February 26, 2010

When Kids Are Monsters

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 12:01 pm

Oh, stop it, everyone who’s saying, Kids aren’t monsters! How can you talk about those sweet wittle wee ums that way?

This might be a surprising statement coming from me, who recently waxed rhapsodic on mommy ‘hood and the legendary lore of childhood. But what I was hoping to do with those thoughts is encourage a focus on the good parts, not suggest the bad never happen.

There are days–at least parts of them–when my own two wovely wittle wee ums behave like monsters. My six year old gets giddy, which is all well and good until you need to get her to the bus and she is whooping and hollering with glee that is an exact mirror–in OPPOSITE LAND, that is–of the expression on my face. And sometimes my almost four year old gets hungry ONE HUNDRED times a day, acting every single one of those times as if he is starving, even though I just served him fruit/nuts/cheese/mini crackers five seconds ago.

These behaviors really aren’t that bad as things go, I guess. Maybe only bordering on monstrous–depending on how much writing I’m trying to get done between whoops and snacks.

But we all know a kid or two who really is a monster. A brat. An ill behaved wretch.

Have there always been kids like that? Even when children were supposed to be seen and not heard? Was seen and not heard meant to keep the monstrous in check–with a strap for when the whooping got too loud NOT to be heard?

I would love to read a historical account of brattiness. But till I find one, here’s a piece that discusses what to do when a monstrous child shows up at your house for a play date. And here’s another that lays it on the line about a certain privileged sector which is perhaps uniquely producing monsters.

There’s even a paragraph about a new subset of bullies that targets kids who don’t wear Dolce & Gabbana.

See? Kids are monsters.

Maybe we all are at heart till society steps in to channel us and smooth our rough edges.

The problem today is a false self esteem movement has told us that those same wittle wee ums will develop lifelong self esteem issues if we criticize them. You can’t say, Don’t do that, you have to say, Please do x.

I’m gonna let out a good old-fashioned fooey. If I see my kid doing something mean, or dangerous, or just hopelessly spoiled, s/he needs to know how I feel about that.  That’s not going to cause bad self esteem. The opposite: good self esteem arises from knowing deeply who you are.

It’s up to us parents to curb monstrous tendencies with discipline and, perhaps most importantly, recognition.

When they act monstrously, admit it, then stop them.

And I promise. One day they’ll all be big non-monsters with good self esteem.

February 23, 2010

Mommy ‘Hood

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 9:29 am

I went to a baby shower recently and several people advised the mom-to-be to tap into a network of moms. They will be your saving grace, everyone said.

I love my mom friends. I love how having kids the same age can bond and connect you with so many women–give you instant, deep topics of conversation; lend you the unshakable certainty that this woman, if left in charge of your kids, would guard them with the same fierceness you would. (And possibly more, a topic for another post.)

But I didn’t feel the need for my own network until I was a mother of two and my oldest had just turned four.

A lot of people would say this was a long time to go with out any stroller clubs. Or coffee outings. Or even just take-her-for-a-half-hour-while-I-shower breaks.

I did have one very good friend who had kids, one close in age to my oldest, and we spoke all the time. And I had my own mother, who listened to each tidbit from my baby-filled days as only a rapt grandmother AND child psychologist can do. I wasn’t utterly alone in the tundra. My husband is a perhaps unusually good parenting partner, and I relied a lot on him.

Those first years seem a long time ago already, and I’m trying to remember how each day passed. In a slow, lazy loop from nap to bath to feeding to story to shake a rattle because this is supposed to be good for her/no, I really prefer to read, to silliness to dance around to I need some food, you can watch me eat, back to nap again…I’m writing it now and it sounds like heaven.

Maybe that’s why I kept to myself so much. Or maybe I just used to be more of a loner.

I’m still glad to be where I am now, though. Until my daughter was four and went out into the world without me for the first time for preschool, I didn’t know what everyone was talking about.

That the moms you meet will become some combination of best friend and family without your even trying.

I live in a new neighborhood now, full of moms.

There are so many communities for us to find, real and electronic. One of the ones I began to visit when I finally poked my head out into the world along with my daughter was Baristakids. This site offers everything from laughs to day trips to take with your kids. And today they’re publishing one of my own pieces on parenting.

It’s a moment I can’t wait to share with every one of my mom friends.

February 21, 2010

Guest Post: Robert W. Walker

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:32 am

For a few years now, I’ve enjoyed reading Rob Walker’s opinions on everything from writing to contracts. He always has something new and unexpected to say. So when he told me that he’d written up some thoughts on this topic where fiction meets reality, I asked if he’d post them at suspenseyourdisbelief.

