Tag Archives: Pride’s Children

Love in the time of pandemic

AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Gak! It’s been almost a month since I posted anything!

There was a lot of quarantining in that time. NOT because we were exposed to Covid, though some independent living residents in this facility were (we found out because they had dinner with friends in Assisted Living at the Friendship Table, and the AL people ARE tested regularly because they’re in the health-care portion of our facility).

And because those people in IL who WERE exposed to the people in AL who tested positive, the State of California required them to quarantine for FOURTEEN DAYS in their apartments. None of the IL residents got Covid, thank goodness, but WE had a vacation in Lake Tahoe with our kids a few weeks later, and realized that WE wouldn’t be able to go IF we got exposed ourselves, here, and then had to do the same quarantine for 14 days.

That is, we quarantined for 14 days so we wouldn’t have to quarantine for 14 days – at an inconvenient time which would put the kibosh on OUR vacation. Mixed up world, eh?

So – any progress on publishing NETHERWORLD?

Well, yes and no.

For the ms., I created an easy ARC from Scrivener – the complete, very long pdf of the whole thing (~500 pages), and sent it to the first person who’s offered to review AND buy it on launch day (thank you, David!), and as a backup complete proofed file to several places, including my amazing beta reader (thank you, Rachel!), and gave my husband and children the necessary information to manage my literary estate (and publish Netherworld) if something happened on the trip/vacation/return. You never know.

The formatting is no further than that.

For the cover: I have all the pieces, an updated Pixelmator 3, and an updated Learn Pixelmator 3.5 video course (free update – thanks folks!).

I’ve bought licenses for the two cover images from Dreamstime, acquired another photo from the same friend who supplied the sky for Purgatory’s cover, found a couple of low-res images to guide me in the changes I’ll need to create the cover in my head, and put the whole thing into a folder and a backup on the iCloud. Phew.

Now I just have to do the work, get it past my cover mentor (thank you, Jessica!), and create ebook, paper and hardback covers to spec, and then, because I want to make one change to them, redo a bit of the Purgatory covers (bigger name so it shows on the thumbnail, add the award, etc.) which really amounts to redoing a fair amount of the Purgatory covers AND creating the hardcover one.

I have my permissions from Cambridge U. for my KJV quotations – feels nice and official.

I got my copyright certificate from the Library of Congress! I always feel better after I do that, for whatever it might be worth.

Launching is, of course, dependent on having something to launch. I had approached a PR firm, put up with a long delay to talk to them, checked in with them and received a promise of an answer of some kind before the end of May, and than have been ghosted. It does remind me that if people are not reliable in the small things, it’s probably better not to rely on them for the big ones, so that firm is permanently off the table. Too bad, because I liked them, and had already invested some effort into them.

I’m still obsessively re-reading the end of Netherworld – and not changing a word. I promise explosions, and I hope they are well received.

I want to continue getting into writing LIMBO

I literally can’t wait – because there are only a few hours between the end of 2 and the beginning of 3, and I’m very happy how that turned out.

And I’ve already started writing Chapter 41(LIMBO goes to 60).

BUT I’ve been dealing with some medical problems for 2.5 years to no solution, and I’m in the middle of trying to fix some things that really need fixing, and it’s a slow process because disability means EVERYTHING is so much harder – from making phone calls through phone systems that won’t just let you call someone to make an appointment, to doctor visits which consume an incredible amount of prep time, energy, and recovery time, to a whole slew of medical tests with the same problems – which the new doctor insists on before she will even consider DOING something.

Plus a big paperwork problem I’ve finally admitted I had to step in and manage, do some of, get help, hand over to the pros…

And my limited number of daily spoons is gone every day before I manage to write. Because it’s not just ‘write a few words’ now – it’s the whole huge Book 3 planning review, restart, clean up, carry stuff from 1 and 2 typical glorious mess of starting the final volume in a trilogy. Drives me up a tree that I can’t just do it.

But I’m literally doing the best I can

And not managing to sleep very well with all the above, to boot.

I can tell stress that I’m fine until I’m full-body blue, but that does NOT take away the stress. It just doesn’t add worry, but the things I’m having to do are stressful in and of themselves, and that is such a deep autonomic process that you can’t affect it much.

Plus the physical problems have extra pain and much discomfort associated, which has to be micromanaged – and I was already exhausted before that.

There are signs, portents, and possibilities

of improvements, but not fast.

This is literally the first time I’ve even been able to think of writing a simple blog post, in the whole past month.

Life happens – you deal.

I know what my primary aim is (if family is okay), but I’m not able to DO it right now.

Don’t worry. Nothing TOO horribly grim. But I’m all tapped out of spoons every day, almost the end of the morning, when I’ve done nothing yet.

But stuff slowly gets done, and goes into the rearview mirror queue from the To Do list, and I’ll get there.

On the bright side

my oldest daughter is helping me select my new computer for the foreseeable future – my current lovey is from 2015, and can’t be upgraded far enough because then my necessary old software – Office 2011 for Mac and Dramatica Story Expert – won’t work, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth right now to deal with another potential crash.

Everything is properly backed up (Time Machine and iCloud), but bobbles with computers cost me days or weeks when they happen, so for the first time in a long time, I’m being proactive: a new Macbook Air with the M2 processor and good camera should take me far into the future and definitely through LIMBO.

It will, however, require some learning – not my strong point.

So that’s the update:

I’m working as hard as I can on the critical list items

I’m as far along with Netherworld as I can be, including covers

Ditto redoing the Purgatory covers

Ditto writing into the future with Limbo

and dealing with the sorry carcass which makes all of this possible at all in as graceful a manner as I can against the extra stress of having to do it at all, and the unbelievable amount of extra energy it takes

AND, courtesy of my lovely assistant Sammy, whose last day is today (she’s graduating! going on to grad school! going home for the summer!), I have already acquired an assistant for the fall (another senior – so I’ll get 8-9 months of her life, and leave her a changed young woman – but seniors are really handy), and she’s interested in learning the self-pub aspects of the job I haven’t had time to do with Sammy because other things were more, uh, important.

