Thank You-Giveaway time! Free swag!

THIS IS AN OLD GIVEAWAY, FROM 4 MONTHS AGO; There is no more free stuff. 

Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, is getting closer to being published! It’ll be out before the end of May. 

I’m having so much fun working on the cover and finalizing edits that I want to thank you for your support and patience by hosting another giveaway. For until they run out, I’ll mail you a book mark and a magnet, just for the asking.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

(These will be collector’s items some day, folks.)

I designed the magnet for my own selfish use–I tend to forget things, so my fridge now has reminders like this:

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

(Although I don’t think my 8-year-old wants me to remember this.)

Isn’t that awesome? And cool? Don’t you want a magnet and bookmark?

Then just fill out the form below. I promise I will never use your name and address for anything else but sending you free swag. Your information is safe with me (primarily because I tend to lose addresses right after I write them down).

I also have a limited amount of the magnets I gave away last time (I really should clean off my desk more often, to see what else is hiding under the baskets I never use). If you want a set of these older magnet as well, let me know. I’ll be giving them away until they’re gone.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

(Yep. Got these on  my fridge as well.)

So fill out the form below (and let me know if you want last year’s magnet, too, if still available) with your full address, and I’ll get them in the mail to you. And yes, I will ship internationally.

THIS IS AN OLD GIVEAWAY–NO LONGER AVAILABLE!

Thank you again for your support and patience, and I’ll keep you posted as to when Book 5 is published!

Book 5 Teaser–Life’s a test, not a holiday

High Polish Tatra mountains

My mantra . . .

This is what I chant to myself when the kitchen pipe leaks, and black mold destroys the drywall and carpeting in my son’s basement bedroom . . .

When our two ancient vans have one problem after another after another . . .

When my plans for the day get blown out of the water by a minor crisis, so that the next day I have twice as much to take care of, until another small disaster hits, which means the day after that will be three times as busy . . .

When finances take a hit, when goals get delayed, and deadlines loom, when hurdles get larger, and rewards grow smaller, and the world mocks and rages and derides . . .

Or when I can’t even resolve the little things, like finding comfortable shoes for my huge and wide man-feet, or hemming my daughter’s prom dress by the weekend, or taking my preschooler on a walk to the park, that’s when I remember . . .

Oh, that’s right. I’m not here on vacation. I’m here on a lifelong test.

(I could, however, use a ten minute break . . . )

High Polish Tatra mountains

Book 5 Teaser–We’re letting the bullies take charge

In America I feel like we’re facing an election of bullies. Having to choose a president from among the name-callers, threat-issuers, and truth-manglers is like being offered, for our last meal, something from the dumpster behind a toxic waste disposal company.

We’re increasingly becoming a nation of whining children, reluctant to take responsibility for our choices, and instead want someone else to call every shot, from cradle to grave. To surrender so easily our freedoms which, two-hundred-forty years ago, we raged a war over, is a manifestation of our willfully growing stupidity.

We want to follow our impulses, without any consequences.

We want to indulge ourselves, without any thought for others.

We’ve increasingly decided we don’t want God to govern us, and since we won’t control ourselves, we’re letting the bullies take over. 

High Polish Tatra mountains

Book 5 Teaser–I take comfort in my delusions!

An acquaintance once accused me of being “delusional” because of my religious convictions. They didn’t mesh with his beliefs, therefore I was wrong.

But as I thought about all that I believed, I realized it gave me immense comfort and hope. Without that, I’d crumble and die.

So here’s my philosophy: Perhaps what I believe is delusional (and when you get right down to it, all of us are delusional at some level and in some way, such as hoping everyone thinks that is your natural hair color). But so what? If my delusions don’t harm you in any way, then don’t worry about them.

My acquaintance insisted that my beliefs in an afterlife were spurious, and that when I died I’d “be surprised there wasn’t anything there.” (I won’t deal with that illogical logic right now.)

I countered with, “My belief of what lies ahead make me happy, today. If I gave that up, I’d be despondent for the rest of my life. I’d rather be delusional and happy, than be ‘right’ and miserable.

He rolled his eyes at me, but I grinned back. I never wanted to live as self-righteously as he did. The poor man’s confidence only in himself and his brilliance made him absolutely wretched.

 

High Polish Tatra mountains

Why aren’t mothers the main protagonists of books or movies?

Have you ever noticed mothers are not the main character . . . in anything?

Try this: name every Disney movie where the mother is absent and/or dead.

Are you done yet? There’s a lot, isn’t there?

And when a mother is present in a book/movie, what’s her role?

Supporting.

Try this: name a book or movie where a mom is the principle protagonist.

Yeah, none sprang to my mind, either.

