Author Archives: Clayton Bye

Time to Speak Up Without Fear by Monica M. Brinkman

It has become quite baffling and confusing to me, as the years’ tick on, how people within the world find it necessary to maintain continued conflict.

It has become evident to me that many governments purpose is one of power and greed. I reluctantly state this, but Russia and the US are right there at the top. Tell me truthfully, how many wars were necessary to ensure the safety of the US citizens and/or our foreign friends? How many young people sacrificed their lives for naught? Examples are Vietnam and now, the Middle East conflicts that continues to this very day.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with CIA agents as well as government officials, who entered into their fields fully confident they were acting as peacekeepers of the country and world. What they found was a government intent upon control of other nations. What they also found was a government who placed monetary gain above all else. If a country did not do as the US wished, they would simply take the leader out, often under false pretense.

Know what you, the reader is thinking. Yes, we did need to intervene, and should have done so sooner, when Hitler began his horrific rein. Shockingly, it took so long because many powerful and wealthy individuals such as Ford, ITT, and American Standard Oil had invested their money and products within Germany and did not believe or looked the other way at the rumors coming out of Hitler’s true intentions.

Liken the greed and power to something simpler. The laws on marijuana. Hemp, marijuana, pot, call it what you wish, was an accepted part of many countries and used to manufacture numerous products. It was not illegal. Then came the prohibition of alcohol, backed for the most part by Conservative Christians. We all saw what occurred. The Mafia took it into their own hands to take over he alcohol control within the country and bootlegging prevailed. The government and local police stations within cities could not control the Mafia’s hold, and they eventually gave in to the legalization of alcohol.

In 1930, a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana. He realized, without the prohibition of alcohol, drugs such as cocaine, codeine, morphine were not prevalent enough to maintain the Department. Thus, he added marijuana to the list of illegal drugs. One of the largest campaigns began, supported by the News Media and even Hollywood, with their release of such movies a ‘Reefer Madness’. Slanted and untruthful headlines filled the papers and air waves, until, eventually and as planned, the citizens believed the words.

Does any of this sound familiar? If not, it should and it should also scare the hell out of you.

Instead of drugs, the US government along with the wealthy and powerful are centering on using peoples’ religion and fear of terrorists to control the masses. It is no secret why the politicians focused on issues such as abortion, immigrants, and gun control to deceivingly brainwash a huge part of the population. They used hate, racism, moral choices, climate change and fear as their weapons of choice. From preachers in churches, radio talk shows and news stations, whom they controlled, it was easy enough to reel in those who trusted these organizations. As sheep to the slaughter, they followed, unaware of the devastation their actions would ultimately create.

My questions are these:

When will people realize we are all humans on this planet?

If you do believe in a great Creator of all. When will you understand, then, that we are all part of that creation; brothers and sisters within the world?

When will people stand up for life instead of death?

When will differences in appearance and religion be accepted, rather than used as weapons to maim and kill?

And, the biggee, when will we, as a nation and world, understand war, greed, hostility creates the same, while peace, love and understanding creates harmony within the country and world?

Yes, I am tired; I am weary of it all, so many well-meaning individuals caught up in the propaganda the rich, greedy and powerful continue to push upon them. I am sick of heart that instead of defending life, we defend death.

In ending, remember, remaining silent and compliant equals acceptance and conformation of the acts and deeds spent against people within our country and our world. Time we, to put it bluntly, grew some balls, and took back decency, care, concern, and most of all love, within our lives.

You have a choice. I know which mine is. Do you?

Monica M. Brinkman,
Author, Radio Personality

Literary Racism* John B. Rosenman, Ph.D.

*Originally presented at “What Dreams May Come? Multiethnic Trends in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror,” a Literary Arts Spring Conference at Norfolk State University, April 5-6, 2001.

Traditionally, we have regarded racism as involving groups of people who are discriminated against because of one basic reason: ignorance.

However, there are also literary groups that many of us, especially academics, discriminate against every day for the exact same reason. While

African-American and women’s literature have finally, if grudgingly, been given some respectability through Norton anthologies that recognize their contributions, prejudice against other literary categories remains strong. This is especially true of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, despite the growing number of professional journals devoted to them such as Science Fiction Studies, Extrapolations, and Mythlore, and institutes such as the Center of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, founded in 1982. It is also true despite these genres’ illustrious traditions, the hundreds of well-attended conventions held throughout the world every year concerning them, and the many prestigious awards given to their best professionals. With regard to science fiction, for example, the annual Hugo and Nebula Awards have traditionally involved tremendous worldwide competition and recognized excellence in the genres of the short story, the novelette, the novella, and the novel.

Yet it has not been until recently that a science-fiction story such as Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed” has made it into The Norton Anthology of American Literature, perhaps partly because some academics have finally recognized that it explores the relationship between the sexes in a way that mainstream literature cannot. Still, such inclusion savors of “tokenism,” and we can be sure that in the hallowed halls of the Modern Language Association, the glass ceiling, though dented, remains steadfast in place.

The view that science fiction, horror, and fantasy are subliterary or simply not literature at all, is especially surprising when we consider the degree to which these genres have been represented in so-called “classical” works. From the Ghost and a corpse-laden floor in Hamlet to the man-made monster in Frankenstein, from Alice’s travels in Wonderland to Gulliver’s travels to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, there is no end of examples of genre fiction interbreeding with the blueblood mainstream. Yet, when it has, we have often tried to legitimatize the result by resorting to academic terms such as “satire” and “tragedy,” as if such labels make it all right. Still, Hamlet, among other things, remains a superb horror story, and Gulliver’s Travels, however satirical it may be, is also a timeless tale of fantasy that appeals to both children and adults.

Of the three genres, horror is especially denigrated, and authors such as Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite often dismissed as purveyors of gross, popular entertainment. Yet as Richard Laymon, a former president of the Horror Writers Association has pointed out, “A great many” horror writers “have earned post-graduate degrees in literature and other fields” (5). What’s more, “If we remove from our literature everyone who has ever written horror, we lose (to name just a few) Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Stevenson, Poe, Dostoevsky, Hawthorne, Melville, Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor” and others. Indeed, as Laymon indicates, “The list could go on and on” (5).

Having established that exceptional works in the above-mentioned genres do qualify as literature, we now come to the main purpose of this paper, which is to explore and examine the reasons why bias against such achievement still prevails. Though there are complicated reasons, the main one can be found in the literary elite’s reactionary dislike of anything new, strange, different, or challenging – anything, in short, that departs either from the Officially Correct Way of Writing Great Works or the day to day reality they know. Other, related factors that cause such bias include (1) ignorance of genre classics, conventions, and contributions, (2) genre profiling based upon crude stereotypes found in popular culture such as Star Trek and Halloween, and (3) a failure to recognize the truth of Sturgeon’s Law that “90% of everything [written since the beginning of time] is junk” and that we shouldn’t “dismiss anything because of its worst representatives” (“Sturgeon’s Law,” 4).