And the ability to write this post reassures me that there’s still a ‘me’ here.

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More when there’s actually progress on this laundry list.

Be well. Have a great summer. Don’t work TOO hard.

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PS: If you are desperate to read NETHERWORLD, and wouldn’t mind writing a review to be posted when it’s published, email me (abehrhardt at gmail), make your case, and I’ll send you what I have at the time.

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May 12 is International ME/CFS Day

Millions of ME/CFS victims are missing from LIFE

Every year this date reminds me that we STILL have no diagnostic marker, treatment, or cure for the devastating disease that stole my life as a physicist in 1989, the week of Nov. 5th.

Another year with nothing really new that can turn me back into a functioning person.

Or even help new victims.

Except that this year there is an understanding that, if we didn’t know what virus had done the damage, ALMOST ALL of the long-covid victims would be diagnosed, based on symptoms, with ME.

But we know that virus, and possibly that will help some of the targeted research that now has been funded to figure out the mechanism of the damage and find a way to reverse some of it.

And maybe, MAYBE, some of that research will benefit newer victims of ME/CFS, and possibly – though the damage is so long-standing it’s hard to think how – those of us who have been waiting for decades.

If you pray, pray for us.

If you’re not the praying kind, think of us kindly.

We’re still sick – and I wouldn’t wish this illness on Putin.

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Meanwhile, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is still in existence because of ME/CFS, and NETHERWORLD will be out very soon (the disease makes me very slow).

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What to do with a negative review

Can ‘Good’ come from ‘Evil’?

WHAT TO DO WHEN A READER DISLIKES YOUR WORK?

The traditional answer to this is, believe it or not, NOTHING.

Because a reader’s review is as much their opinion as your book is yours.

And you are grateful to have a reader who was moved to take up keyboard and leave you feedback.

And because you cannot please everyone.

And, most importantly, because have negative reviews is a rite of passage for writers, and now you’ve had yours.

Phew.

And here you thought having all 5* reviews was a mark of a good writer, and now your stellar reputation is trampled forever.

Is acceptance your only option, then?

Well, no.

The first instinct may be to send out destroyer missiles, but that may not actually remove the stain on your reputation.

The review stays.

But I came across a very creative way to use and benefit from that bad review on a blog post of Tahani Nelson, a fantasy writer. She turned a negative review (a reader got almost to the end of the book quite happily until she realized, oh dear, the warrior princess was gay!) into a great ad for her book. I won’t spoil her thunder – she deserves people to go read her post. Or at least scroll down to her ad. It’s gorgeous. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

So, I thought – YOU have some 1* and 2* reviews

What creative use are you going to make of them?

First, two of the ads (maybe written by the same person?) have the same error: ‘It is 545 pages long.’ Um, no. The book is 485 pages long.

The reviewer accused me of writing tedious descriptions about everything. Um, no. If anything, I am extremely parsimonious in the description department for a peculiar reason: Pride’s Children is written in very deep close multiple third person point of view, and I only use descriptions a character would actually THINK at the moment, which eliminates most descriptions (characters don’t do more than noticing a detail or two most of the time). Whether they’re tedious or not, that I’ll leave up to the individual reader, but I try to think of something obvious but fresh or relevant.

One reviewer must have thought the first paragraph of the prologue – a short excerpt from a faux New Yorker article that is my link between books, and the ‘outside’ view of the story from a magazine writer’s perspective years later – was actually the first paragraph of the book – and called it a run-on sentence. The paragraph is 79 words, a complex sentence but not a run on. The prologue is labeled Prothalamion – in honor of Dorothy L. Sayers who used one brilliantly in Busman’s Honeymoon.

The actual first sentence in Chapter 1 is 11 short sentences in 93 words. With periods or ellipses between them – clearly delimited.

I was accused of needing to prove I have an immense vocabulary. Why, thanks, I do know a lot of words, but all I try to do is use the words the characters would use. Which sometimes is very constraining.

The missing clues to my bad reviews (so far)

Several pieces in the negative reviews clued me in to the problem, and it’s a different one than I originally thought.

“I read Pride’s Children because of my daughter’s suggestion. I am not a fan of romance novels”

and

“the book was much too long. It could have been easily condensed to 2/3 the length”

and

“The number of quotations before each chapter was overkill – for the most part they only made sense to me after the chapter had been read.

And these pieces from positive reviews give different clues:

“These relationships do include romantic attraction and love (and even have it as a central focus), but it’s not the sole focus; family relationships, friendships, working relationships, etc. -some healthy and some not– come under the lens as well. And the development of the central attraction isn’t a “romance,” except in the sense that a Jane Austen novel could be called one (and allowing for differences in setting and literary conventions between the early 19th and early 21st centuries, a comparison to Austen isn’t entirely inapt!)”

and

“I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.”

My problem?

There are MANY Romance readers and writers in the world – and they do extremely well by each other.

But they have styles and tropes and limitations and expectations, among others:

  • only two characters in the relationship (excepting the exceptions for subgenres)
  • a point of view that goes back and forth at certain times between the two lovers-to-be – in the same scene
  • relative short
  • a particular style of covers
  • a happy ending (HEA – happily ever after) or (HFN – happy for now)

And somehow or other, even when the cover, description, and ad copy try to convey that Pride’s Children is NOT a Romance which follows what the readers expect, some readers picked it up, read, noticed things were not what they expected – but kept going all the way to the end (skimming, I’m assuming, in some places) – and still decided they were not happy, and left a review. An unhappy one. A 1* or 2* review.

I think that may mean I need to work on my ad copy. I don’t know how to say ‘mainstream love story’ as opposed to ‘Romance’ – because it sounds horribly condescending somehow, but wouldn’t you want to know there were supernatural beings or zombies in a book before you chose it to read, given your preferences either way?

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Suggestions welcome.

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If you read, or even prefer, mainstream love stories, and haven’t signed up to be notified about mine, please hop over to the Pride’s Children blog, and follow so you will be informed when they come out. Not frequently – I’m dreadfully slow – but they’re big fat complicated stories when they do.