Recently I ran into a series of articles about “Strong Female Characters,” and how they tend to collapse into a few categories:

  1. they’re heartless witches, manipulative and demeaning; or,
  2. they’re remarkably tough—like a female male—until the male shows up to aid/rescue/eclipse her; or,
  3. the females vanish from the story because they really didn’t play much of a role anyway, only to show up at the end as an afterthought.

When analyzing the stories I love, I realized to my dismay that most of the females fall into one of those three categories.

For example, “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” I liked that movie, until my husband pointed out that not only is the mom rather useless after we meet her, but Hiccup disobeys his father, gets him killed, then still gets to become the chief. Dave thought all of that was pretty unfair. Then again, he’s the father of five sons. Image result for valka how to train your dragon

But dang it, he was right, especially about Valka. She’s powerful, but useless, and never really mothered her son, aside from giving him some pat advice when he needed it.

At least she fares better than most female/mother figures in literature and movies. Consider “The Emperor’s New Groove,”  “Cinderella,” or any other Disney movie—

Except for “Mulan.” Mulan is brilliant, in every way. She not only has BOTH parents (rare in Disney), but even a grandmother, and Mulan does the rescuing, several times. (And, thankfully, Disney allowed Merida to “Brave”ly keep both of her parents, although the mother needs saving later.) 

Still, even in “Mulan” the mother is in the background, only as a supporting role.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the supporting role; it’s vital, in everything. Where would any of us be without those who support us?

By why not make mother The Hero?

That thought was part of my unconscious when I created Mahrree for my series “Forest at the Edge.” When we first meet her in The Forest at the Edge of the World, she’s a single woman, albeit motherly in that she teaches school and worries immensely for her students. Then we have the obligatory romance (because hey, I’ve got some Strong Male Characters, too) and then she becomes a mother.

Sometime around there, while drafting the series, I realized that I was writing a main character that I hadn’t encountered before: a mother actively trying to improve the world for her children. (Aside from sappy made-for-cable movies or disease-of-the-week tales.)

Everything she says and does is in effort to reform her government, allow her children options in their future, and make sure school isn’t ridiculously boring.

“Mom Wants to Make the World a Better Place for Her Children”. It’s a universal theme, so why isn’t it more prevalent in what we read and watch?

Why have young mothers, middle-aged women, and even grandmothers not been the movers and drivers of a plot? They are when they’re in a family, and everyone knows it. And I don’t mean in a snarky, antagonistic way; enough of evil step-mothers.

I have friends who see themselves as primarily mothers, but are also involved in politics, providing aid for abused women and children, volunteering to preserve the environment, fighting pornography, promoting families, helping their schools, and improving the health and finances of those in need.

Maybe writers and Hollywood don’t see that as exciting as clichéd “Save the World” themes, but these women really are saving the world, more than any fictional superhero will.

I’d love to see more thoughtful mothers, experienced grandmothers, and confident women playing bigger roles in the narratives of the world, because they do that everywhere else.

Terry Pratchett gets close at times, with his witches who aren’t evil but keep the balance in the world, and in their villages. Nanny Ogg, who has more than a dozen children and oodles of grandchildren, is occasionally a major player in the witches books, but even then, Granny Weatherwax, who was never a mother, prevails as the main protagonist.

Mahrree Peto Shin isn’t a character I created, as I erroneous stated earlier; she manifested herself to me through one shocking, powerful image that I won’t reveal entirely here, because it happens in book 8 which will come out in probably another 3-4 years. (Book 5 will be out before this summer.)

But that image—of a woman facing an enormous threat, alone—riveted me. I wondered for months how she came to that position, and she slowly revealed her story to me, until I had enough to begin writing it.

(As an aside, I’m not psychotic; lots of writers have had this experience of characters demanding that they write their story. I can see how the ancient Greeks believed they had muses speaking to them, and my daughter gave me a mug which reads, “Writer’s Block: when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.” It’s true, you know.)

The “Forest at the Edge” series isn’t wholly about Mahrree, but about her family. She plays a major role in that family, and all the trouble she causes is primarily because she’s a worried mother.

The mother-perspective is powerful, more so than the perspective of a president, or a general, or a king, or any other hero. Those characters may lead countries or armies, but I doubt they could ever genuinely love them as much as a mother loves her children. References comparing mothers to bears and their cubs aren’t accidental.

Imagine Harry Potter being told from the perspective of Molly Weasley, who had seven children in peril, along with Harry who she tried to mother.

Image result for molly weasley

Or Hunger Games, from the perspective of President Coin, who lost her child.

Or even “Brave,” from the perspective Queen Elinor, who tries to help her daughter find a husband, then has to be saved from her unintentionally turning her into a bear. 

How engrossing, heart-breaking, and hopeful would these perspectives be?

