Tuesday, May 26, 2015

He's Going to be One Ugly Woman....

I don't get it. Maybe it's my age, or maybe it has to do with my upbringing...but I don't understand anything about the idea of gender reassignment. When I was growing up, we never heard of such a thing. I didn't know anybody who seemed the least bit confused about their identity, gender-wise or otherwise. I didn't even know what "homosexual" meant until I was in my early twenties and a newlywed friend went home one day to find her husband in bed with another man. 

 
Suicides or attempted suicides were almost unheard of where I come from. The aforementioned straying husband did attempt to take his own life once, some time after the divorce--because he said (at the time) he didn't want to be gay. His ex and I found him and got him to the hospital. She had to locate his family, who were all away for the weekend, sending the local sheriff to their lake house. I was at the hospital when they arrived. I got the distinct impression his mother would have preferred we let him die so it could all be kept quiet. He did survive--but was unanimously rejected by his entire family. 

That was over thirty years ago. I have no idea where he is now, or if things were ever resolved for him. I felt bad for him--and even more so for his ex, whose life was seriously messed up by being used to hide his secret from his family. She used to say, "It's bad enough to have your husband leave you for another woman--but what are you doing wrong when he leaves you for a man?" I saw her go through a long period of drinking and dangerous promiscuity with men she met in bars--sometimes, she didn't even bother to ask their names. I always thought she was trying to prove something to herself.

These days, I'm even more confused--by couples who don't reveal the sex of their children, allowing the child to decide for themselves. Decide? That was decided before they were born! We get either two X chromosomes or an X and Y. That doesn't change, no matter how we change our external appearance. No wonder kids are so messed up these days. I was always a tomboy--my parents discovered early on that I wasn't "girly" by any means and didn't often play with dolls. I liked toy horses and trucks and going to the construction sites when Dad was building houses. But I was a girl. I knew I was a girl, I accepted it, and I never had any desire to change that. I still hate wearing dresses--haven't worn one in over twenty years--but I'm not gay and have no desire to turn into a man. I just like being comfortable.

Okay, there are times I've felt it would be more convenient to be a boy--there are things we girls have to deal with that guys don't ever experience, and most of the time, they're not stuck having to use icky public restrooms. They can just find a secluded spot at the back of a building and take care of business. But again, I've never even thought about making any major changes to the plumbing.

I wonder what makes someone willing to undergo extensive, expensive and dangerous surgical procedures. There's not much I'd be willing to risk my life for--in fact, the only way I'll go under the knife is if I'm told I'll die otherwise. For a man to become a woman involves taking estrogen for the rest of their lives. Given the risks for menopausal women posed by hormone replacement therapy, I wonder how much one's life is shortened by the use of hormones necessary to maintain their female appearance. Is it worth the risk, really?

There's a storyline currently running on The Bold and the Beautiful--messed up fashion heir Rick Forrester, having made himself the victim of two failed marriages to women he "couldn't trust," has fallen hard for model Maya Avant. He's the last to discover that Maya was born Myron. She explains to him that she was always a woman on the inside. In real life, most heterosexual men would have kicked her to the curb, but the show's PC writers have made him go totally out of character and accept it with almost no hesitation.

And then there's Bruce Jenner--I lost track of how many times that story appeared on TV in a single day. I'm not a fan of the Kardashians, but I have to admit that they are a bunch of attractive women. One would have to be extremely secure to end up the lone ugly woman in that group.

Seriously, I don't believe in persecuting anyone--but I can't say I understand any of this, or that I can be supportive of it. That's partly my age, partly my upbringing, and partly my beliefs. Changing one's gender is like telling God He made a mistake. That's the one place I won't go.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Riding Off Into the Sunset? Nope. I'd Probably Get Lost Trying to Find It, Anyway.

In a few short months, I'll be officially retired.