While most people do not believe they are closed-minded or reluctant to experience new things, in general, the brave new worlds they encounter had better bear a close relationship to the ones they already know. Thus, while Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred, does contain the fantasy or science-fiction element of time travel, some academics have accepted it only because it focuses on the heroine’s convincing and very real slave past. Historical verismilitude is established and maintained, and the novel has been read in universities – and labeled in bookstores — as Slave Narrative and as authentic African-American Literature. Yet if it were not for the ability of Dana’s “several times great grandfather” to summon her repeatedly from the late 20th century back to the antebellum South, the story would never have happened (28). To take one more example, Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray is regarded by some critics as genuine literature because of its prose style and moralizing. But would they be so appreciative if Wilde had brought that hideous portrait out of the nursery early on for us to look at?

What happens if the worlds portrayed differ significantly or radically from those with which most of us are familiar?  What if a different world or species is created, or a different technology that allows space travel or teleportation?  In such cases, the result is decidedly a much harder sell to those who keep the Keys to the Canon, because it is manifestly not real. Demons, dragons, alternate worlds, and future societies on distant planets?  Sorry, they never happened and never will. Even if these readers’ resistance could be broken down, and they could be convinced of the need to suspend their disbelief, they would still face another great obstacle: they would have to be willing to learn to read somewhat differently.

While this is true in fantasy and horror, with their unicorns and wizards, vampires and monsters, it is especially important in the genre of science fiction. Consider the first sentence of Octavia E. Butler’s masterpiece, Wild Seed, quoted by Orson Scott Card: “Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages” (90). Card observes that “the reader who is inexperienced in sf thinks that the author expects him to already know what a seed village is.”  Because he doesn’t, though, he is likely to be disappointed and feel that “the writer is so clumsy that she doesn’t know how to communicate well, or that this novel is so esoteric that its readers are expected to know uncommon terms that aren’t even in the dictionary” (91). A science-fiction reader, though, recognizes “the principle of abeyance.”  In other words, he “doesn’t expect to receive a complete picture of the world all at once. Rather he builds up his own picture bit by bit from clues within the text” (91). He knows that he “is expected to extrapolate, to find the implied information contained in new words” (92).

Here, many of us might object that such writing is needlessly obscure rather than profound, and that it is not reasonable to impose such new rules on the reader. But surely, we do recognize that new rules are often necessary. We do not, for example, read Joyce’s Ulysses in quite the same way we read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or God help us, Finnegan’s Wake, with its endless thicket of interlocking puns. Moreover, in crossing T. S. Eliot’s “Wasteland,” we welcome the aid of an occasional footnote. Often this is true because of the condensed suggestiveness involved. Even one word may resonate with multiple meanings.

In science fiction, this is especially the case. As Card notes, “The sf writer is thus able to imply far more information than he actually states.” Consider the example of Robert Heinlein’s classic phrase, “The door dilated” (92). The one word “dilated” has a poetic richness, speaking volumes about the civilization that could create such a door.

In addition to accepting packed meanings that are not immediately clear, the new reader of science fiction must learn to appreciate a trait that is unique to the genre: namely, the fact that words and terms which in other works would have metaphoric meanings, in science fiction have literal ones. “The Chairman who sends out feelers” may be stretching out his (or its) pseudopods rather than subtly accessing people’s reactions to a proposal. “A happy bus,” in turn, may indeed be cheerful if it possesses an electronic brain, and a person with a “mechanical smile” is probably a robot. Similarly, in science fiction as well as in light and dark fantasy, statements that might seem hopelessly exaggerated or impossible are actually true, at least within the contexts of their worlds. In Isaac Asimov’s novel, Incredible Voyage, a crew is, in fact, shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a man’s artery in order to save him. Likewise, Alice, when she visits Wonderland, does drink a magic potion and shrink to tiny size, then become a giant.

But to readers who refuse to accept imaginative freedom, such writing will  seem debased, and they will discourage it by withholding their patronage. Indeed, for centuries, the elite literary establishment has played a harmful role in imposing its view of “high art” upon the mass audience. As Card’s essay, “Vulgar Art” points out, “In Elizabethan England, true literature, serious literature, was poetry,” whereas the “vulgar audience could only understand the theatrical stage,” which “was the artistic equivalent of bearbaiting.” But looking back, we realize now “it was the stage that produced most of the greatest works of the age” (191). The student of literature does not have to look far to find plentiful examples where popular departures from accepted literary practice have ultimately been vindicated.

Is a quintessential American play like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman a failure because it focuses on Willy Loman, a down-and-out Everyman as its tragic hero rather than on a person of high birth or worth, as traditionally required?  Hardly. Literature evolves and ceaselessly changes; otherwise it becomes fixed and stagnant.

Despite this fact, the arbiters of an age, whether it be Elizabethan England or 21st century America, usually say pretty much the same thing. Yes, they will declaim, you may be different and experimental, strange and quirky, but only in such a way and in such a style. Orson Scott Card discusses why the arbiters of taste spurned the achievement of one highly innovative writer.

Why did the serious fiction community reject her [Patricia Geary’s] works?  Because it did not repeat the old, familiar experiments. The voice was not quirky, the language was not extravagantly metaphorical, but instead brought in a technique that was strange in unexpected ways. No one knew what to do with it. Thus, just as the readers of glitzy romance accept strangeness only in landscape, never in the manner of writing or even in story line, so also the readers of serious fiction celebrate strangeness only in certain familiar areas: voice and style and that old favorite, metaphors. The very process, in fact, of noticing and decoding metaphor and symbol within fiction becomes, itself, a safe, reassuring ritual. Just like romance readers settling down to see where Judith Krantz will take them this time” (188-189).

Sadly, “In America, ‘serious’ art has lost almost all connection with the mass audience” (Card, 190). What academics often fail to realize is that “The popular audience is just as critical and just as discerning as the elite audience. They just use different standards” and have “different values” (191). Works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and yes, romances and westerns too, are not necessarily junk that should be segregated in a literary ghetto. Instead, they may be genuine literature that belongs on the same shelf as Moby Dick and Othello. To appreciate them, though, it is necessary first to acquaint oneself with the protocols and requirements of reading them. As James Gunn, Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas reminds us, poetry and prose, the essay and the article, the novel, the short story, and drama are all read somewhat differently and according to somewhat different rules (2). The same applies to genre fiction. “Science fiction,” for example, “demands a different kind of reading – a kind of interaction with the text that must be required, in other circumstances, only by the most difficult literature, Joyce’s Ulysses, say, but most SF readers believe that the pay-off of SF is greater, or, at least, more satisfying to their particular desires” (6).