The Much Maligned, Or: Anyone Sued Lately for Malicious Intent in Mind of A Fictional Character?Rob Walker

So this publisher wants your book but he/she is insisting that you and all their authors keep a list of every “real person, real place, or real thing” mentioned in your novel…down to the page it appears on so that they can check behind the author to determine if the author has gone over the line and has said something “actionable” or even “objectionable”, or see if the poor dumb author inched toward that dangerous area where lawsuits live.  This is a bit crazy, having authors second guessing everything they can say about products, public personalities, dead people, items and things, and to my mind this is just being way overly paranoid on the part of the publisher and way out of line with the spirit of the law that protects folks from people like Ann Coulter.  I sense once burned twice shy is behind this particular publisher’s decision.  That at some time in the past, perhaps decades ago even, the publisher got sued because of a book that maligned someone or something in the real world.

If you go way out of your way to malign some product badly, if you attack a real person, place or thing, yeah, you might have a problem down the road and your publisher hates being embroiled in any legal matters.   BUT, if in passing your character takes a couple of Excedrin….and even if he abuses the medication as in Stephen King’s The Shining, you realize no one has a case and no logical lawyer would pursue a case on behalf of Excedrin against Stephen King’s fictional, slowly going insane character’s use of the pills.  If a character in your story verbally attacks let us say O.J. Simpson, you might have to worry if you are in the legal department of the publishing house, but if your cop character offers an opinion on his guilt or innocence there is no case whatsoever.

Publishing Houses in NYC maintain lawyers primarily for their nonfiction titles which so often cross the line as in an Ann Coulter book or others who attack individuals and such organizations as Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Wives of 9/11 Victims.  It is as rare as can be for a fictional character’s worldview, where he hangs out, or what he drinks, or eats, to be of concern to lawyers bent on winning their cases.  Rare for a fictional book to have a cadre of lawyers coming after it — as in the DaVinci Code, but even there THEY HAD NO CASE.  It’s fiction.  Guess who paid the court fees?  Not even the Pope could sue Dan Brown and win, and please, how many real places were named in Brown’s book aside from Vatican City and its rituals and secrets?

Another author attempted to sue me over my first in series novel, Killer Instinct, because I used her nonfiction as-told-to book along with newspaper accounts for forensic details in an airliner crash—a real crash in the real world.  Anyway, this author never got off the ground with her suit, when I placed my paragraphs side by side with hers and sent them back to my publisher (Berkley).  Her publisher’s lawyers immediately recognized she had no case whatsoever and it went away but she did not — she lambasted my entire eleven Instinct novels and my four Edge novels on Amazon for years. It is extremely rare that people sue over fictional works and invariably when they do, they lose.  In my case, her lawyers knew she hadn’t a leg to stand on.  But my paranoid agent, my paranoid editor, my paranoid wife all jumped down my throat on learning I was being sued, each in turn asking, “How could you be so stupid as to copy someone else’s work?”  I was accused and condemned even before I saw the complaint, which was baseless. This was years ago, of course, and I have long ago moved along, but I learned a few truths that came out of this, and one is that an author scorned is an author scorned.

I suspect smaller and medium-sized publishers have more nightmares and sleepless nights over this subject as they may have one or no lawyers on retainer, but by the same token, they really have no business telling writers they can’t use real people—dead or alive, real places, and real products and stuff and things in the real world in our books. Or that we need to reword a phrase because it may upset someone working at Proctor & Gamble because of a joke or a jibe, while a good one needs be taken out or reworded to pablum.  It is censorship and nonsense.

King’s and Koontz’s entire body of work are huge and hugely proliferated with issues and news of the day, the famous and infamous, from Wrigley’s gum to Bono. If a book does engage in malicious intent and truly attacks someone in a cruel and sustained and systematic and relentless way (rather than a quip or joking way) and that is the obvious purpose of the book itself, yeah they can sue you and win, but there has to be proof of malicious intent.  Remember the film with Sally Fields and Paul Newman entitled Malicious Intent?  The entire film dealt with what is and what is not actionable and intent is at the heart of the matter.  Malicious intent is hardly the case in naming a certain restaurant and using it for your ends, or setting a gun battle inside a real movie theater in Chicago, because a character wanted it to happen where John Dillinger bought it, and etcetera, etcetera.  Been doing that since 1967 and have had no repercussions save the one fool who thought she was going to collect big time on Killer Instinct.

After having written crime novels as long as I have, you do learn a bit about the law and that the law is actually based on common sense if you scratch the surface of the thing.  I have published with some eight or ten publishers, working on my 50th novel, have 23 ebooks, many of them Original Titles partnered with Amazon.com, and can you imagine if I had to make a list of every product, every person, every restaurant, theater, street name, and issue in the media?  When would I have had time to write?  It is hard enough keeping a list of character names, but in the end you cannot sue what is sifted through the mind and five senses of a person who does not exist outside your fictional world.  When asked to provide such a list for a recent title, I simply ignored it and waited for the publisher or my editor to demand it.  I never got that demand and the book was published as I wrote it so that Remington shotguns and the names of people in the news, places my characters imbibed, hotels, streets, cities, towns all stood as they should.

