance novels, internalized that romance novel trope? How much do we permit in the real world because we've permitted it in the fictional world? How afraid are we to speak up in the real world because the women in the books don't speak up? How brutally do we punish the transgressors, the invaders of our personal space in real life because we don't punish them in the novels?
It's easy to laugh at the so-called bodice rippers of the 1970s and '80s, but there are still writers writing them today. And there are still readers reading them and enjoying them and shelling out good money for them. Is it dubious consent or forced seduction or flat-out rape?
Lots of people read and love horror fiction; that doesn't mean they want to watch babies be eaten by giant crocodiles or see the world taken over by zombies. I'm not suggesting readers can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Some of us love to be scared to death; I can't read even a single Lovecraft short story without leaving the lights on at night. Some of us find romance laughable and totally unreal. We all have our preferences, and none are intrinsically wrong or right.
But I fear that a failure to understand the complexity and the history of sexually explicit romance fiction and its impact on -- as well as the way it's been impacted by -- popular culture and current social attitudes leaves us locked in yet another double standard. Instead of young women being either virgins or sluts, we've now turned the spotlight on men, and made the distinction between virgins and sluts almost impossible to maintain. At the same time that we decry slut-shaming in fiction, we condemn the friendly touch, the affectionate hug, the human need for connection.
When is that a blink and when is it a wink? When is that touch on the shoulder a gesture of empathy or of shared laughter or even of encouragement? When is it appropriate and when is it inappropriate? And how do we tell the difference?
Yesterday was not particularly productive. I was struggling with several paragraphs of dialogue that weren't heading the direction I wanted them to, so I ended up just cutting them. That seemed to solve the problem and I was able to move the action along better.
Now we'll see how Saturday goes.
I transcribed most of my longhand text last night, left a short bit that needed some revision.
This is where I'm starting today.
Anything and everything about witches and witchcraft. Fiction, non-fiction, combination of both. Serious and fluffy. Current/modern or not-so-current/historical. Favorites and DNFs. Romance, non-romance, SF/F, mystery, whatever.
I have and/or have read:
The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane
A Discovery of Witches
The Devil in Massachusetts
Links to lists are welcome, too!
A few minutes and a few pages each night has me now at the one-third point. I'm not in any hurry to finish, as this is not a book to rush through. Again, I imagine this being read aloud, a chapter or two each night to the family in the days before radio and television and the Internet. Fielding has that pacing down perfectly.
It's over. I have seven months now before the next group event, other than the regular meeting in April. There will be no more meetings until September.
As I start this, it's a little after 9:00 on Monday morning, the day after the 2019 Spring Fling Studio Tour. I'm still tired, but at least I'm not stressed. About 75% of the materials have been moved from the front patio back to the studio, though I can't yet say everything has been put away *in* the studio. I'm workin' on it. The first of four loads of laundry is almost ready for the dryer. I've had breakfast and I've collected the signs from the side of the road. Well, one sign; the other seems to have disappeared overnight. It was there when we went to dinner and when we came home, but it's not there now. Oh, well.
So, how did the show go? It went better than I had feared, at least for me. Did I sell everything and make a fortune? Ha! Even if I had sold everything, I wouldn't have made a fortune! I don't have that much to sell!
What really made this event stand out in light of all the drama that had gone on before were the comments made by some of the visitors to my studio. I've tried to capture the essence of what they had to say, but some of it is paraphrasing from memory, since I didn't record them. I did take notes, however.
I had a group of four shoppers right away Saturday morning as soon as I opened the gate. They chatted about the weird cactus and the rocks as they came along the path. Before they were even fully within the "exhibit area," one of them said something about the map. This was an unsolicited comment. I made sure I had pen and paper close at hand!
"Who designed your map this year? It's terrible! We had to use a magnifying glass to read the tiny print. It's impossible to read the addresses. We're only going to places we already know because we can't read the streets."
These were, obviously, people who had been on the tour before. When I asked, they confirmed that they had been on several of the tours in the past and thoroughly enjoyed it, but this year's map was awful.
"Y'know, a lot of us are older and we have bifocals and such, and this is just terrible. We can't read it. And when you can't read it, you just don't want to go. You need to tell whoever did this map that it has to be bigger for all us old people."
While this conversation was going on, another woman who I recognized (as much as I recognize anyone) from previous events spoke up.
"How come you're Studio #7 this year? Aren't you always Studio #1?"
I explained (lied) it was only fair to give other studios a chance to be #1 and get people to take a different route and see different things. She said, "Nobody coming from Gold Canyon is going to start all the way up there. Do they have signs coming all the way from those other studios down to here?"
I had to tell her I honestly didn't know how the signs were laid out.
"Well, the signs are on the road pointing to your house as Studio #1 even if it isn't. This is the way it's always started."
Actually, it hasn't, but I didn't argue with her. And no, I don't know if there were signs directing people from Studio #6 to my place.