Who is to say, then, that the convoluted, metaphoric, adjective-driven style of arty but often obscure masterpieces is inherently superior to the meticulous science and extrapolations of hard science fiction, or the complicated and ingenious plots of medical thrillers? Why must there be only one limited, officially sanctioned way to create great art or absorbing literature?  The answer is that there shouldn’t be, for the possibilities of the written word are infinite. Unfortunately, as Card notes, the elite literati, “by ignoring vulgar art, is losing the ability to reach a popular audience even if they tried” (193). Consequently, the two get wider and wider apart and become increasingly invisible to each other.

Much of the bias, then, against popular fiction comes from ignorance both of its distinctive nature and its unique contributions. Many of those in the current audience are no doubt familiar with the poetry of the great English Romantic poet, John Keats. But how many of them, it might be asked, are familiar with Dan Simmons’ Keats-inspired, science-fiction masterworks, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion? To read them is to glimpse the full potentiality of speculative fiction when it comes to idea, concept, and the unbridled imagination. Again, many in the audience are probably acquainted with horror classics such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, but can the same be said for Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend?  The last two novels and many more “popular” ones as well, including almost all those of Stephen King, have routinely been made into movies. If we are unwilling even to consider what such works have to offer, we run the risk of confusing the part for the whole and missing out on a lot of reading enjoyment. Perhaps even worse, for those of us who are teachers, we incur the danger of not even knowing what our own students are reading.

Black men are thugs and buffoons; blond women are airhead bimbos; Jews are big-nosed, money-grabbing sharks. These and other stereotypes have been instilled in us for decades by the media. Significantly, the same process applies to genre fiction and is another major cause of literary bigotry. Science-fiction is spaceships, bug-eyed monsters, and escapism; horror is mad serial killers, bug-eyed monsters, and sadism; fantasy is elves and dragons, wizards and witches, and any world in which you don’t have to pay your bills. Such simplistic attitudes, whether they apply to people, religion, politics, or literature, largely explain why there is so much poor thinking in the world.

People can conduct simple tests to determine the extent to which the media have colored their thinking. For example, when they think of science fiction, do shows like Star Trek come to mind? Do they think of warp speed and Captain Kirk’s command to “Beam me up, Scotty”? If so, then there is a very real chance that genre profiling has occurred, because Star Trek and all its spinoffs are limited, pedestrian science fiction at best. To equate science fiction with the Star Trek and Star Wars industries is to say that science fiction is essentially space opera, or galactic Westerns that substitute phasers for six-shooters, and that once you have seen such movies, you know basically all there is to know. It is comparable to equating African-Americans with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and believing that all black people do is play basketball. Significantly, the British have a more enlightened attitude than Americans concerning speculative fiction. Novels such as H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Time Machine, have routinely been accepted as literature for over a century. We would do well to emulate such a practice.

As for darker fiction, the situation is even worse. Today, thanks to the media, it is almost impossible not to think in stereotypes when it comes to horror and dark fantasy. Partly this is due to the grisly, garish paperbacks which feature  monsters and madmen, knives and dismemberment, and horrific visual effects achieved simply by tilting the cover. For a while, back in the 80’s, horror novels were almost as identifiable on sight as the romantic bodice-rippers we see every day on newstands. The situation has not changed that much. Recently, one writer commented that her 30-month-old granddaughter pulled out a paperback “with a raised cover of a great big knife” and hollered, “Gwenie, scary book” (Elaine).

The fact is, we are constantly bombarded by simplistic, stereotyped images of horror and dark fantasy. They include everything from stock “slasher” movies such as Scream, Halloween, and Friday the Thirteenth, to some of our favorite breakfast cereals like Count Chocola and Frankenberry. We even have a national holiday, Halloween, which is devoted to a child’s view of  horror, and a set of five stamps honoring “the five greatest monsters of all time – Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man and The Mummy” (“Classic Movie Monsters Stamps,” 1). Unfortunately, what we are missing is the subtle, moody, atmospheric style of brilliant writers like Ramsey Campbell, and the cosmic horror in the face of the unknown that can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, America’s twentieth-century version of Edgar Allen Poe.

Say the word “horror” to the average citizen, and you may see a look of disgust. Say “fantasy,” and you will probably get no response at all. Still, to most people, both words have a pejorative connotation. If “horror” is seen as gore, immorality, and Satanism, “fantasy” is viewed as impractical and out of touch with reality. “You live in a fantasy world” is a common putdown. Lord help the accused if he possesses an imagination, and be careful to discourage your children from using their imaginations too much, lest it warp their minds and keep them from getting ahead. It is no accident that perhaps the most popular TV fantasy show ever, “Fantasy Island,” was predictable, formulaic fluff. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as we have sufficient alternatives. Regrettably, we haven’t, and the consequence is that we continue to equate fantasy, as we do most genre fiction, with the worst possible examples of it.

As we have seen, literary racism is a practice that closely resembles traditional racism, and it involves the very genres that this conference addresses. It is based on ignorance of what has been written, as well as of the proper ways to read it, and it has been encouraged by an artistic elite that is strongly contemptuous of popular literature. In America especially, the media have contributed to this bias by bombarding us with simplistic images and stereotypes that reflect only the worst aspects of genre fiction.

Besides having conferences such as this one, what can we do to correct the problem? Much of the answer lies with educators, who must champion the importance of the creative imagination, even if it leads in different and unpopular directions. Educators must also discourage simplistic attitudes toward the creative process that are based on stereotypes and the exclusion of alternatives. We might remember that Richard Wright, a great African-American writer, was ostracized by classmates and his own family for daring to write a horror story titled “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre.” Concerning his schoolmates, he wrote that “The mood out of which a story was written was the most alien thing conceivable to them” (184). We must strive to see that our children grow up believing that creativity and imagination are not alien or strange but at the heart of what it means to be human, and therefore, must always be cherished.

 

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. New York: Beacon Press. 1988.

Card, Orson Scott. How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnatti: Writer’s Digest Books. 1990.

Card, Orson Scott. “Vulgar Art.”  Nebula Awards 25. Ed. Michael Bishop. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 183-199.

Classic Movie Monsters Stamps from the United States Postal Service.