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Don’t wait for the band wagon

CLIMB ABOARD NOW WHILE THERE ARE STILL GOOD SEATS

It is axiomatic that there are no overnight successes.

Why?

Because it takes huge amounts of determination and preparation to be ready to respond well when an opportunity finally comes along – and if you’re not ready, it will leave you in the dust and move on.

Take your American Idol singer

The pipes that astonish are not natural, spur of the moment, magically angelic. Nope. If so, they are most likely to freeze at the first sign of stress.

The singer not only sings a lot in the shower, but has had parents paying for individual teachers, has been singing in the church choir, has spent years listening to music, and has been through a whole list of roles in the school plays.

Being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and wowing Simon Cowell is not a fluke.

The illusion that it is sudden and unexpected and a direct blessing from Heaven is for the AUDIENCE. The ones who want to jump on the bandwagon as it goes by because, “I’m just as good as she is.” It keeps them buying the advertised products, watching the shows, purchasing tickets for Kelly Clarkson when she comes to town.

Even the little Wow! stories are the product of hours and hours and hours of cameramen recording every remotely possible candidate practicing in the hall – to be scrolled through for the exciting bits AFTER the winner has been chosen.

It matters only for the individuals

The producers don’t care who wins – they have SO many contestants that their triage is stricter than that after a major accident: they may let a few charismatic duds go through a few levels they aren’t qualified for – one leaves in the random possibility because crowds are fickle, but the staff’s job is to make sure that the two or three possibles culled out of each thousand who apply are usable.

They have no investment in a particular candidate. It’s dangerous to have one because talent and stardom are unpredictable beasts.

But the individual candidates, those who want to win, have to be ready to win – if it happens.

Artists need support BEFORE

before they are recognized as somehow ‘good.’

before they get discouraged and stop producing amazing work.

before everyone else discovers them.

It is even more important for those who are slow, or for whom doing the work is a great mental and/or physical effort.

I know that I will never forget the earliest responses on Wattpad from other writers, the ones who kept me cheerfully sharpening my nose. Because they KNEW – and SAID so – BEFORE others.

Peter Hyland, one of my characters, says,

“None of my friends are perfect. And most of them are irreplaceable. They provide the mirror when I get too big for my britches. New ones are hard to find.” He squinted at the dying sun. “I need them far more than they need me.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY, Chapter 13

It is hard for people to commit, to say, “I’ve found this new writer/photographer/painter…, and you should look into their work” to recommend someone to a friend. What if the friend doesn’t like the new artist? Easier not to say anything, and just nod wisely.

But once the wagon is full, one more supporter isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Getting started is hard – but up to the writer, who is the one to make the decision when something is first ready to be released to the public.

But keeping it going is much harder still, and that’s when the support can make the difference between someone going on to do creditable work – or quitting.

Why now?

It may or may not be important, or a stepping stone of any size, but I’m saying thank you to all my readers who have been saying, “I like what you write,” since I started putting Pride’s Children out in serial form on Wattpad.

You may or may not have noticed the new badge on the sidebar.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY has been named Indies Today’s 2021 BEST CONTEMPORARY novel, and I’d love it if those of you who read mainstream fiction would pop over to my other site, the one for the books, and sign up to follow that blog as I get ready to finish and publish the second novel in the trilogy, Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.

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Setting fiction in worlds with calendars and clocks

GOING TO ABSURD LENGTHS TO MAKE TIMES AND DATES WORK

There are two parts to verisimilitude: characters and plots.

When you graft a fictional character onto a world in a historical context – changing the name of the president, for example (still missing President Bartlett of the West Wing, not so much the Presidents Underwood of House of Cards), is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because FICTION.

But there is a significant difference between an alternate history – one which answers what if? questions about what would happen if something changed due to that fictional occurrence (President Lincoln survived the Civil War) – and one which aims to change only a few features of an event, without completely changing the chronology of what happens after.

Because, within wide parameters, most people aren’t important enough to change history, and writing things a little different to end a personal story in a particular way is a perfectly valid fictional technique: you don’t imagine the 1950s differently, but your sleuth solves cases in them.

My fictional world is the real world

I want you to think, when you finish reading my WIP, that you’ve read something that really happened.

But because I chose Hollywood (and Bollywood added to it in the second volume of the trilogy), I need a worldwide stage for some parts, which has resulted in characters at times in very different time zones being aware of or communicating with each other.

Or traveling from one place to another and back.

Or of something they do affecting a different character somewhere else.

Stories aim to give you the flavor of reality

Stories – even very long dense epic stories – give you only a tiny part of what ‘happened.’

Try to document your day. In just one 24-hour day, you perform thousands of actions, make hundreds of decisions. Even listing them in a recording as you go through the day would take forever.

So the writer in a novel has to give you enough of the right kind of scenes so that you think you’ve lived with the characters – but are actually seeing a tiny fraction of what real people would do in that time.

The RIGHT tiny fraction. To give an illusion of time passing and being present.

The writer has to know a lot more than the reader

Or readers will notice the gaps. Call them plot holes, inconsistencies, anachronisms. Or my favorite: refrigerator moments. Because you’re at the refrigerator at 3am and suddenly it occurs to you that there was no logical reason for something that happened in the plot, but you were swept away by the action, and didn’t notice. It may have been Lawrence Block who mentioned no reason for the Estonians to be eating chocolate chip cookies (my memory is very vague on the topic).

Well, I don’t want any of those.

I don’t want readers to say, “Wait a minute – that couldn’t happen!” Because it would pop the ‘suspension of disbelief bubble, and damage the flow.

So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure something might have happened that way.

MOST readers will never notice the hole, or if they do, care.

Funny thing: in my mind, that doesn’t absolve me of the requirement to make sure there aren’t any I can see.

In practical terms in NETHERWORLD

It means that when I do my complicated alternation between characters, and something has to happen on a close timeline, I spend effort making sure that timeline is actually possible.