Maybe . . . maybe they’d be too much.

Too close to reality. Too gut-wrenching.

Maybe that’s why it’s rare to find a mother-perspective in literature, because all of us have mothers, most of us appreciate them, and deep down we’re worried about what they’re really thinking.

Maybe many of us are still suffering from Bambi’s Mother Syndrome, the idea of losing mother, or seeing things from her perspective, which may be too intense. (Although Disney loves to make children miserable with mother-loss. No adult movie franchise kills off mothers as much as Disney.)

As moms, I think we frequently have a hard time facing our greatest fears for our families and their future.

But I think it’s time we tried. I submit there isn’t a stronger force in nature or in humanity than that of a mother trying to protect and provide for her children.

What fantastic stories that premise could ignite! Let’s see them!

High Polish Tatra mountains

Book 5 Teaser–Mahrree’s big mouth

Book 5 Teaser–the manly art of swearing

For seventeen years I taught writing to college freshmen and high school seniors. Watching who thought swearing was mature, or cool, or the way of the world, was always fascinating.

Without fail, those who swore were the most insecure and desperate to prove something.

One semester I was asked to teach the automotive repair students at a local community college. It was an experiment to see if the very low opinion of those students might not be elevated somehow if they knew how to write a complete sentence. For some reason, the administration thought I was up to that task.

Their profanity began the first day, the moment they saw that a “girl” was teaching them (I was a mother of six children at the time—that’s how “girly” I was). Maybe each of those “boys” secretly wanted to be in the navy, judging by their level of poor language.

But in time we forged a friendship, and they related to me how everyone “dissed” them and disrespected them.

“That’s because you talk like 7th grade wusses,” I told them, hoping “wusses” was a word they could relate to. “Real grownups don’t use language like you see in the movies. Listen to people. Really listen to them. You’ll notice you’re the only ones cussing so heavily. Also watch people. Really watch them. You’ll see them wincing every time you drop the F-bomb.”

“Like you wince?”

“Yep.”

To my surprise, they were apologetic. Turns out I was the only college instructor who ever listened to them, who actually talked with them.

I told them that was hard for me to do, because while I liked them and found them entertaining (some were very funny), I felt as if they didn’t respect me because of the words they threw at me. Literally every sentence had at least one swear word in it, if it fit or not.

High Polish Tatra mountains

To my further surprise, they became quiet, and one of them said, “But you’re the only teacher we do respect. You’re the only one who seems to care.”

So I issued a challenge. I told them that I cared so much that I wanted them to earn the respect they desperately wanted. To do so, they had to cut back on their swearing, to four words the entire class. I wrote their names on the board, and kept tally marks as if it were 6th grade. They were also allowed only one F-bomb, and if they exceeded their limits, their peers could mete out fitting punishment.

They elected that a punch to the shoulder—one per word over the limit—was a memorable deterrent.

By the end of the first day, several boys were severely bruised.

But by the end of the semester, six weeks later, these young men reported back that something was changing in the garages where they interned. They had been listening, and watching, and learning.

They noticed that their managers weren’t as profane as they were, and saved the juiciest words for only when they dropped a car hood on their hands. And their managers never, ever, swore in front of clients.

Taking those cues, my students curtailed their swearing in the shop.

The fact that I taught them some new “swear” words also helped.

I told them that when I’m frustrated or angry, I say something random, like “fire engines!” It’s the way you say something, not necessarily what you say. My swear word always make me feel better, primarily because it sounds ridiculous in whatever context I utter it. I also know a man who said “hammer!” each time he was angry, and I suggested to these young men that they find new “swear” words.

They did. While I don’t remember all of them now, I do recall that one guy loved to shout “cheese and potatoes!” in the shop. It always elicited chuckles, and he’d find himself smiling too, alleviating his anger and allowing him to fix a carburetor without beating it first with a wrench.

Eventually my students noticed that they had more patience with themselves and their work when they didn’t swear.

I know this, because for their final paper I asked them to reflect on our experiment.

They reported that they were thinking clearer, and acting kinder, and developing self control, something they didn’t think was possible.

As a result, they were respecting other people, and wanted to demonstrate that with their language.

And best of all, they were receiving respect, for the first time in their lives.

Not a single one of them improved the sentences they wrote, but looking back, that really wasn’t the goal of the class.

 

Book 5 Teaser–Sneaky Creator

I realized long ago that God is the ultimate plot developer.

One of my favorite quotes is an old Jewish saying: “Tell G-d your plans, because He needs a good laugh.” I think this is why so many of us experience plot twists in our lives. And while I’d grumble about those twists, always–always–I’d thank my Heavenly Father later that He didn’t pay any attention to my plans. His are always better.

High Polish Tatra mountains