No, I'm not 65 yet--but I am one of the skeptics who doesn't believe Social Security will be around forever. And I'm absolutely certain I'm not going to be here forever, in spite of my doctors' claims that I'm too mean to die. At any rate, I paid a lot of money into Social Security, and there's no way I'm going to not get at least some of it back. I keep telling Collin he'd better start his own retirement plan. Depending on our government in his golden years would be riskier than taking his nest egg across the river to the racetrack and playing the horses.




I'll still be writing--though as uncooperative as my brain has been lately, there's no telling when I'll actually finish the next project. It took me ten years to finish Chasing the Wind, and I'm still struggling with the sequel, An Army of Angels. It's been seven years now on that one...and still counting. Sure, Final Hours only took six weeks, but that was a short novel, a simple plot that required almost no research. Sam's Story, well, that's taken four years (the struggle was for different reasons on that one), but it is finally finished. Stay tuned.

I've asked myself if the seizures are behind the difficulties. I was off the medication to control them for so long, and the type of seizures I have are so difficult to distinguish most of the time--Collin calls them "brain reboots"--I have no idea how many I actually had. I'm told each one takes a toll, even the "little" ones. Whatever the reason, what was once so easy now requires monumental effort. So I'm making the process as easy on myself as possible. With Creativia taking care of my backlist and a monthly retirement check, the pressure to perform is off.I think.




Besides, in the past year or so, I've been thinking a lot about what I have and haven't done with my life. I realized my dream thirty years ago--I became a published author. I got the big advances, had my name on bestseller lists. I got letters from people who read and loved my books. It was great, and even if I were to never publish another book, I'd still have that. But is that all I want or need to do with my life? No, of course not. Before I leave this world, I'd like to think I can still make a difference, even a small one.

I started thinking about what I should be doing. God gives us our passions for a reason. What am I passionate about? That's an easy one. Take a look at my Facebook page and, Minions aside, you'll see the other things I share most often: animals and the environment. I love animals and birds. I care about how they're treated, about making life better for them. Making all shelters no-kill...making sure abusers are punished by law...finding ways for homeless families to be able to keep their animal companions with them...all of these things are passions of mine. The environment is another issue I care deeply about. God gave us a paradise, and look what we've done to it. Seeing trash thrown out carelessly along our roads makes me sad. Global warming, the things we do to our planet to extract oil and other things from it...yes, these things make me angry.


God gave me the gift of communication. I suspect He's been wondering when I'll get around to using it for something that really matters. Maybe that's why the novels have been such a struggle,while writing about these things still comes easily. A message? Possibly.

Do you have a passion, an issue that would benefit the world--something you have the talent or skill to use to affect change? Think about it.

PS For those of you who've noticed I haven't posted in a little over a week, I've been down with a triple whammy--out-of-control blood pressure, a dental abscess, and the granddaddy of all summer colds. At least I think it's a cold. It refuses to go away, and has given me coughing fits. I've tried to stay current on Facebook and read/comment on fellow bloggers' posts--but it hasn't been easy when I'm reaching for the tissues every five seconds!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor...ME!

Since making the move to self-publishing, Collin and I have found that 99% of our sales came from ebooks, so we stopped bothering with doing print editions--though in recent months, we've had several requests for paperbacks. I'm very happy to announce that I heard from Miika Hannila, our publisher at Creativia, this morning. Four of my novels are now available in ebook format at Amazon, and in paperback via Ingram, which means these books (and more to come) will be available through thousands of outlets worldwide, including Amazon...and bookstores!






Am I excited? You bet! Though at this point, our contract with Creativia only pertains to the backlist books, if all goes well and both sides are happy with the results, they may be publishing all of our future works.

And there's more news. I've been considering options for doing online novels--serialization--to test readers' response to new and different projects from what I normally write. In a few weeks, I'll be relaunching my WordPress blog as Beishir Books, a place for Collin and I to introduce our new works, chapter by chapter. 

And I recently did a blog interview with fellow Creativia author Lorelei Bell at author Lena Winfrey Seder's blog, Pearldrops on the Page. Check it out! 