If two characters alternating are on different continents (a recent example), and there is a plane flight from one of those continents to a place on a third one, I use a lot of convenient time/date software (what time is it in Berlin when it’s 3am in Shanghai?) in coordination with other software which tells me how long the flight will be for a particular aircraft.

Sometimes I’ve had to reset the time for a particular sequential scene.

Other times I’ve had to start a scene earlier or later, build in a gap, or have it end at a different time.

The interesting thing to me has been that when I get that involved in the details of ‘could it work’, I find myself feeling more like a detective than the plotter of a novel.

I’m discovering what happened rather than creating it.

It has been eerie how real the timelines are – and how I’m able to fit the changes in without it rippling through the rest of the scenes.

Some scenes are anchored in REAL TIME

I’ve chosen to insert a character into an actual historical event, so I have to make sure a barrage of physical actions happen around that exact event.

I don’t want a reader to remember something – that year that award ceremony happened on a Monday, not the usual Sunday – and me have gotten it wrong.

It’s enough fiction that I’m putting my characters into that ceremony.

I want the reader to have the spine-chilling thought, “Hey. Wait. Am I remembering it wrong?” because my fictional part fits so well into the past reality.

And it’s not that many years ago.

Next time I may pick something without these real-world anchors!

Or in a fictional universe.

I never realized how much work it might be until I was up to my neck in alligators in the swamp.

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As a reader, what do you do when the glitches are so obvious you can’t ignore them?

As a writer, am I crazy to worry about these tiny details?

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Is labeling mainstream novels literary counterproductive?

A REVOLUTION HAPPENED AND NOBODY NOTICED

Amazon tries; it really does.

To satisfy its customers, to make searching for what they want easy (easier), to supply it efficiently.

By revolution I mean both also that things turned around – 180° – from where they were, sort of, before.

Because before this all happened, ‘literary’ was a separate category in bookstores.

And literary meant a number of things:

  • Difficult to read, requiring great attention
  • Small in scope – One DAY in the life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Elitist
  • Using difficult flowery language
  • Very detailed – a navel closely observed and described
  • Slow and languid
  • Somehow not for everyone
  • Requiring a large SAT vocabulary
  • For people with an MA in English or Literature
  • Suitable proof for a doctorate
  • A credential for teaching English or Literature
  • With a limited audience
  • Special
  • Art
  • Cliched
  • Maybe French or translated from Italian or Russian
  • Not commercial
  • Often not ending anywhere near happily

Add or subtract from my list what comes into your head when you hear ‘literary novel.’ Please feel free to mention them in a comment.

What’s the revolution, you ask?

That ‘literary’ now means ‘traditionally published good stuff’ on Amazon, and is seen as almost the exclusive purview of, you guessed it, the traditional publishers large and small.

The books that are vetted by agents and editors at publishing companies (excluding the celebrity stuff), and are therefore both ‘better’ and ‘not for the hoi polloi.’

The other similar term is ‘historical,’ which is a little fuzzier and often about WWII, sometimes about WWI or the American Civil War.

Because the term ‘mainstream’ disappeared, and is not the same as ‘contemporary,’ which can be attached to, say, a Romance and a worldview: ‘Contemporary Christian Romance’ is a searchable thing.

It is considered presumptuous to label your own work ‘classic.’

And ‘General Fiction’ is not a category, but a garbage can.

‘Psychological’ is filling the empty slot somewhat – almost all novels for grownups are psychological, but is confounded by ‘thriller,’ ‘horror’, and ‘women’s fiction.’ With, of course, nothing actually labeled ‘fiction for men.’

It used to be possible to find mainstream fiction by looking for ‘a novel’ on the cover. No more. It now means only ‘book of at least 50 pages.’

It doesn’t matter for mainstream because

I’m convinced readers of mainstream fiction who use Amazon come there to find a good price on something they’ve already decided to buy.

I don’t think they search on Amazon. Not beyond maybe being attracted by something similar being offered by the ‘also read’ bots. There is just too much stuff.

They get their recommendations elsewhere – book critics (who rarely do SPAs*), reviews in the few places which still have book sections (print journalism has taken a lot of hits lately, too), and the publicity material put out for their best-selling authors by the traditional publishers (other authors get bupkis from traditional publishers – return on investment isn’t worth it).

So the market is saturated and sopped up by the same few titles which keep those offices in Manhattan open for the publishers (and their unpaid interns).

I’m hoping for virality. It can make the huge difference to a start – and then the writing must maintain the quality so that future books, even if widely spaces, are eagerly awaited.

Feel free to help kick that off – if you like mainstream fiction.

Don’t let ‘the system’ keep producing same old, same old – and then complain you can’t find anything you like to read.

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Thank you for listening to the daily rant. Now, if I could just manage to do it daily! 🙂

Oh, and the answer to the title question is yes: ‘Literary’ has too many negative and restrictive connotations in the minds of too many readers.

‘Literary’ is not a good substitute for such terms as mainstream, ‘big book’, epic, blockbuster, or commercial novel. It isn’t the same. Even when the intent is to make it a synonym with ‘well written.’

IMNVHO (In my not very humble opinion,)

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Final note: Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is taking part today and for the next few days at a promotion at HelloBooks – which has many other wonderful bargains for serious readers of General Fiction (its category) and many other genres.

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*SPAs = self-published authors, sometimes known as indies or independent authors

When the WIP forces change on your writing style

I’VE BEEN STRUGGLING WITH A NEW CONUNDRUM

I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.

I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.

The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.

In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.

In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.

I’m not used to this

All pantsers are familiar with this.

Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.

The story takes over.

And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.

Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!

You can’t write chaos smoothly

But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.

So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.

So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.

Balance.

So, another skill attempted in the craft.

I wonder what the beta reader will say.

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If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?

If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?

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One way to encourage a writer

When you are reaching the end of writing a novel, it looks as if you’ll never finish.

Encouragement comes in odd places:

  • a reader wanting to know when the next one is out
  • sales you didn’t expect, didn’t advertise for
  • the writing going particularly well
  • a tough section written
  • and a review that blows your metaphorical socks off (one gets so jaded).