21 March, 2001. <http://www.mca.com/horror/oct97/halloween/usps.html.>.

Elaine. “Re: Literary Racism.”  7 March, 2001. Online Posting. Horror Writers Association Website. <http:// www.horror.org/private/wwwboard/messages/10140.html>.

Gunn, James. “The Protocols of Science Fiction.”  24 March, 2001. <http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~sfcenter/protocol.htm.>.

Laymon, Richard. “HWA President Responds.” The Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association. Ed. Kathryn Ptacek. Vol. 12, Issue 10. Feb. 2001. 4-5.

“Sturgeon’s Law.” 18 March, 2001. Fiawol and all that. <http://www. cherryh.com/www.fiawol.htm>.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper & Row. 1966.

* * *

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Death of a Nation By Delinda McCann

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island

Woody Guthrie

Our country is our home. We are rightfully proud of the many things we as a people have accomplished together. Our great experiment with a democratic representative form of government is something to be proud of. Our statements of equality among all people and our struggles to attain that ideal are worthy of praise.

Like any great experiment we need to be asking ourselves where are we in the process? Is the experiment over? Did we succeed or did we fail? We’ve had some glorious moments. Have we fallen short of the goal? Is there any way we can get the experiment back on track?

Note: I’m not touting any great success story here. We’ve become a nation perpetually at war, not as the world’s police force enforcing justice and defending freedom, but at war to support the profits of a few.

We are no longer either a democracy or a republic. We are an oligarchy, quickly sliding toward fascism. The United States of America has become the world’s greatest threat to peace and prosperity. Within our own country, we send men and women to fight in wars to protect the economic interest of the few. When those men and women return home broken in body, mind and spirit, we send them to live in the streets among the elderly, and disabled.

We made some progress in cleaning up air and waterways, but our drinking water has become compromised and except for the efforts of the poor, nothing is done to protect our drinking water.

We aren’t doing too well in many respects as a nation. Our economy is dedicated to the greed of a few, yet the poor get the blame for the conditions in this country. Racism is blatant and growing. The notion of caring for the sick, disabled and elderly, has almost disappeared from public policy.

War, bigotry, corruption and pollution all exist to enrich the oligarchy. Nobody is safe from the oligarchs in the US. Where will this lead. Can we as a people unite and turn our backs on the corrupt power elite? Are we too fragmented to do so?

What have we become and what is the moral answer to our dilemma? Some people are waiting for a hero to raise up out of the oligarch class and lead us to freedom. Heroes do not come from among the rich and powerful. Hoping for one of the oligarchs to solve our problems is futile.

From around the fringes of society, we hear people asking should we dissolve this union. Is dissolution the only moral option? By breaking into three to five smaller nations, we can dissipate resources in such a manner as to make it more challenging for the oligarchs to go to war.

Is it time for a constitutional amendment that expels certain states from the union because they refuse to live by the morally bankrupt standards embraced by more fearful regions? Should we dissolve into regions that have common issues and values and let other regions go their own way?

It is time to ask the questions and hold the discussions. With dissolution as the stick driving us forward can we unite for the common good? Maybe this country has reached the point where the common good cannot be served without a final amendment to the constitution stating that due to irreconcilable differences geopolitical regions with common interests may go their separate ways.

Delinda McCann is a mostly-retired social psychologist. During her professional career she worked with at risk youth and individuals with disabilities. Her research in the field of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome led her to become an advisor to several governments. To ease the stress created by working in the disabilities field, she took up gardening. Never one to do things in a small way, Delinda now runs a small farm and sells cut flowers. She writes general fiction based on her experience as a social psychologist. She has published five novels. She expresses her sense of humor in many of her short stories. She’s also published numerous professional articles on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Youth At-Risk. The professional articles are rather academic and dry, but Delinda pulls what she knows about human behavior, disabilities and youth into her fiction.

You may purchase her books at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Delinda+McCann

You may view her flowers, gardens and personal blog at: http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html

Contrarianism by Clayton Clifford Bye

Contrarianism in action: Spock and I prepare to take on some invaders. Note: I’m 6′ 1″ tall

 

A True Story.

I came home one evening from a fourteen-hour workday, having had three hours of sleep the night before. I was tired, cranky and hungry.

My wife met me at the door and said “Can you take us over to the church for Kid’s Club?”

My gut-level response? Gripe!

Yeah, that’s right. I wanted to say no. I wanted to remind her that if she had a driver’s license she wouldn’t need to ask. I wanted to say that the kids could skip their meeting this week. I wanted to ask “What about my dinner?”

But what I wanted wasn’t the best response. It wasn’t even the right response. It was a typical response.

Here’s what I forced myself to do instead: I smiled. I said “Sure.” I trudged out into the cold, scraped the frost off the windows of the car, started it up, went back inside and gave everyone a hug. I did this because it was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to do.

This story took place several years ago, yet similar choices are required of me every day. It’s something that will never change. Success demands you choose actions that are out of the ordinary–every day. Are you prepared to make that commitment?

The Incredible Power Of Contrarianism.

You want a better than average life? Stop doing what most people do. Begin right now. Don’t wait until later today. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Make some different choices–right now.

I’m serious about this! Change is one of the most universally hated events. You should be prepared to welcome it for that reason alone–just because most other people won’t. Call it Contrarian Thinking or Contrarianism. It’s a way to force yourself to look at your choices from a different perspective.

Here’s the drill… When you want to generate better results than you’ve been getting, consider choosing a behaviour opposite of what you (or most people) would normally select in this particular situation. Now, I’m not saying you have to follow the course of action this exercise points you toward. Just give it serious consideration. Does this choice offer the possibility of better results? Do you have anything to lose by attempting this task? What other alternatives can you think of that might lead you away from the ordinary and toward the extraordinary? Make the best decision for you, based on the results you’re after.

In concise terms, Contrarians believe that the average person isn’t overly healthy, wealthy or happy, that these people just don’t make the right choices, or take the right actions, that lead to a better lifestyle. Contrarian philosophy also suggests outstanding achievement might be as simple a matter as choosing behaviours exactly opposite the average.

Emulate the exceptional not the ineffectual.

Let me ask you a couple of direct questions. Do most of the people you know deal with change well? Do you? If the answer was no (and it should have been), then there’s the justification for becoming a Contrarian. Simply put, if the results most people obtain in a given situation aren’t outstanding, why would you want to behave the way they do?