 


Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Mother's Day...A Salute to Moms Real and Fictional

I started out planning to write a tribute to my own Mom on Mother's Day--but everything I tried to write made me cry (Mom's been gone almost seventeen years now), so I did a brief tribute on my Facebook page and decided to do something a little different here. Wishing all the moms reading this a Happy Mother's Day, I have a question for you: which of these TV moms are you most like?

 Bonnie or Christy, Mom

 Miss Ellie or Sue Ellen, Dallas

 June Cleaver, Leave it to Beaver

Roseanne Conner, Roseanne

Louise Jefferson or Helen Willis, The Jeffersons


 Edith Bunker, All in the Family

Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia or Rose, The Golden Girls

Dad used to say Mom reminded him of Rose from The Golden Girls--great big heart, itty bitty brain. He was just kidding...I think!


Friday, May 1, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I went into this film with some decided disadvantages--I was tired after a day that had been much too long, dealing with a nuisance of a cold and blood pressure that was entirely too high. But there was one big advantage: I love Marvel movies. No matter how badly I felt, there was no way I was going to miss the first showing. They have all three of the elements I look for in a movie--action, humor, and strong characterization. Some are better than others, but in the end, I love all of them. They're not just movies--they're events. People wait in long lines for hours to see them. They often come in costume. They buy the merchandise (Collin and I wore Age of Ultron T-shirts and, thanks to special lanyards supplied when we presented our tickets, came home with a couple of pretty cool Avengers popcorn tins!


Age of Ultron opens with intense action--there were so many explosions, I started to wonder if Michael Bay had directed it. They're doing battle with HYDRA, the same insidious organization that went rogue on Hitler during World War II and caused the collapse of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as they search for Loki's scepter, a lethal weapon containing one of the six Infinity Stones (one of them, the Tesseract, figured prominently in the first Avengers film; the second, called the Aether, was the cause of a battle between Thor and the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World; and a third, undesignated gem nearly caused the destruction of the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy). 

 
The scepter is recovered, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plans to return it to Asgard, where it can be safely contained--until Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks for three days to study it. Tony and his partner in science, Dr. Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), are trying to restore a dormant peacekeeping program to aid the Avengers in protecting the planet--but as often happens in scientific experiments, things go awry fast. While the Avengers host a party at the Avengers Tower (Stark Tower in the first movie), the program takes on a life of its own...and decides the Avengers are killers and must be eliminated.


The party scene is one of my favorite parts of the film. The banter between the characters is great--dialogue is one of the things writer-director Joss Whedon does best. At one point, Thor and Tony debate who has the better girlfriend--neither of whom are in attendance. Tony's best friend, Col. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), repeatedly tells a story no one seems to get. Thor challenges his fellow Avengers to lift his mythical hammer, Mjolnir--though none of them manage to rise to the challenge in that scene, before the film is over, one Avenger will prove himself worthy.


Then Ultron (voiced by James Spader) crashes the party, accompanied by several of Tony's Iron Legion.

From there, things start to move pretty fast. Ultron decides the only way to have real peace on earth is to bring about the extinction of mankind (given the current state of this world, he may be right). But as malevolent as he is, Ultron is capable of out-snarking Tony, the reigning King of Snark (think The Blacklist's Red Reddington as a psycho robot). Taking up residence in an old church in the fictional country of Sokovia, he has as his followers the Maximoff twins, Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who have superpowers resulting from HYDRA experiments--and who blame Tony Stark for the death of their parents. In one scene, Wanda describes bombs going off and hiding under a bed with her brother, watching one bomb that failed to explode. She remembers one word on the device: STARK. Only when the pair realize that Ultron has deceived them do they switch sides and join the Avengers.


The team also gets one more new member: the Vision (Paul Bettany, who previously had been the voice of Tony's personal AI, Jarvis). Unlike Ultron, Jarvis is not a robot--and his power comes from the Infinity stone that had been in Loki's scepter. The Vision understands Ultron as the others can't, but knows he must be destroyed. He also knows he and the Avengers can only do it together.