This morning, my inbox contained a link to that kind of review, and I encourage those who are here for the fiction to take a quick look at the books’ sister site, Pride’s Children . com, and sign up there if they haven’t – because NETHERWORLD will be here early next year, and that encouragement keeps me focused.

An encouraged and supported writer (thanks to all my visitors and commenters and fellow bloggers and friends from FB and GR – you know who you are, and I hope you know how important you are) is a happy writer, and is probably writing much better than a discouraged one.

I don’t buy the drugs-and-alcohol motivated writer narrative (one reason being because my body doesn’t process alcohol fast enough and I don’t tolerate most meds), so I have to go on HAPPINESS, the universal salve.

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Sleep and lowered stress would be nice, too, and research to treat and cure this dratted disease (ME/CFS). I’m doing the best that I can.

Reduced brain fog would be ideal.

I’m doing the best that I can.

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Being present in the writing moment

Imaginary Circumstances

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

I need a win.

After much reflection, some of it in writing, other of it in the middle of the night, I have realized that the win, to be mine, has to come from me.

A real win is one you create yourself, the hard way, with blood, sweat, and tears. Since you EARNED it, you OWN it.

Since you created it, it can’t be taken from you (do remember your backups off site, though!).

Someone buying Pride’s Children PURGATORY – in paperback! – is a win, as is someone purchasing the ebook, or taking it out at Kindle Unlimited, especially when I haven’t done any marketing in ages. But it’s not something I have control over.

I had a recent win against Covid

As soon as the CDC said immunocompromised people would be on the short list for the early boosters, I asked my doctor AND my facility about it – to no avail. They said, “When we get it, we’ll let you know.”

But I started seeing other people with my same illnesses posting on FB about having already received the booster shot.

Regardless of how (I wouldn’t lie to get one, but don’t even know if others did, though there have been newspaper reports of lying), the key fact was availability.

So I nagged the doctor’s office, reminded them of my immune status, and they made it available. Then I arranged Medvan transportation, went and got the thing, suffered through the side effects (second day was quite flu-like, and I had more brain fog than I anticipated for the days after that), and, in another week or so, will feel I have done as much as possible to protect myself. And did NOT take that dose from someone getting their first vaccine.

So, win.

I finished a tricky chapter in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

As I get toward the explosive end of NETHERWORLD, it is getting even more important to get it exactly right, because even less time separates the end of 2 from the beginning of 3 than separated the end of 1 from the beginning of 2, and every story-second counts.

Sending Chapter 35 off to my beta reader was a key step: it is the 3/4 mark in several ways, and I have been forced to make the tiny detailed decisions that make the difference NOW, and not in some writing future – ‘when I get to it.’

It’s getting harder and harder physically and mentally

I acknowledge that, and move on.

Restarting after the brain fog is always tricky, because I have to assume I’m past it before I’m sure I’m past it, and restarting is part of the process of getting past it. What I mean is that it takes a huge amount of psychic energy to restart, sort of like the difference between static and dynamic friction (starting to move a piece of furniture across carpeting is much harder than keeping it going once you start (so don’t stop!)).

Apply that pressure too early, and all it does is extend the downtime.

Wait too long, and situational depression sets in.

And there is always something else that need my limited attention ability – and seems more important just this minute.

So what?

I live with this, write with this, and have been at it for a very long time.

There are rumors on the horizon of research for long-covid that might explain another post-viral syndrome, ME/CFS’s problems, and it is possible that even after 31 years it might be helpful. Rumors – but this one has some interesting science behind it. We’ll see.

But, as the husband reminds me, even if it works it will be years before it is available, and I can’t let any of that time go to waste.

So I face the fact that there’s been a break, and get back to work.

Yesterday I took the first step:

I re-read what I have put together, in these brain-fogged days, by following process and trusting it will work as it has every time before – eventually.

And even though there’s one tiny part in the middle of the scene where a decision has to be made about an order of events, the rest is written.

And the end made me cry (actual written steps in said process: “DIG DEEPER – CRY” and “BECOME THE CHARACTER – WRITE WITH THE EMOTIONS RAW.”)

The character needs it, but I am the one with the whip, forcing change. It hurts.

Extra insight

Being present in the writing – mining my own experience: “HERE AND NOW; BEING PRESENT!”

I may work in imaginary situations, but if they don’t get treated as real, with me there, documenting as it happens, it never converts into something good.

From my Journal: “… is nice – but she needs extraordinary, and open to a degree she won’t be able to demand from him.” It is either there in someone, or it isn’t.

Voltaire said ‘the best is the enemy of the great.’

Many people think perfectionism keeps you from getting something finished and out the door and good enough.

But in writing something unique, it matters. Not that you become a perfectionist, and never get anything done, but that you not let ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ or even ‘good enough for government work’ keep you from achieving your own standards.

Because I hope my readers are the people who have those same standards.

If you are, you will know that about yourself.

THAT’s where the wins come from.

So back to the drawing board, salt mines, design board

While I still can.

Because if it’s meh, it costs me way too much to be worth it.

Chapter 36 is well started, and I am imbuing it with the frustration of writing in the middle of the challenging circumstances that are a pandemic which no one expected would last this long.

And a lot of the pain.

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If you look for it, something will pull you back to the task.

Can you relate?

What do you expect from your writers?

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Finagling past reality for fictional purposes

Will the real bridge AND CITY be insulted?

REALISTIC FICTION STARTS HERE

What it’s like to insert a fictional character into a historical event for the purpose of telling a story.

The basic question is unanswered: how to take over a historical event and change it.

Such as how to write a thriller with someone else as President!

So, it’s fiction, identified exactly as so in the beginning of the books, and mine to do with as I will.

I doubt someone has to get permission from the White House to change the President – or we wouldn’t have President Bartlett and The West Wing.

So I’m worried about nothing.