Let’s use this article as an example of what I’m talking about. A lot of people tend to read self-help literature passively, using the same approach they’d choose when sitting down with a novel. Be a Contrarian; do the opposite! Stop reading the moment you finish this paragraph, and act on what you’ve learned so far. Do something that opposes your normal choices. Not overly affectionate toward your spouse? Get up and give the guy or gal a hug. Say “I love you.” Better yet, put on the coffee, get them something to read and do those dishes they were about to do; show them you love them. It’s the opposite of what you’d normally do, and yet it makes sense, doesn’t it? We all know intuitively that better behaviours lead to better relationships. So, try what I’ve suggested… Put the article aside for awhile, and do something that’s out of character, that’s the exact opposite of what you usually do.

Convinced? Probably not. But that’s alright. Success is a journey, not a destination. The key is to keep moving in the right direction, to make more good decisions than bad.

Let’s look at another example of the kind of success-oriented movement that can be generated through Contrarian thinking. This one deals with procrastination, a problem of epidemic proportions.

Most people, I’m sure you’d agree, have problems with their to-do lists. I know I did. The pressure of things left undone was a constant in my life, and there were always tasks that seemed to get put off until they became so urgent they superceded everything else, wreaking havoc with scheduled work, interfering with more pleasant pastimes, threatening the quality of my life. Solution? Using Contrarian philosophy, I began to do the exact opposite of what I’d been doing. Specifically, I made the commitment to do my unpleasant tasks at the beginning of each day. After these tasks were completed, I’d go through the rest of the day working on a list of prioritized goals, refusing to worry about items shelved for another day because of time constraints. The results not only astounded me, they changed my life.

A Powerful Contrarian Technique.

Step 1: Find the most distasteful job on your to-do list and get it done. Why? The choice represents contrarian philosophy as well as any example I could give you. There’s something invigorating about clearing a repugnant task from your list of things to do, and it’s uncommon behaviour. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Step 2: From now on, begin each morning by doing the least preferable job(s) of the day. Chances are you’ll feel so good about yourself procrastination won’t seem half so attractive.

Step 3: Go through the rest of your day working from a list of prioritized goals. Recognize that worrying about things left undone is counterproductive, that a steady, energetic and worry-free progression through your most important goals will leave you further ahead at the end of the day than anything else you could do. It’s another uncommon or Contrarian choice.

Remember: When you’re prioritizing, don’t fall into the habit of putting jobs at the bottom of your list because they’re difficult, or boring, or nasty or… You get my drift, right? Arrange your tasks according to their importance and urgency, not by degree of difficulty.

I have many such examples of Contrarianism in action…

Are you, or have you ever been, a couch potato? I have. Here’s how I beat the habit: I made the decision to give my wife $5 for her personal shopping fund every time I thought about turning on the television or renting a movie. The end result was I don’t watch as much television as I used to, and my wife was able to enjoy several months of shopping at my expense.

Do you have the habit of laying blame when something unpleasant happens? You’re not alone. The Contrarian (and difficult) choice is to take responsibility where most people wouldn’t. After all, there’s a staggering probability that at some point in the chain of events there was an opportunity for you to have done something to change the results you experienced. The Contrarian would also find out what it was they could have done to get better results and would make the decision to alter their behaviour next time around.

Have you got the idea? By identifying the things most people aren’t willing to do–then doing those things yourself–you put yourself way out in front of the pack. So, stop wasting time. Make the change right now. Get contrary. Get different. Get on the high road to success.

Stop doing what most people do, and start doing what successful people do.

Is that all there is to it? Do successful people just choose behaviours that oppose the average? For the most part, yes. In general, successful people set goals they’re going to enjoy pursuing, work hard on a daily basis to achieve those goals, do the best they can within the realm of their abilities and spend little time worrying about what they can’t do or what others think. You must know, you must recognize, that the average person doesn’t go through life this way. The average person is reactive, rather than proactive. The average person doesn’t chart and adhere to a specific course but tends to be at the mercy of the winds of change, a statement supported by the lack of preparedness often exhibited when a strong wind blows through.

Think I’m being too harsh? Then consider this course of action: Get a pen and paper and write down exactly what you want from life, when you want these things to happen and the resources you’ll probably need. Break each of these large goals down into smaller and smaller tasks until you get to something you can do immediately. Do this thing. Then do the next task. And the next. And so on.

What? It’s too hard? It’ll take too much time? Well, you’re right. It should become obvious that this exercise is one without end, that will take you a lifetime to complete. But that’s the point. I’m convinced there are few people in this world who make the decision to spend each of the days they’ve been given on this earth “on purpose.” Yet this is exactly what I’ve observed successful people doing! If there’s one ability these individuals share, it’s focus. Successful people “dig in.” They refuse to be daunted by the lifelong challenge implied by the word “success.” Successful people know what they want and go for it.

Be willing to cultivate experiences which will move you relentlessly toward your goals. Why? Because the average person won’t, and the successful person will.

Spend the rest of your days “on purpose.”

The idea is so elegantly simple. At some level, I believe all successful people recognize that the meaning they choose to place on their experiences determines the direction and shape of their lives. It’s like having a pair of magic glasses to illuminate what’s important and to diminish what’s not, and it bestows the power to make the right choices.

This insight is important! If you can manage to interpret your future experiences in positive, constructive or proactive ways, I’m convinced you can accomplish virtually anything you can envision. Why not begin now?

Get On Purpose.

1. Review the patterns in your life, making a list of things you enjoy doing that you’re also good at. If you come up with zilch, go out and try new experiences until you do find a pastime you can enjoy. Reasoning? If you can’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never achieve an enjoyable lifestyle.

2. Lurking within this list of things you enjoy are thousands of opportunities. Your next job is to find a product, service or idea you can sell that’s related to this list. That’s right–sell. The only way anyone ever makes any money is to sell a product or a service or an idea. Every job in the world is, in some way, a service. All businesses sell something. And behind every one of these businesses and services are ideas people have either discovered or bought. It’s something everyone should think about, if not understand.

3. As for achieving outstanding success in the field you’ve chosen, the procedure is simple… Your earnings will always rise in direct ratio to the following:

a) The demand for what you do.

It’s up to you to find this demand, or create it.

b) How well you do it.

This is where the enjoyment comes in. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never put in enough practice time to become outstanding at it.

c) How difficult it is to replace you.

The more valuable you make yourself in the eyes of your direct customer, the more difficult it becomes to replace you.

Alright, that was a global approach for getting “on purpose.” But what do you do about staying focused on a daily basis? I like to use what I call the 4 A’s of Achievement. It’s a system I devised for keeping me focused on the results I want from life. The system has helped me to maintain perspective, and it has led me to some outstanding achievements. I know it can do the same for you.

The Four A’s of Achievement.

Awareness: Know what you want–from life, from this day or even from your current task. Plan each leg of your journey “on purpose” and with daily enjoyment in mind.