About this time, another woman arrived and asked if I had any spare maps. She said she, too, had been on many of the tours in the past and hadn't seen much advertising for this one until she saw the signs along the road. Since she knew I'd be participating, she stopped here first without having seen a map. I still had a few left, so I handed her one.
She looked at the front, opened it up, turned it around, and looked at the cover again.
"I kinda like the painting on the front but a parrot doesn't have much to do with the Superstitions, does it. And it's folded all wrong and inside out or something. Very confusing."
I didn't say anything as she continued to fold and unfold the brochure, until she finally said, "Wow, those maps really are tiny. I guess I'm gonna just go to the places I already know and maybe stumble across some new ones if there are signs. But I sure wouldn't try to find anything based on those little bitty maps. The ones you always had were big and clear and easy to follow. These are terrible."
She then left, saying she was on her way to pick up some friends and would be back. She did come back later in the afternoon with her friends and said they had tried to visit a couple of the studios in Gold Canyon but could only find a few before they gave up. "The maps are too small."
The first bunch of visitors bought a few things and then left, but not until making more suggestions -- some in salty language! -- to have bigger and better maps next time. They also left tons of compliments on the setting for my "studio," out in the garden with all the plants and the rocks and the view of the mountain.
I had a little break in the action then, which I took advantage of to write down some of these comments for posterity. I was feeling more than a little vindicated regarding the map.
My very next visitors were a man and a woman, and I could hear them remarking about the baby cactus and the big chunk of obsidian. I had no intention of saying anything about the map; if they wanted to make comments, that was up to them.
Instead they asked about the plants, and they looked at the items I had on display. I didn't even notice if they had a map; a lot of people don't carry it around with them. While we were talking, another group of three or four women arrived, all laughing and talking and having a very good time. It was only about 10:00 a.m. so I didn't think they had been drinking, but around here, you never know!
One of them asked, "What's that weird looking plant back there? Is it a cactus?"
"It's called a spruce cone," I said. "The new growth on them looks just like a pine cone."
One of the other women blurted out, "Well, the old part looks like a dick."
And we all started laughing, including the man and woman who were already there.
The first woman then said, "We don't have to follow the map in order, do we? I mean, we don't have to start at Studio #1 if we don't want to, right?"
I assured her she could start anywhere she wanted.
"I just wondered because we did this thing last fall and this was the first studio we went to. I remember we didn't know what a studio tour was and you explained how it worked so I wanted to take my friends with me this time and the map was all different."
So we all talked about how the studio tour worked, for the benefit of her friends for whom this was the first, and they were all very nice and looking forward to seeing all the other studios, too. Then they finally started looking around my displays, and I noticed that the other couple were now standing kind of off to one side and looking over their map. I walked in their direction and asked if there was something I could help them with.
The guy said, "We've done this tour a couple of times in the past but only the Gold Canyon portion. We decided this time to hit the Apache Junction studios since the Renaissance Festival traffic is so terrible. This is much more interesting than most of the Gold Canyon studios. There it's more like a home tour with art. Yours is the first studio we've visited that gave a sense of being a place where an artist actually worked. Thank you very much."
They didn't buy anything, but they sure did make me feel good!
And I still had the other ladies giggling about the cactus.
It turned out they were three widows and a divorcee, all of them of an age (and bank balance) to be very happily single and independent. They bought a couple small things, then as they were leaving, the one who had been asking all the questions earlier pulled out her map and began studying it as though planning which studio they would go to next. After a minute or so, she looked at me and said, "Who the hell is Bill Agard and why is he all over the place?"
Bill, of course, is the photographer who designed the brochure, put himself into Studio #1, and listed himself under six different "primary" categories.
People notice these things.
Before that group of ladies left, they made more comments about the spruce cones, and one of them asked where she could buy them. I told her not to bother: I would give her a "cone" and if she planted it just about anywhere, it would grow. That's why I have so many of them around the yard. When one branch breaks off, it roots and grows. She wanted to give me $5 for it, and I waved her off.
The rest of Saturday was more or less uneventful. At 4:00, I took down the signs, secured the inventory, and called it a day.
BF came home around 6:00 and mentioned that the sign at the end of the road looked like someone had driven over it, and I said I would fix it in the morning.
Sunday morning I fixed the sign -- the sign part was okay but the metal frame had been badly bent. I was able to straighten it out enough to stand it back up, then I set up for the second day's business. At 9:00 on the dot, I opened the gate.
And nothing happened.
For almost two hours, I did not have a single visitor. There weren't even any cars going by on my street. I began to despair.
Shortly before 11:00, a car pulled into the driveway. Doors opened and slammed shut again. (Anyone remember the old joke, "What's purple and goes slam, slam, slam, slam?" A four door grape.) I heard voices, then footsteps crunching on the gravel. Four more ladies.
"Good morning," I greeted them.
"Hi. Are you Linda Hilton?"
I wasn't sure whether to be proud or wary, but I acknowledged that yes, I am Linda Hilton.