Except…

The general rule to changing a name has to be avoiding harm

If you are going to say something negative, it might bring a lawsuit if the named person or organization feels it affects their reputation in some way. And even if a court decides they are wrong, and you get an amazing amount of viral publicity out of this (google the Streisand Effect if you don’t remember it), it is going to take a lot of your time, effort, and money to fight such a suit – and there is no guarantee you will win.

Organizations can have in-house lawyers who eat problems like this for lunch. They will bury you easily – nothing personal – and have no mercy.

Please read books on writing and copyright, and know the legal definitions of Libel (Letter – ie, written – mnemonics mine, probably not original) and Slander (Spoken) and ask yourself, as a start, whether YOU would feel libeled or slandered if you were the subject.

If even you are uneasy, it may be easier to change the name that might get offended.

And you might have to change that to something that is significantly different in enough ways that no reasonable person would be offended (unpredictable).

Where’s this coming from?

For the purpose of NETHERWORLD, I sort of have to insult a famous movie or two, and some actors – in a minor way.

The insult consists in taking away an earned award – and awarding it to someone else, another movie.

The problem stems from everyone’s ‘knowledge’ of how Hollywood works, and what the major awards are from which organizations.

In the same way that President Bartlett is less interesting if he is Superintendent Bartlett of an unnamed or fictitious school district, an actor getting a life-changing nomination for, say, an Academy Award is more interesting than if I make up an organization called FCBM and award my character their Best Actor award.

Along with ‘The White House’ you get an amazing amount of the reader’s foreknowledge of how things work there – which saves a lot of words and explanations.

Along with ‘an Oscar’ you get the same kind of response – red carpet, photographers, exotic borrowed clothing for beautiful women… And the whole suspense thing dragged out as long as possible, followed by one winner and a lot of gracious losers who were honored to be nominated. It’s in your head already, and a writer just needs to mention a few points to trigger a full-blown award ceremony in your mind.

Why do I even bother worrying about this kind of stuff?

Well, first because I’m a worrier.

Second, because I want that identification and value from the awards. I agree with the organizations and the individuals that they are worth a great deal in a career.

Third, because the last thing I need in my state of energy and illness and retirement is some organization getting its panties in a twist because I, well, lied.

Fourth, because I hope to be famous and well-read (not synonymous) some day, I want to do it right, and not leave a mess for my heirs.

Fifth, because, as a writer, it’s my job.

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Have you had to face this choice? If so, how did you handle it? Have there been repercussions?

As a reader, have you ever wondered if the author has stepped over the line? Care to share?

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Loving scenes where the villain wins

HOW TO FEEL RIGHT ABOUT LETTING THE VILLAIN WIN

Some lights are seen better in contrast with dark.

NOT necessarily permanently – I don’t write downers or tragedies – but so you have done a good job when writing something that, in the long run, enhances the story.

A hero is a hero ONLY in comparison to the obstacle overcome.

The DIFFERENCE between the hero’s HIGH and the villain’s LOW is the STAKES of your story.

The answer to every objection is: Does it make the story better?

Even in a long book, you have only so much space to use the whole palette of emotions that go with your story. You don’t get to waffle about – you have to use what you have, and make it squeal.

This means that you have to be confident enough to do what the STORY needs, even when it hurts – or at least feels odd – when you get to the place where you have to write that the wrong character is winning.

For a while, you tell yourself.

Not permanently.

So the ‘winning’ characters have something to overcome that is worth writing about.

But plotting it to happen and writing the scene are different

I knew what I was going into when I chose to start writing this novel trilogy. It is in many ways a fairytale for grownups, something that is highly improbable in the real world.

But I figured out a way to make it come out the way I wanted.

I found a way to make the ending POSSIBLE.

And, as you might expect, it required some finagling to make it interesting and not trivial.

It required making ‘highly improbable’ ALMOST ‘impossible.’

And then doing the writing to make it happen.

Believably.

To me. Who am picky about plausibility.

Because the characters need to change

Some of them do.

And change of direction requires the application of force.

Nobody changes unless they have to.

And these characters had no reason to go looking for change, except that I wanted them to.

The bigger the change, the bigger the applied force needs to be

The applied force is the stakes, and I needed to make the stakes big enough to make a couple of very stubborn characters change, so it’s really their fault.

But then I got to the actual writing

And I found I had to make the reasons for change credible because the characters had turned into people I cared about.

So the actual writing of the lowest scenes not just in the middle novel, but in the whole trilogy, was hard.

Even though I knew it was coming and exactly what was going to happen.

I had to admit that there was no way around the difficulties I plotted in in the first place. Duh!

So I went ahead and wrote the first of these scenes, and it was as hard as I imagined it would be, and harder because I write linearly, and couldn’t postpone doing it now.

I am proud to say I survived

The story survived.

Some version of the characters survived.

The villain got to win.

At least for the time being, but mostly because it is necessary.

If you aren’t writing stakes you care about, I can’t see the point of putting in the kind of work this is taking. Because it is very hard to let the villain get away with things, even temporarily, because it is necessary to create that leverage for change.

And I had to give it the very best writing I could create – and make every tiny step in the win justified – because otherwise the villain is a straw villain, easy to overturn.

I hope it works for my readers after it works for me.

Or you guys are really going to hate me.

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How do you feel about this kind of story – as a reader?

If you’re a writer, have you ever had to do the same?

I’ve earned some kind of reward.

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When to dump a scene completely

With ice cream, you don’t have to ask where it went!

WHEN IT ISN’T AN INTENSE IMMEDIATE NECESSARY EXPERIENCE

It’s a high bar, wanting only scenes in a novel that are strong enough to leave a reader breathless.

Quietly or dramatically, a scene has to have a reason for being in the story, and that reason has to answer the question: Why is this scene PIVOTAL?

Yes. Every single time.

Scenes accomplish many things at once

The structure and skeleton of a scene offer a place to hang many hats: character development, plot, theme(s), setting, language, the ability to hold a reader’s attention, emotions… I could go on for a long time, or merely post some of my checklists for things which must be considered.

A scene has to be packed with meaning, symbolism, omens, backstory, forewarning, consequences, and costs.