 
There were some disappointments, unfortunately. The script fails to address some pretty major events from past movies and the TV series, Agents of SHIELD.  Why do the Avengers still not know that Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), killed by Loki in the first Avengers film, has been brought back to life using alien DNA? He could sure use their help in dealing with "real" (yeah, right) SHIELD leader Robert Gonzales. What happened to Captain America/ Steve Rogers' search for his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), last seen as the Winter Soldier? Did he just forget the whole thing? The biggest disappointment for me was the truth about the relationship between Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). It's been hinted that they were more than just friends. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha wears a necklace adorned with a tiny arrow, presumably a reference to her close relationship with Barton. To find out they're not romantically involved was a big let-down. The intimate relationships they do have are so out of left field, they felt contrived. To see the Black Widow moping around like a lovesick puppy was out of character--and what was that "lullaby" bit for? It came off as silly and unnecessary. 


In the end, one Avenger will die and another will be MIA. Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance in what could be his best yet. It's hilarious--almost as funny as the other Avengers' reaction to Steve Rogers' use of profanity. And for the most part, the movie works. 

Note to Marvel and Disney: audiences have become accustomed to those famous end credits scenes. Not having them could get you guys into big trouble. As we sat in the theater last night, watching everyone wait expectantly, I thought, "They are gonna be soooo pissed."

They were.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Encore: "Is That the Garden Hose, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?"

Since I'm dealing with a nasty cold and trying to deal with it before we go to see Avengers: Age of Ultron (my next post will be a review!), today's post will be one I originally posted for Valentine's Day--an excerpt from An Army of Angels sequel to Chasing the Wind. Yeah, I know I'm taking the easy way out, but my brain's in a fog....



Robyn was worried about Alex.

He was so stressed over the exhibit, his anxiety was overtaking him. He barely ate, didn’t sleep, couldn’t make love. No matter how she tried to reassure him, he was a wreck.

“You’re worrying for nothing,” she told him. “You’re going to be a hit. A big hit.”

“You’re biased,” he said grimly.

“Yes, I am. But I know talent when I see it, and you’re the best,” she insisted.

She woke during the night to find him pacing in the darkness. She decided then she would have to resort to drastic measures to release him from his anxiety....

*****

The next day, she found him in the studio, standing before a blank canvas, unable to paint. “Could you come outside for a minute, sweetheart?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I need to work.”

“You do, but you’re not. Get your butt out here or I’m coming in after you,” she warned.

Reluctantly, he put down his brush and went outside, only remotely curious as to what his unpredictable wife might be up to. “Whatever this is all about--”

He didn’t get to finish. A water balloon smacked him in the face, He reeled for a moment. “Heads up, sexy!” she shouted, another balloon in hand.

He was angry at first. “Stop it, Robyn!”

“Incoming!” she yelled as she scored another direct hit.

“What are you doing?” he asked, still bewildered, as the second balloon hit. “Stop it!”

Then he saw the child’s wading pool, filled with water balloons. She grabbed another and took aim. “Come on, defend yourself!” she laughed.

“Robyn!”

“Chicken!” She started doing her chicken dance, stepping high as she moved in a circle, arms moving up and down like wings.

He couldn’t help smiling. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?” he wanted to know.

“You’re the one who’s all wet--chicken!”

He realized then that she had gone to a great deal of trouble, making a complete fool of herself, with only one objective in mind: to make him smile.

He grabbed a balloon and threw it, hitting her shoulder. Water splashed across her T-shirt. She only laughed. “Is that all you’ve got?” she challenged.

He snatched up another balloon and aimed. When the cold water spilled over her torso, she danced around, enjoying it. He hit her with another. Her clothes clung to her body, her hair a mass of wet curls.

For the first time in weeks, he wanted to paint. He wanted to paint her as she looked at that moment, wild, uninhibited, a free spirit who looked as though she’d just emerged from the ocean.

