Setting Your Baby Free

I was in conversation with someone who works for… let’s say… a certain network about Our Gentle Sins. How Exciting!

But, she warned, “Once they get their fingers into your story, it will no longer be under your control.” She went on to intimate that they would twist and change and do what they wanted with it.

I’ve heard many writers get upset about this. Some writers in my own circle were offended for me when an editor from the Chicago Tribune’s Printers’ Row Journal asked if they could change a name in my story. The editor felt the nickname would confuse the readers. I responded – please change what you feel is confusing. My writer acquaintances took me to task on that – how dare I give them permission. I should fight for my story.

There are things I would fight for, things I have fought for. When the editor publishing West End wanted to change a slang Midwestern term, I didn’t agree. I argued that it made it more authentic and we had to trust the reader to figure it out in context. But small things like a nickname or a comma, I have no problem with those. Some writers do, however.

One publisher asked me to take one of my short stories and turn it into a long style poem. My first response, no, no, it can’t be done – but then, I was intrigued by the task! Picasso was once challenged to change one of his paintings to a negative – black and white inverse – he took that challenge and ran with it, changing the colors in multiple ways! The results of which line the halls of his museum in Spain. Sometimes change is not the enemy.

However, I do know what producers, directors, movie studios, and television does to novels and stories. They interpret into their own little idea. They change things for dramatic purposes, for comedy, for whatever reason may suit their purposes at that point in time. But – isn’t that what they’re paying you for? They are taking your characters, your setting, and they’re bringing new life to it. This may be a very different life that the writer intended. But that happens anyway.

Many people have misunderstood “The Ghost in her Room.” However, it didn’t stop them from enjoying the story. They just had their own interpretation of it. It brought something to their lives that I hadn’t intended. It didn’t make it wrong. I think that means I did something right!

When a reader engages in your story, identifies with your character or event, aren’t they changing it into their story or their idea of your story? Once we set the baby free in the world – that baby becomes something else and we have no control over it. It takes on a life of its own. It affects the world and the world affects it.

There are certain things I hope Our Gentle Sins will carry forth – the message of hope, of recovery, of leaving the mistakes of the past in the past, and building the strength as an individual to move forward in this world. We can only wait and see!

I like words…

I like sentences. Big, beautiful sentences so long and thick you can wrap them around yourself and keep yourself warm in the winter. Yeah, those. But I like words too. They go together, you know, words and sentences. I like to make them move with rhythm, sing and dance in a way that you fall into them as if you’re hypnotized by them and you never want to leave them, you just want to sway back and forth and keep reading until you slip off of your seat.

It takes time to create those. They start small, like these. Then you have to let them sit, like yeasty bread, and let them rise. You leave, come back, lift the towel, pinch and poke at them, and leave them again thinking, “I know it can be better than that.”

Then you have to sit down with them, you have to get to know them, talk to them, talk through them, try them on, and break them then mend them, try this and try that. It’s frustrating too, I know. You fight with them, want to give up on them, want to trash the whole thing and sometimes you might leave in tears with hopelessness tearing at your soul, but then you come back on another day, maybe an overcast day that holds the threat of rain, and you sit down and talk it all out once again. Maybe this time, this time, it works. Someday it will.

Then you’ll move on to the next sentence.

This is writing. It hurts. It cuts giant gashes filled with jagged edges through you. It scars. It gives you nightmares and makes you curl up in a ball and rock not so gently back and forth.

But it’s also the only thing that pushes you forward, fills the empty spaces, gives you purpose. It keeps the dark shadows at bay and protects you from the harsh world.

Love and Boundaries

Since we’re talking about love, let’s talk about Love’s bestie – Boundaries.

I suppose Boundaries are besties with Respect which, as I’ve said, goes hand in hand with Love. Maybe these guys are more than besties; they’re all in the same family, like kissing cousins.

I said in my post on UNCONDITIONAL, that I love my kids unconditionally. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. I would die for them. No questions asked.

But even unconditional love comes with boundaries.

I had a friend whose son was having some troubles with alcohol. The son would call her up at 2am (after the bar closed) and start blaming the mom for everything that had gone wrong in his life – based on what his mother had done wrong in raising him.

My friend asked, “what should I do. I have to work. I can’t get up at 2 or 3 am and talk him down from whatever trip he’s on.” I suggested my friend not answer the phone. She thought that was a horrifying prospect. How could she neglect her son like that? I suggested that she pick up, make certain it wasn’t an emergency, and say, “I will gladly talk to you about this tomorrow” and hang up. She wasn’t certain she could do that either.

Her son was 30 years old. He was a grown ass man. He should have known better than to call his working mother in the middle of the night.

If it happens once in awhile… If there’s an emergency… If her son was really distraught and needed to talk – that is totally different.

My phone is open to anyone who calls and is in need of help – any time. However, when my Australian friend calls at 3am, knowing full well that in my time zone it’s 3am, I am not up for a chat about the weather or to shoot the shit and he has gotten an earful.