Frankly, very like all the confusion over copyright laws, the laws surrounding malicious intent are more often than not misunderstood, and cause more worry than they ought to.  As to having to provide a complete laundry list of names of people, places, and things you place in your novel, well this is a silly game some are playing and absolutely unnecessary.

ROBERT W. WALKER has written award-winning historical fiction since 1982. His current series features Inspector Alastair Ransom. Titles include CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008). Find him and learn more about his work at www.RobertWalkerbooks.com and www.HarperCollins.com

February 15, 2010

Reviewing Reviewers

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:42 pm

The world of reviews is changing, I think we all can agree on that.

Newspapers are folding left and right, taking their book review sections along with them. Consonant with this, the internet has made everyone a reviewer, or potential reviewer.

Books, movies, theater, restaurants…how do we assess which are good and which are bad? Or, which ones you will like and which I will hate?

The latter is the goal of a review, to my mind. Not a blanket assessment of value, pretending that there is no such thing as taste, or a subjectivity factor, but rather, a tailoring of one reviewer’s likes, dislikes, and appraisal of value to a reader’s tastes. In an ideal world, I would hardly even have to read the review, except for my own enjoyment. I would know that Reviewer X’s tastes were so aligned with my own that I could buy or disregard a book based on her say so.

The rise of a vast web of reviews and reviewing will enable this latter approach, by simple mathematics. The increase in the number of reviewers will give more people a chance to find someone whose tastes reflect their own.

There can be a sort of wisdom of crowds approach to judging material. If a lot of people like it, chances are you may, too. And with many people reading, more books can be offered up for consideration. Again, simple mathematics.

Amazon has constructed the Vine program, which seeks to put this approach into effect. Late last year, PW reviewed their efforts.

The article speaks to some of the snags in this approach, but I also wonder about a few others.

A review utopia, where we all peacefully coexist with our likes and dislikes, can only exist provided we can find our way to truly good reviewers. Otherwise, no one will be able to pinpoint which material steering us to what is worth reading is in itself worth reading. The whole thing will disintegrate into a morass of unfiltered content.

To prevent that from happening, I thought I’d put out a few sources that I personally feel are of the utopian variety.

I have touted the great Oline Cogdill’s reviews for the Sun Sentinel–which are often picked up by other pubs–several times here. Oline coined the term “family thriller,” which describes my favorite type of book, and movie, too.

Recently I discovered a new-to-me review site, which I keep coming back to. If you’re a mystery lover this blog will steer you through uncharted waters without risk of capsizing–and with some wonderful exploration of texts along the way.

The Book Grrl always points me to someone I need to check out.

And I love to hear what Kaye Barley is reading as soon as she reads it.

Gloria and Theodore Feit offer reviews that are at once cheeky and substantive.

I am probably leaving out some sources I have already come to rely on, in this not-quite-post New York Review of Books world. As they come to me, I will put them up here.

What about you? How do you feel about the way the art of reviewing is trending? Do you have any reviewers you count on to bring you to the shores of a great, new read every time?

February 8, 2010

My guest post today at Meanderings and Musings

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:46 am

The great and lovely Kaye Barley writes an equally great and lovely blog called Meanderings and Musings (see my blog roll!)

One of the cool things she does is invite a startlingly vast array of writers to guest throughout the year. You should visit M&M regularly to check out the thoughts of greats like Pat Conroy (I’m not kidding) and favorites such as Cornelia Read, funny man Jeff Cohen, and too many others for me to mention here. (See Kaye’s roster on her blog.) It’s a great way to get the inside perspectives from writers…even view each one’s special writing space in photographs.

Anyhoo! I was really beyond honored (note to self: need a word for when honored just isn’t enough, kind of like Lewis Carroll coined chortled, not to say I could come up with such a perfect and lasting term) when Kaye asked me to prepare a post. Today it’s up at Meanderings & Musings. Please go read a little about how mysteries begin to whisper and speak.

February 7, 2010

A theatrical benefit for autism

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 10:06 am

At my recent Writing Matters panel I met local author Barbara Hall.  Barbara has written a one act play called One Sunday Afternoon in Laurelwood, which is being staged by the Pines Lake Woman’s Club to benefit autism.  Admission is free, but donations will be accepted for the charity.

The Pines Lake Woman’s Club in Wayne is featuring the production of a one-act play, “One Sunday Afternoon in Laurelwood” at their general meeting Wednesday, February 10. The general public is welcome to attend the performance in the Gymnasium/Auditorium of the Pines Lake Elementary School off Pines Lake Drive East.  Doors will open at 7:30 PM.  The play features members of the Women’s Club in the play written by local author, Barbara Hall.  Admission is free and refreshments will be served after the play.   Free-will donations will be contributed to the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Club’s state project, Autism.

Call 973 839-1393 or email pineslakewomansclub@yahoo.com for further information.

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