It has to move the story from where it was to where it has to be, a stepping-stone across a great river.

Preferably subtly.

But the scene itself has to have a primary reason to be in the book, and it isn’t as a catch basin for a whole bunch of important little things the author thinks the reader needs to know.

I dropped a scene

I’ve done a lot of things between the complete rough draft and what will be the final complete draft that included rearranging material, moving things to a slightly better scene for them, altering the timelines enough to change the order, switching point of view to a different character, tweaking the goal.

I’ve considered, for each scene, how best to tell its part of the story.

I’ve combine a couple of shorter ones, split some long ones.

I’d have to go back over extensive lists, but I don’t think I’ve completely dumped one before.

It feels weird – but I’m happy I made the decision to ‘kill a darling.’

I was having trouble writing 34.5.

Since I have trouble writing every scene, this wasn’t anything new or startling. I have many ways of writing myself out of these problems, some suitable when it’s the writer who has a previously-unknown problem (the Journal gets a lot of these long explorations of why) and others which work to get around my physical limitations.

I have those checklists to allow me to explore MANY features of a scene in small enough chunks that I can focus on one thing at a time – by the time I’ve gone through all of those, I have the gathered material for that scene all in one place. Then I have systems to organize it. Then it gels. Then I write it.

I was even in a good mood and had had enough sleep.

The material wasn’t compelling as a whole.

There were specific bits that need to be in the book. There were some really nice bits. And there were all those answered questions and placeholder text bits, including some really decent dialogue.

Then I realized that writing this particular scene bored me

And that I wouldn’t be looking forward to rereading that scene when I reread the book, and would probably skip it.

Telling myself the Reader needed the information, presented in a nicely dramatized way, with bells, didn’t work.

And then I really, really looked at the nascent scene, and I admitted to myself that there were 2-3 necessary pieces, which is why I thought I should group them in this scene in the first place, but that it wasn’t enough to do a good job of surrounding them with a scene and let the reader absorb them painlessly.

It won’t surprise you that it was a villain scene – and I’ve given her plenty of room to express her opinions, follow her thoughts, listen to her justifications.

So I made the decision to cut a scene

And immediately knew it was the right decision.

I found a home for those necessary bits in the following scenes and an epigraph which wrote itself. There isn’t anything wrong with them.

And the chapter suddenly got livelier.

I dug into the next scene, and found it compelling, and found a way to make it heartbreaking.

We’re back on track.

This scene should be a doozy. As they should all be, if I had my ‘druthers.

I can always go back and put it in; somehow I don’t think it will be necessary. I’ll leave it up to my beta reader to notice.

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I don’t think this is because I write one finished scene at a time; I’ll find out.

Does any of this ring a bell?

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The value I’m offering MY Readers

You’ll never get it back

A blogger’s question made me think:

HOW MUCH TIME do my potential readers spend looking for SOMETHING, ANYTHING interesting to read before finding a few possibles,

and

HOW MUCH MORE TIME do they spend starting and then giving up on books that pass their initial selection process – BEFORE they find one they like and actually enjoy reading to the end?

Readers may have preferences, but the good ones, the educated literate WHALE readers – the ones who read a lot of books, hard books, complex books, and often buy them in hardcover (which I will produce when I have 1) a lot of time, or 2) Amazon lets me into their beta hardcover program), and then RECOMMEND them to their friends – are often happy to just read ‘a good book.’

Because their appetites are not satisfied – no matter how many books are on their To Be Read piles.

They are not looking for ‘more of the same vampire books.’ Or ‘the latest James Patterson book.’ Or another ‘clean Romance.’

They are let down by what they read (have you seen how many NEGATIVE reviews there are on books such as The Goldfinch? They won’t all be people who can’t handle the complexity and bought it primarily as a coffeetable book!).

They want what writers are counseled to produce: a good book

So it got me to thinking about my writing, and what I am trying to produce, a good story, a book that is worth the time invested in reading it, a book which will make the same Reader want the next in the trilogy.

It’s easier for me to vet my potential Readers than for me to try to please everyone (an impossibility).

So I’m going to try to QUANTIFY the ineffable

There’s an example: If you are potentially MY Reader, either you already know what ‘ineffable’ means, or you will figure it out from context and a dictionary – because you like words and enjoy pinning down ones you’ve seen before but don’t remember exactly what they mean. And either way, it will give you PLEASURE just sitting there on your page.

If ‘ineffable’ appearing in your reading material is annoying because you think the writer’s being elitist or you’re done with SAT words, your are NOT my potential Reader.

Because ineffable came to my mind as what I wanted to say (and I did a quick check to make sure I didn’t have it mixed up with something else – fatal to the point I’m trying to make). Something unquantifiable because it is big and complex: how to help Readers know the value of my work – to them, the only people they are really interested in satisfying.

Everything else is miscommunication.

And I’m going to quantify it in a very me way

I’m going to make a list of books which have influenced Pride’s Children by being favorites of mine still years after I’ve read most of them, and why.

I’ve done this on Goodreads when carefully looking for potential reviewers, using the Compare books feature, especially if they’ve reviewed and I can see if our reasons for loving a book are compatible.

All you have to do to find out if you are potentially a Reader of my fiction is to see if several of these hit you in similar ways.

For the actual writing part – because we can love the same books without me being able to produce a coherent sentence in a similar style – I will make my standard recommendation: go to Amazon, to the print version – because my formatting is part of how I want to write. The ebook is available and I love it, too, but ebooks have reflowable text on purpose so you can change fonts and sizes to suit you; great for reading, not so great for seeing if you like everything about the author.

  1. Read – but don’t get hung up on – the description; these are always being tweaked to occupy the very limited real estate on the book’s page. It is an indicator, not the definitive reason for choosing or not choosing a book.
  2. Read some of the reviews. I’d choose several of the top reviews (most of the longer 5* ones from older men) and maybe a couple of the few negative ones (you’ll know what I mean if my writing will appeal to you). Go for the long ones – but not the ones which summarize and ruin the plot: you’re looking for reviewers like you.
  3. Read a few pages of the Look Inside! – by the end of the third scene you will have met all the point of view characters, by the end of the first chapter or two you will have picked up the as-needed style of alternating them, and by the end of the sample, if not much sooner, you will know if – in your opinion – I can write.
  4. Ten or twenty minutes spent will tell you all you need to know. And you should spend that on a potential book; Pride’s Children PURGATORY will take you a good while to read.