"Whew!" the woman said, "We were beginning to wonder. Just so you know, there's a fight going on about you at another studio."
Well, that certainly made me stand up and take notice. Before getting into the details, let me say that we never did figure out which studio they were at, other than it was in Gold Canyon.
What happened was that these four women had decided to visit the Gold Canyon studios early, before the RenFest traffic backed up. At one studio with several artists, one of the artists had her business cards in a little fabric pouch.
The woman visitor asked the artist if she had made the pouch, but the artist said no, Linda Hilton made it. She then asked if Linda Hilton was on the studio tour, and the artist said yes, but she didn't know where.
This was at a studio where several artists were guests, and another artist spoke up and said Linda wasn't on the tour. The first artist said oh yes, she is. Someone else said Linda was at some other artist's studio. Someone then asked why Linda would be at another artist's studio since she always had the tour at her own place. Someone then said the art group wouldn't let Linda be at her own studio for some reason or other and they made her go somewhere else. Then there was an argument as to why the group would force someone to go to a place if they didn't want to and why someone couldn't be at their own studio if they did want to.
The discussion then, according to the women telling me about it, devolved into quite an argument, with most of the several artists loudly defending me and my right to have the tour at my own studio! Folks, I nearly started to cry! These were women I did not know, had never seen before in my life. They didn't need to say anything at all to me, but they did. And I still don't know what studio they were at where the other artists -- or at least some of them -- spoke up for me. Nor do I even know which artists might have one of my pouches!
The lady in search of one pouch bought five, in a variety of fabrics.
And that was how my Sunday started.
By the end of the day, I had had decent sales, though I had to bid farewell to a couple of my favorite pieces.
Do you remember when I posted about cutting into a little agate nodule and discovering purple?
One of those slices got polished and wrapped in silver wire and became a beautiful pendant.
Yesterday it sold. Along with a gorgeous long Angel Feather of which I don't even have the photographs uploaded yet. And some more pouches and some rocks and other stuff.
Oh, and another free branch of spruce cone!
And now the Spring Fling Studio Tour is over for this year. Was it a success in spite of all the problems? Well, let's just say it wasn't a failure. I did better than last year, so I guess I can't complain too much. Maybe I was lucky; maybe others didn't do as well. Maybe I would have done better if the brochure had been better, the maps bigger. There are a lot of variables.
It will be interesting to see what the reports are like at the meeting on 10 April.
As for me, I'm going to take a seven-month vacation from that particular kind of stress. I have to finish the laundry and put all the table covers away, haul the last few items back to the studio, take care of all the cleaning and sorting and decluttering and organizing.
But in another week the cactus will be blooming. Already the results of our rainy spring are showing up in massive fields of orange globe mallow. If I get a chance to take some pictures tomorrow while running errands, I most certainly will. I've never seen the globe mallow like that before. The palo verdes will no doubt be absolute explosions of yellow out in the desert. My cinnamon dot cactus is fairly bursting with buds-in-formation.
The baja fairy duster that drew so much attention over the week-end will bloom all year if it has sufficient water.
The various aloes will continue to bloom for a few weeks, to the delight of the hummingbirds, but the little creatures will move on to the fairy dusters and chuparosas when the aloes are done. And like me, they will wait until next year.
The hummingbirds didn't come in close as much as they did Saturday, but there were two of them who kept dive-bombing around the fairy duster and cheepy-cheeping at each other. They are aggressive little creatures!
The morning was very slow. I didn't have a single visitor until around 11:00, but after that they were pretty steady, and some of them bought things! Overall I had slightly better sales than last spring's event but not much. I know at least part of that was due to my promoting the event last week at the yard sale, and I suspect having better publicity in the local magazine also helped.
Full report tomorrow!
Right now, I'm just glad it's all over. I'm tired, I'm slightly sunburned, I ache just about everywhere. Tomorrow I'll have a ton of laundry to do and all the stuff to put away, but for the moment I'm just going to relax and read for a while and then go to sleep. I don't care if it's only 8:00. . . . .
Day Two is just beginning, but I thought I'd let you all know that I survived Day One and will have a full report Monday, after the week-end is over and I've had a chance to recover.
The second best part of Day One was enjoying some special visitors. One even let me take his picture, though I can't really say he held still for it.
As for the best part of the day, well, you'll have to wait for the full report. ;-)
The past few weeks I haven't had much time for reading, but I manage to sneak in a few minutes here and there. I've made it to 20%, and still enjoying this tremendously.
I realized, however, that I'm not really reading it. I'm listening to Henry Fielding telling the story, reading it aloud as it were to his eager listeners. I'm not sure whose voice he has -- perhaps Patrick Stewart or John Rhys Davies -- but I hear every word, with all the extra commas for dramatic effect, with all the non-quotations inside quotation marks, as though he started to tell me what she/he said and then actually quoted them.
This is not a book that should be read by anyone learning how to write a novel. It is definitely a book to read by everyone learning how to tell a story.