This is so important! Specific destinations give you a target to aim for, or a direction in which to travel. They give you that all-important thing called focus. Having fun while you’re at it increases the likelihood that you’ll repeat the behaviour.

Action: Get moving! Small achievable steps, taken on a consistent basis, will get you where you want to go.

Virtually any vision you can hold in your mind can be accomplished in time. And as this is a life you’re planning, the only thing with the power to actually stop you is death itself. So, get moving!

Analysis: Keep your eyes open. Learn to recognize when you’re on course and when you’re not.

Think about it: Those miles you rack up every day will only get you to your next port of call if you’re travelling in the right direction. Look for signs. Write things down! Check up on yourself. Stay on course. Get “on purpose.”

Adjustment: If you find a good vehicle or a good road to travel, stick with it long enough to make some progress in the direction of your goal(s). But please! If you take a wrong turn, never hesitate to make a course correction. All good navigators know that staying on course is primarily a matter of small and continuous adjustments to keep from drifting off target.

Be prepared to modify your behaviour and actions as required.

That’s it. The uncomplicated but never easy path to the good life: Consistent and purposeful action over a lifetime – with a vigilant eye on the results.

To recap:

Figure out what you could enjoy doing with the rest of your life, then put your focus on behaviours with the potential to get you living that way. Pay attention to the results you get, making adjustments when needed. Become a Contrarian. Do what others are unwilling to do. Strive to find positive and productive meaning in each experience you have, rather than thinking, feeling, talking and acting as you have in the past. Dare to be different! If nothing else, you’ll end up with a more useful set of beliefs about what you’re capable of and about how the world works. Personally, I think the ride’s going to be more exciting than you could ever imagine. Have fun.

Copyright © 2017 Clayton Clifford Bye

Will ya turn off that TV!? by Susan Day


Since the invention of the moving picture box, parents have been yelling at their kids to turn it off, and go outside and play.

Today more than ever, kids are so heavily connect to screens we may have to ask ourselves is technology hindering or helping our children and grandchildren to read books. And by books, I mean real ones made with ink and paper!

Parents are allowing their young infants and toddlers to use tablets and smartphones. Why? Because there are thousands of games and apps which entertain and educate them. But is this the right way to learn because it’s cheap and easy to use?

Without doubt many parents and grandparents are concerned that their children are spending too much time in front of screens, and not enough time playing outside or reading story books.

Too Much Screen Time?

What is ‘screen time?’ While many of us grandparents certainly spent time in front of the big screen of our televisions, there certainly wasn’t a term for it. Now, children are spending so much time in front of the television experts and researchers have coined a new phrase – screen time.

We all know kids need to learn how to use computers, and that safely engaging online is an important part of building skills they will need in their careers. However, spending too much time playing games, texting, and watching videos will have an effect on a child’s ability to learn the fundamentals of their language. This, in turn, can have an impact on their ability to learn to read and write, and their careers later in life.

How many words should a child know?

An average vocabulary for a four year old, for example, is 3,000 to 4,000 words. Children learn the majority of words they are ever going to learn before they get to school. Sadly, there are children beginning school with a vocabulary of only 500 words. This means they may never develop the language skills needed to do well in life. While you may not want your child to grow up to be an author or a journalist; you would want them to be able to put a complaint letter together or create a thorough resume for a job.

What can we do to help children develop a love of reading and books?

There are many things which you can do to help. Share reading times with a child or visit your local library together. Talk about books, and the types of stories which are available. Go to bookshops or reading events, and make books a big part of your shared lives.

It’s up to all of us to engage children with quality “off-screen” activities so they can learn to grow and develop as best they can.

Who is Susan Day?

Susan Day, children’s author and writer, has developed a 7 Step Guide to Help Children Fall in Love with Books and Reading. Her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, is full of ideas and tips to help parents and grandparents engage children with books. You can download the guide here: http://www.astrosadventuresbookclub.com/

Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. Apart from writing and reading, she loves painting, and gardening.

The Oscars Been Awarded but There Are Dark Shadows on the Silver Screen by Kenneth Weene

Just over a century after the release of D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation,” Nate Parker’s film of the same name came to the silver screen. While the Griffith film justified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed white racism as the salvation of America, the Parker film traces the life of Nat Turner and the slave revolt which he led in pre-Civil War Virginia. From totally opposing perspectives, both films spoke to the fear and anger that has poisoned American race relations since before the Revolution.

It should certainly not surprise us that films speak to our national consciousness and help us define who we are and what we believe. If there is one art form that is quintessentially American, it is movies, and what greater purpose has art than to explore the human condition.

While the two “Birth of a Nation” films explore the darkest sides of American race relations, three other films released at the end of 2016 try to raise an entirely different set of issues.

“Fences,” based on the August Wilson stage play, presents a Black America that is separate and if not equal one that has its own unique culture. The protagonist Troy Maxson is a Black man who is painfully aware of the limitations that have been placed on his life because of his race. Fearful of what the world will do to them, he tries to protect his sons by forcing them to see the world through his own bitter eyes. Set in the 1950’s, “Fences” references both the fact that Black Americans were fenced in by segregation and prejudice and the career of Jackie Robinson, whose success as a baseball player gave hope for an avenue towards equality.

“Loving” is based not on a play or story but real lives. Richard and Mildred Loving were a working-class couple who loved one another. Because he was White and she Black, the state of Virginia forbad their marriage. Going out of state to marry, they returned to Virginia and found themselves jailed and only released if they promised to leave the state. Featured in a Life Magazine story which I remember reading, the Lovings eventually won not only the right to have their marriage recognized in the home state but also the legal end of miscegenation laws in America. Loving v. Virginia was decided by the Supreme Court Dec 12, 1967. The movie asks a simple but poignant question: are Blacks less human than Whites; are we not all more nearly human than otherwise?

During the years between 1958, when the Lovings married, and 1967 another story was also playing out in Virginia. NASA was established in 1958 with the goal of taking America into space. “Hidden Figures” focuses on three Black women who worked at NASA’s Virginia facilities. Dorothy Vaughan eventually became NASA’s first Black-American supervisor. Mary Jackson became an aeronautical engineer. And, mathematics whiz Katherine Johnson played a pivotal role in figuring out how to bring the astronauts home. These three women entered NASA when it was a segregated and misogynistic organization and managed to find the recognition they deserved. This multiple-biopic subconsciously takes us back to Jackie Robinson as it challenges us to judge people not on race but on competence. Should the best mathematician, engineer, or supervisor not get the job regardless of the color of their skin. The message is clear: we are all the same under our skins. Or, to use one of the most self-conscious lines of the script, “At NASA we all pee the same color.” Presumably, that is the color of rocket fuel.