The very next time my friend’s son called, which happened to be the very next night, my friend answered the phone near 4am, and asked her son if he was safe, if he was home, if it was an emergency, then told him to call her at a more appropriate time.

The son was pissed. The son didn’t talk to her for a week. But he also never called her in the middle of the night again. And, when he did call, he was in a less inebriated state and they were able to have a real conversation.

Sometimes we have to show others our boundaries. Tell them we love them – and I love my Australian friend – and remind them we have our own ideas of love, respect, and boundaries.

As parents, we need to teach our children these things. As adults, sometimes we have to remind those we interact with as they may have learned something different.

Jack’s father loves him. He loves him with his whole heart and soul. He spent his life protecting his family and his community. But there were times he couldn’t deal with Jack. He couldn’t deal with the choices he made or the pain he caused – so his father enacted some boundaries. These boundaries hurt Jack but, in retrospect, they also helped him.

We can’t allow people to hurt us just because we love them.

Unconditional

Unconditional love exists! You wanted to hear me say it, I know. I love my kids – UNCONDITIONALLY!

BUT…. if they started acting like a-holes, some boundaries would be enacted.

Maybe – it’s all romantic love that is conditional. Some familial love is conditional.

I’ve been thinking, obviously, about love and not love.

I had a friend, many years ago, whose husband knocked her around. One day, he slapped her, shoved her backwards over a chair; she ended up in a flip that messed up her knee. When she cried out and told him she couldn’t move, he said she was faking and left her there, sitting on the floor crying. She had two kids to take care of, one still in diapers. She told me how, when the baby started crying, she dragged herself over to him. She had to count on her daughter, only two and a half, to go get her some diapers, to bring her bottles and formula, to push the chair over to the sink and climb up for water so she could mix the formula and feed the baby. She sat like that, on the floor, with two little ones, unable to get up for nine long hours until he got home that evening. And even then, he wouldn’t take her to the hospital.

She was too afraid to call anyone for help.

I made a number of suggestions: call the police, call her family, leave the guy. She had a quick response to all – the police would put her kids in foster care, her family would not help, she couldn’t leave him because… here it comes…. I LOVE HIM.

I’ve heard toooooo many stories like that.

I know, even now, some of you want a counterargument. You want to hear… yeah, he probably loved her, but….

BUT I’m not going to say it. There is no excuse in the world to treat someone you supposedly love the way he treated her. That is not love.

People who abuse you do not deserve your affection or attention. You can love someone and not be with them.

Do you think Valerie will figure that out in time?

All Love is Conditional

Before you declare this crazy, take a look at the reasoning.

I know we all really want to believe and wrap ourselves in the warm fantasy of unconditional love – but hear me out…

Love is born out of respect and/or it goes hand in hand with respect. Respect is not, nor is it ever expected to be, unconditional.

If someone does not respect you, they do not love you.

If they do not respect you, it doesn’t mean the love you may feel disappears; however, that love is tested, and if the disrespect in the form of cheating, lying, abusing, or other continues the love is damaged.

Maybe some love is unconditional – the love between parent and child. But if one continually disrespects the other, it is possible to love someone and break with them. Sometimes it’s the only way to save oneself.

Continual disrespect is abuse. Allowing oneself to be abused lands people in hospitals with injuries, illness caused from stress, or mental illness.

Love should be conditional based upon that mutual respect.

Once in awhile, people fight, they neglect each other, they say things they shouldn’t have – but that’s not continual and damaging disrespect if they are dedicated to working on it.

There have been times when I have chosen to love someone from afar because they did not respect me and I, therefore, lost respect for them. I would not allow myself to be abused. It didn’t mean I hated them or wished them dead – I just couldn’t be with them anymore.

Love is not simple. It’s complicated. But respect is pretty clear cut. And once you realize that, love doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly uncontrollable.

This is what love stories are really about, aren’t they? This is what break up stories are about – right?

Maybe it takes us all a little time to learn these things.

The Writer’s Brain – Handle with Care

I’ve had skunks on my mind, mostly because they’re in my yard, successfully being trapped by a professional who seems to have gotten skunked recently. Beyond that actual getting caught in the crossfire of a skunk’s ire and ass, I think the odor is akin to smoking; after awhile the scent adheres to the clothes, hair, skin and, even though every one else can tell, the smoker or in this case the skunker can no longer detect the scent that has seeped into their being.

Therefore, my dreams of becoming a skunk skank, earning $$$ for hauling away critters who are relatively harmless other than their last method of defense which renders the person if not friendless then at the very least dateless, have been set aside.

However, I wonder about the skunkers and their lives. Do they have dates? Do their spouses get used to the smell? I read something recently that said we are attracted to people with similar scents. Are there skunkettes? Ladies who have taken to catching and releasing the cute little critters with the stinkpot defense? Or are there people who prefer the rough and rugged smell of burning brimstone and smoldering sulfur?

I’m more of a lavender and eucalyptus person myself.