That’s it: checkout my list of influencers and read a bit of the actual writing, and then, if you’re one of us, buy in your favorite format and get to reading.

I can guarantee it’s a good story; after all, it has occupied all my usable writing time for the past twenty-one years, I’m almost finished with volume 2 (which ends well but still leaves you wanting more), and volume 3 is completely plotted and exists in rough draft form (so you know I know exactly where we’re going).

What kind of a good story?

Well, here is a partial list of the themes woven in there somewhere:

  • Family matters
  • Love is based on trust
  • Children matter – and must be protected
  • Beliefs are important
  • Beliefs lead to action
  • Right beliefs lead to right action
  • Dignity matters
  • Good will prevail
  • Life throws stuff at you – how you handle it is who you are
  • You can’t stay married to someone who doesn’t want you
  • Some people are objectively better than others
  • Integrity matters
  • Evil exists – and can’t be excused
  • Love transcends age
  • We have a capacity for intense love: of a character. Of an actor. Of a story.
  • Disability themes: how common it is, the intrinsic value of the person who is disabled, and the empathy I want developed in readers and the world.

And the overall theme: How you live your life PROVES what you believe. And believe in.

Now for those influencer books:

(you will want to have read – and liked or have been affected by – at least several):

  • Dune (plus Dune Messiah and Children of Dune)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Wuthering Heights
  • On the Beach, Trustee from the Toolroom
  • The Thorn Birds
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Roccannon’s World, Planet of Exile
  • Leviathan’s Deep
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Great Expectations
  • Frankenstein
  • Strong Poison, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, Talboys
  • Rebecca
  • Exodus
  • Lucifer’s Hammer
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • The Exorcist
  • The Dying of the Light (also named After the Festival), A Song for Lya
  • Ender’s Game
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • The Foundation trilogy
  • The Crystal Cave, The Last Enchantment
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Brave New World
  • The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Black Beauty
  • Silas Marner
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, Our Lady of the Forest
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • The Three Musketeers
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • GWTW
  • Way Station
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • The Name of the Rose

A good serving of these plus a familiarity with Shakespeare and the Bible.

That’s basically it

Spend a bit of time vetting your reading material – you will be spending hours of your life you will never get back – and then settle in to a nice long encounter.

You may also pray for good health for the writer; in this case, she needs to be semi-functional to be able to write at all.

IF you are persuaded, leave a comment saying why – feedback is crucial to writers, especially if you want more work from them.

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Does love conquer all? With kids?

DO PARENTS OWE THEIR CHILDREN RELIGION?

The following is an exchange that occurred because of a short story posted on Wattpad, and a corresponding circumstance in Pride’s Children (though it may be years before you understand that last statement).

It is my own personal opinion, based on my observations of my family and the families of friends, meant as a conversation starter; usual commenting rules apply.

Where are the obstacles, by definition?

When a Muslim marries a Hindu, or a Christian a Jew, or even an atheist a religious person, it is often seen as the great triumph of tolerance over prejudice, and there are rainbows and falling stars.

When children come, this tolerance can take three nasty turns (not always, of course, but they are BUILT IN to the situation):

1) ‘allowing the other parent to choose the child’s religion’ suddenly becomes ‘bringing up MY child opposite to MY beliefs,’ or

2) bringing the children up as both (an impossibility), or

3) bringing up the children, of parents who were brought up with something, to be brought up with nothing.

Having one parent keep his or her hands off the religious education of the children, and ‘support’ the other’s efforts, doesn’t fool anyone: the kids know Daddy doesn’t believe what Mommy believes – kids are not stupid.

The final option – NOT having children – is a partial solution which must be strongly enforced for the whole duration of life by BOTH partners – a big leap when you’re 20 or 30.

Consequences of attraction.

Sadly,

giving the kids a vague idea of each parents’ beliefs and ‘letting them choose when they grow up,’

is the most common result, accompanied by the next generation not really having much of anything.

Love does NOT conquer all, not very long.

The situation often comes about because opposites are very attractive among people in the marriage marketplace, for a while. People fall in love before they think about the consequences, and the farthest thing from their mind may be adding small expensive bundles of work to a free-spirited relationship.

But the drive to procreate in your own image is powerful, or people wouldn’t spend time and money trying to conceive when Nature hasn’t made them co-fertile.

Solutions?

Think before you get married.

A LOT.

Spend a lot of time with your intended’s family – get to know each other’s actual beliefs – as distinct from the ones you are trying out in college or work.

Talk about these things – once you have that baby, it’s too late.

Have the guts not to go into a marriage hoping ‘things will all work out.’

Respect, love, and tolerance for other people’s beliefs is important in a society such as ours where many religions – and non-religious people – coexist, mostly peacefully.

The disappearance of religious beliefs and practices developed over thousands of years, which help us understand our place in the universe, and cope with the inevitable blows of life, shouldn’t happen by accident.

If you don’t believe – fine. Your choice. And religion has done plenty of damage when applied autocratically.

I just think we owe our children more than Oops!

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Donating royalties for May 2018 to #MEACTION

Computer, coffee, phone. Text: May 2018 royalties for ME/CFS, Put us back to work, Please, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

May is ME/CFS Awareness Month – the big day is MAY 12th.


ALL  PRIDE’S CHILDREN:PURGATORY ROYALTIES DONATED TO THE #MEACTION FUNDRAISER FOR MAY 2018.

This is my contribution to the campaign – as a writer.


Please pop over to Pride’s Children’s blog if you haven’t seen the post (same as the Facebook post) – and consider getting or gifting a copy – this disease has millions of us WORLDWIDE missing from life. We’d love to get back to work!