Why this sudden spurt of films about the Black experience in the fifties and sixties? It would be easy to point out the diversity has become an issue in Hollywood and particularly when it comes to awards. That may be one part of the answer.

Another, and in my opinion a more important answer is represented by that centennial of the release of that abhorrent film “The Birth of a Nation.” The release of that film in 1915 began a portrayal of Black America that has often been offensive and assuredly requires redress. As distasteful as the representations of Blacks has overall been in film, that issue pales in comparison to the actuality of Black life. And, on the other side, as horrific as slavery, segregation, and bigotry have been, there has been real movement towards civil rights. Without doubt, the possibilities for Black Americans are far greater and better today than they were at the beginning of the fifties and sixties.

The question that these three films asks is what has made things better. During those years, powerful voices were raised, marches held, and riots occurred. Were those the catalyst for change, or did change come because White America came to see Blacks, like all of us, were more nearly human than otherwise? These new films would have us ignore the marchers, the rioters, and the conflicts. They would have us learn a new mythology of American race relations, one in which aspirations change the world and the system can be altered from within.

These three movies are trying to rewrite the history of race in America. They are trying to say, “Let us forget about racism and segregation. Let us forget about the struggle that brought Civil Rights. Let us instead recognize that the right prevails, that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ and that the basic American character is one of decency.”

Is this revision realistic? Can we rewrite American history and bury slavery, segregation, the Klan, and discrimination? The rage of both “Birth of a Nation” films is seared into the soul of America. It cannot be so easily papered over. Elimination of America’s racial divide will require not simply the creation of a new set of “happier” myths but real reconciliation.

The great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung spoke of the shadow, that part of each person that they cannot accept in themselves. It is the part of the person that they keep hidden. Reconciliation cannot take place until those shadowy parts on all sides are exposed in the light of recognition. As much as I enjoyed the three films, “Fences,” “Loving,” and “Hidden Figures,” I see them not as sanguine harbingers of a just and equal society but as signs that once again America will try to bury that which is dark in our history. If the “American Dilemma” is to be resolved, it cannot be by the application of whitewash but only by the piercing sting of real discussion.

* * *

Bio: Novelist, poet, and retired psychologist Ken Weene has long been a movie buff. Currenly, he is co-writing a script based on his novel Times to Try the Soul of Mani. You can find more of his writing at www.kennethweene.com

 

The First American?

Flames licked the reindeer, fat dripped, and the fire flared up. Startled, Kayla turned the spit. Last year she’d been a child stampeding prey toward the hunters’ ambush. She’d peeked from behind rocks as the shaman released the spirit of each captured animal and bowed her head in gratitude as he dedicated their bodies to feed the tribe. This year she was newly a woman, and …

Don’t think about it.

She gazed around the camp saying a silent farewell to the familiar. Marc, Iro and Rog stood together, far from the fire’s warmth, their breath clouding white in the cold. She watched from the corner of her eye and matched her breathing to Marc’s.

“Daydreaming are you?” Luna took the spit from her hand.

Kayla blushed and stepped aside.

“Ola is waiting for you.” Luna’s frown revealed her jealousy.

Kayla struggled to keep her mind empty while Ola dressed her in fine skins. The old priestess was reputed to see what others were thinking, and terrible punishment awaited those who defied tribal rules.

“Don’t be fearful, Kayla. You are blessed. Tonight, when the moon is high, the shaman will take you to the sacred caves.” Ola’s words, spoken in kindness, fell like stones on Kayla’s heart.

Her father was an artist, one of the few tribesmen allowed in the caves. He’d told her about the pictures, the star map that guided travelers and the animals that beseeched the spirits for a successful hunt. He’d drawn star maps on the ground and showed her the beasts that lived in the sky, but he never spoke of the priestesses who lived there.

When Kayla was chosen, her mother had wept at the honor, but her father showed no joy. The next time they were alone, he’d told her about warm and fertile lands that lay across the great water. Many hunters had set sail, following the star maps, but few returned. The shaman had decided the trip was too perilous, and now it was forbidden.

Ola finished braiding her hair and escorted her back to the fire. Lines of tribesmen spiraled away from the warmth. Flames reflected amber on their hungry faces. Artists came first followed by toolmakers, hunters, women suckling babies, and lastly the other women. Children ate with their mothers.

Kayla took her place at the very front. Moments later, a procession moved down the hillside; the shaman had finished his fasting and prayers. He blessed the roasted reindeer then sliced the smallest with his long blade and offered the choicest part to Kayla. Only after she’d been served did the elders step forward to receive their portions. They carried their food to the sacred table, and the young women served the other member of the tribe.

Kayla ate sparingly. Marc would do the same, and he would hide food in his clothes, as would Iro, Rog and their women. When the bones had been picked clean and the rest of the tribe lay heavy with meat, they would be swift. Later, the meat they’d hidden would sustain them until they reached the great water where fish swam in shoals.

The shaman had finished eating. Ola signalled that it was time. Kayla walked toward the huts where she was to make her final preparations. As soon as she left the fire’s light, she changed direction and began running. Marc met her by the rock where she’d hidden warmer clothes. She changed quickly, and they raced to the river, where the others waited.

“Hurry.” Iro pointed toward the camp. Dots of light spread out from the fire, torches moving up the hillside and down toward the huts but not toward the river—not yet. “They’re already looking for her.”

Nila, Rog’s woman, was with child and would slow them down, but with this head start, they’d reach the boats hidden where the river’s ice became water. The river would carry them to the great water. The star map in Kayla’s head would guide them to the new land.

Eleven moons, two deaths and one birth later, two small boats entered the bay that one day would be called Chesapeake. Gentle waves rocked their boats. The motion soothed Baby Dora, who’d been howling since being removed from her mother’s breast so that Nila could pull in a net filled with fish.

“Do you want your child to be born here?” Rog said.

“Our child will be born here whether Marc approves or not.” Kayla rubbed her swollen belly. Already, it had begun to tense and release in the rhythm of birth.

They beached the boats and constructed a shelter of bent saplings and the skins they no longer needed for warmth. That night they enjoyed the plenty that this land provided. They thanked the spirits for their generosity and asked that blessings in the afterlife be bestowed upon Iro and Joa who’d disappeared when their boat capsized in icy waters. The next day, as the sun poked its first rays into the sky, Kayla gave birth to a son.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbu.