The skunk and skunker smell lingered so long and loud in my yard and on my front patio, that I worried that it’d adhered itself to more than just the fine hairs of my nostrils, so I asked a mere stranger at the shop if I smelled like skunk. He laughed and said, “no or else I would have put on my mask to be polite.”

When a writer’s brain starts asking questions – handle with care – whatever happens next can spark, igniting a blaze of ideas.

Later that night, I was walking in the cool breeze with my dogs pondering the skunker’s plight. I returned and stood in the shade of a big sycamore tree when a homeless man approached my trash cans that lie in wait of the garbage truck. The recycling had been collected, so most of those persons who collect the recycling had come and gone. This man, however, reached into the black can, the real trash of old food and cat litter, picked up a bag, and carried it over to the emptied recycling can and upturned it. I stepped forward and said, “don’t do that,” to which he responded by grumbling incoherently before launching into a low growl similar to that of the Howler Monkey, then he rambled off to the neighbor’s trash and did the same thing.

Click, click, boom, boom – something sparked in my brain and a story began to form. 

More tidbits – the neighbor appeared; sticks – a cat curved around the corner; leaves – a car backfires somewhere in the distance; fuel for the fire. My mind has been set ablaze.

I love when that shit happens. 

You probably think this is about you….

Naming characters, for some writers, is a complicated process. They want an original name for their original character. Perhaps they want something that describes strength and power, or maybe they want something that will tell a reader this person is a nerd. Maybe an old name, from their grandmother’s era, to say something about the character or their family.

For other writers, they log on to baby names and search through for the perfect one. The perfect one might be based on sound, consonants and vowels, rhyming, colors, meanings.

For me, sometimes, characters name themselves. The character develops and the name comes. For Our Gentle Sins, Jack’s name came to me like that. But some of the other characters were actually named for the students in the class that I mention in my acknowledgements. I was inspired by that class.

it was January 2017. The world was changing and people, some of my students, were afraid, others were angry. That semester, I was asked to teach the History of African American Literature. The students were expecting another teacher. When I walked in – they weren’t certain what to make of me or what this class might become.

I said – I love literature and we are here to learn together. If I say something or do something you don’t like – you tell me. Later, I was evaluated by our expert in African American Literature. He said, “never have I seen a class so open to talking about gender, race, culture – and being respectful about it!”

That was my rule – we don’t have to agree, but we should learn how to respectfully disagree.

It was a wonderful class.

Our Gentle Sins began just before the semester, I was so inspired that I would write before class as the students walked in and after class as they walked out. They asked me what I was working on – I told them. At one point, they asked me to read them a section. I agreed.

What I told them is that I’d been so inspired by the class that I’d named some of my characters after some of the names in class. Not after the students themselves because I didn’t match up characteristics between real person and student, just their names. They loved the idea.

Many, many times, I’ve had people think the story was about them or that the character was somehow inspired by them. I had, at least, one person (maybe more) stop talking to me because of a character name. I didn’t realize it right away. It was only when I looked back on our messages that I saw the dates and the topic – the story they were about to read. The name had NOTHING to do with them or the friend they believed the character to be named after. It was just a name and it felt right in that place.

The truth is – if I really disliked a person, I would never use their name, not for good guys or bad guys, not for the character who might die or a stray dog gracing the pages. Why would I want to be reminded of someone I disliked? The name might be similar – but it was never about them. It was a character.

Although my students appreciated I used some of their names, none of them felt I’d used them personally as the inspiration for the character.

Our Gentle Sins is about people finding their way in life – recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

A Journey of Souls

Sometimes it’s challenging to tell your story in just a few short words – but Our Gentle Sins is the journey of two souls who are recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

Cover Reveal!

Finally – title and cover reveal! Our Gentle Sins – due out June 21, 2022.

Our Gentle Sins follows the journey of Valerie who must face and rectify her mistakes and Jack is working hard to recover from his past and stay clean for his future.

But making a a new life for yourself is never easy, especially when the secrets of others are working against you.

Secrets can be Deadly

Secrets, at first, seem so harmless. Yet, when you find the person you love is keeping something from you – something that could damage your relationship – secrets can be deadly.

Secrets can be the lies of omission. When someone doesn’t tell another something or includes it after it’s been found out or questioned. Lies of omission are the gaslighter’s favorite game. This way they allow their victim to fall into a trap – the gaslighter will question their trust. “I was going to tell you. I thought you trusted me.” There’s no easy way to get out of the advanced manipulation tactics.

“I do trust you.”

“Then why are you questioning me?” or “Then you should know I intended to tell you” insert “at the right time” or other. The manipulator will then pout or become angry – or start with one and end in the other. Whatever it takes to throw their partner/victim off balance, leaving them uncertain of how to respond or rushing to correct the situation, which is what they want. Power. Control. Over the other person’s emotions, ideas, opinions.

Another hint for my upcoming release:

BUT THERE’S MORE –

More secrets….

and more to come.

Cover reveal – coming soon!