He wanted to make love to his wife.

His thoughts were interrupted by the smack of another balloon that spilt open against his thigh. He looked up at her. “You need to be hosed down!”

Robyn’s eyes widened as he reached for the garden hose. “You wouldn’t!” she gasped.

He only laughed as he turned it on, spraying her with ice cold water. “Surrender?” he asked.

“Never!”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He turned up the force of the spray. She screamed and tried in vain to dodge it. He advanced on her menacingly.

“Alex, don’t you dare--”

He grabbed her wrist and held onto her, spraying her at close range. She squirmed wildly, unable to break his grip. “Give up yet?” he wanted to know.

“No way!”

“Okay.” He took aim again.

“Okay, okay, I give up!”

“Say it!”

“You win!”

“Say it!”

“You’re the master!”

“That’s more like it.” He dropped the hose abruptly and lifted her up. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and gave him a wicked grin.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Is that the garden hose, honey, or are you really happy to see me?”

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's True...We Really Can't Go Home Again....

Collin and I went back to the old neighborhood last week--where we lived when Mom and Dad were still with us. It's been a while--at least a year, I think. We had some business to take care of, and we wanted to have lunch at Fazoli's.




Fazolis

 
There was a time I was determined to stay there, in that area. It was home, the last place that really felt like home. It was familiar to me, and I needed that. I think Collin needed it, too. I wanted to stop time, in a way, to be surrounded by all the sights and sounds I knew so well. It was the next best thing to keeping Mom and Dad with us.

But being there again made me see that nothing ever stays the same. People we knew and cared about are gone. Some we couldn't stand are gone, too. Some of the restaurants we used to love are gone--some of them have even been torn down. The movie theater is gone. It--and the shopping center across the street--have been demolished. All that remains is a huge pile of rubble.


Kenrick 8 Cinema

 

Ted Drewes--best frozen custard on the planet!

Target--the one we knew--is gone. In its place is a new, bigger, more upscale Target. They definitely can't call themselves a discount chain anymore. Walgreens has moved. Hollywood Video has gone the way of the dinosaur. The bookstore's gone, in its place a Noodles & Company. The IHOP is gone--that was a shocker. It had been there for as long as I can remember. Home Town Buffet is gone, as is the restaurant that occupied that location afterward. Our family doctor has retired and the rest of his joint practice moved to a new location.

Top: Buder Library
Bottom: Noodles & Company

 
The library is still there, as are Schnucks and McDonalds. The bank where my parents had their account is now a credit union. But so much has changed, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to hold onto the past, we really can't go back. We can only move forward. The people we love and lose, the places that were once a big part of our lives but no longer exist, still live in our memories. We have to accept that. We can only move forward.

Top: our home from 1995-2003 (we
lived on the second floor, right side of building)
Bottom: Hampton Village Shopping Center

One last thing: in recent months, there has been a great deal of racial division in the St. Louis area. There have been non-violent protests. There have been riots--looting, burning buildings, rage. A white man was assaulted on public transportation by three African-American men while other passengers looked on. I wasn't too crazy about having to take a bus for any distance for that reason--but something happened on our way home that might not seem like a big deal to most people, but it meant a great deal to me. To get home, we had to change buses. I don't get around very well these days. I use a cane. Getting on and off buses can be tricky, so Collin boards first so I can grasp his arm to pull myself up. He goes ahead and gets off first so he can help me if the step down is a long one. That day, he was already off the bus, waiting, when I finally got to my feet. We'd been seated for a long time and I was in a lot of pain. I couldn't balance myself and almost fell.

The only person who came to my rescue was a very kind African-American gentleman who helped me stay upright and guided me to the exit, where Collin was waiting. This man could have just let me fall, as everyone else on board seemed willing to do--but he didn't. He saw a fellow human being in distress and came to help.

I pray that one day, we'll all see each other as people, just human beings, not colors or any other label. Random acts of kindness are a good start....