In Praise of Short Stories by Patricia Dusenbury

Reading short stories is like cruising a buffet. Try a bit of this and a bit of that, experiment with new things. If you find something you love, go back and fill your plate—i.e. read a novel by the author. Or keep nibbling on this and that, enjoying the variety.

Just as the buffet—quick and efficient with lots of choices—fits well into modern life, so do short stories. Do you ride mass transit? Look around, everyone glued to their phone is not chasing Pokémon creatures. Do you go to the gym? I’m not coordinated enough to read on a treadmill, but others are. Your colleague, reading while she grabs a quick sandwich at her desk? Could be a short story.

On the other side of the pen, a short story offers writers a chance to try something new and different, to experiment without investing the chunk of time a novel takes. My novels are about mysteries and relationships. My short stories are all over the place. Part 2 of this post is an adventure story inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings. Anthropologists argue about who the amazingly sophisticated artists were and where they went. I wondered if maybe…

Short stories are defined by length (duh) with under 750 words usually called Flash Fiction and over 15,000 words pushing novella. Perhaps the shortest story, certainly one of the saddest is, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

Can you compose a story—mystery, romance, sci-fi, whatever—in ten words or less? Submit your story as a comment and you’re in a lottery to win a copy of Black Coffee, a newly-released collection of twenty-three short mysteries noir. Edited by Andrew MacCrae, Black Coffee includes my excursion into the dark side, Nor Death Will Us Part.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbury.

The Politics of Opinion

I picked this piece out of a dusty cupboard and thought to myself, this is just as pertinent as it was when I published it several years ago.
CheatingDeathlaura tomei

As a reviewer, I’m regularly approached to “analyze” specific books. Sometimes it’s the publisher asking, and sometimes it’s the author. What, exactly, are they looking for? They’re hoping I will read the book provided and write several paragraphs of glowing promotional material they can show the public as proof that an informed and independent reader likes the book well enough to suggest it’s one you want to buy. But reviewing doesn’t always work that way: there are times when I dislike certain aspects of a book and, in all fairness, will write about these dislikes. I’ve often gone so far as to slam publishers and editors when the quality of their work reduces the quality of the book being reviewed.

Which brings me to The Politics of Opinion.

Generally speaking, politics is the process by which specific groups of people arrive at a single decision. For example, an “individual opinion” is an expression of something you believe in, when you don’t also provide positive proof of what you say. Such an opinion expressed by a group (including a description of how they arrived at that decision) would be the Politics of Opinion.

So, what do I mean when I use the phrase The Politics of Opinion when I’m talking about reviewing a book?

First, when I write a review, I’m not trying to change the opinion of a “group.” I’m providing information and beliefs regarding a specific book I have read, so that you, “the individual,” have some idea or reference point from whence you can move forward to make up your own mind regarding the book in question. Sometimes I provide proof for my beliefs, oftentimes I don’t. They key here is that if you respect my opinion, I may influence your decision to read said book.

Now, when an individual or individuals or organization (a reviewing company, publisher, etc) attack my reviews, my abilities, even my character, using our comments section, they’re trying to change not only my opinion but the opinions of all my readers. Our public clash puts us in the arena of The Politics of Opinion. You see, you the reader (as a group) are being offered all kinds of extra information and insights into the book being discussed, a glimpse of the reviewing process, and even a more complete idea of who I am. Good things, all. But, you’re also being asked to make a “group” decision: to ignore me.

So, when I say a book borders on pornography, someone challenges that opinion and I, hoping to offer further insights for you, provide proof and/or additional information to help you make your reading decision, The Politics of Opinion are in full force.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s my (generous) definition of pornography: if the format in which the book appears doesn’t or can’t stand on its own with the erotica removed (erotica is writing designed to sexually arouse the reader), then you’re looking at a piece of pornography. Using this definition, I felt Cheating Death by Annie Alvarez came very close to being pornography. Bloody Passion by Laura Tolomei, without it’s many erotic scenes, still stands up as a short story… but I’m paying for a novel! So, I ask you, my reader, if 3/4 of what I’m paying for (as fiction) ends up being erotica, doesn’t that suggest pornography to you?

Looking forward to your comments.

Clayton Bye is a professional writer and publisher with well over 50 books to his credit. He has also worked as an editor, proof writer, ghostwriter and public speaker. Clayton lives in a small town in northwestern Ontario in Canada. He refers to it as “God’s Country.”

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye

 

Speaking My Mind by Monica Brinkman

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There comes a time in one’s life when they no longer can hold their tongue. It could be as a youth, discovering the workings of the world or a wife who no longer allows the beatings and tongue lashings from her once adoring husband. Be forewarned, for it shall happen and you will have the choice to quiver in fear or take a stand and speak up.

Today is my day, my time, my moment and I siege the opportunity with passion and vigor and purpose. Hate me? Fine. Detest my words? Good. Object to my opinion? Okay. For I do not worry about what you think of me, nor if you condone my actions, nor will you when the moment appears in your life.

What propels me with such passion? It is Fear! I am weary of living within its grasp. I am tired of it hovering over my head, my every thought, my every choice, my every opinion for lest I annoy, anger or upset another.

Cities, states, countries and the world’s inhabitants live in such deep alarm of what could happen to them if they let their true thoughts out. What would their ministers, their rabbis, their neighbors, their supervisors, their friends, and family think of them, or even worse, do to them should they allow truth to leak out? Oh, for horror above horror, they would certainly be struck down by lightening or silenced for life; their tongue torn from their mouths. Or certainly shunned by the town and cast out as an evil demon into the darkness of the night.

All dramatizations aside, in the real world, their voice would be heard. Perhaps a few would pass judgment, some would agree, but most would merely listen and go on with their lives. The seas would not part nor the earth, underfoot, give way. You see, no matter what you might like or think, the entire world does not revolve around you as an individual. You are simply not that important to others no matter how much you may wish to be so.

What is important is that each one of us can voice our opinions, speak our mind without living in fear of consequence. After all, when one speaks it is how they are feeling at that exact moment in time. They may or may not feel the same way in the next minute, hour, day or year. For we evolve, we learn and we change per our experiences in life. And it is grand and it is good and it is how it should be. Yet so many continue to hide their thoughts and shut out communication. I ask you, who do this, to toss away the fear, for that fear lives within your own mind.

In the end, we can only be the person we have become, the thoughts we have embraced and the actions that we choose. Me? I’d have it no other way. I invite all of you to toss that fear aside and allow all to experience the real person behind the façade; the truth of essence and the force of your personality. Please, be yourself; let others in and you will find great joy as the fear, once so vivid, ebbs into a faint memory. You might even find others adore the real you.

Bio: Monica M Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheels Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.

An avid writer, named a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.