Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Montana Christmas


 When I wrote From Here to There, I liked the characters -- very much, both the major and secondary ones. I also loved writing about living in Montana on a ranch. Although I have yet to live in Montana for more than a few weeks at a time, I do know about ranch living from my own experiences. It's fun to write about a world I love but also where I know the pitfalls.

The idea of a holiday novella that carries on these characters became very appealing. Novellas don't have the same rules as novels. They can be a slice of life and slice of life is what I had in mind.

Since I had not done an epilogue for From Here to There, the novella had the potential of being that (extended to 27,000 words) as it carries on a love story but isn't actually a romance as such. It's about family, the holiday season, and ranch life.

A Montana Christmas picks up  the hero and heroine, Phillip and Helene, at a critical juncture. Helene is looking for holiday traditions for her own family as she hopes to get pregnant. Although her parents were not family oriented, she experienced all a family could be at her uncle's Montana ranch, the Rocking H. For Phillip, painful Christmas memories have made him want to avoid the holiday season. He expects disaster when Helene tells him she has invited his estranged mother, brother, and sisters to the ranch for a family Christmas. 

This novella also has a bonus-- a short story continuation of longtime friends, Curly and Amos, a year and a half later when Curly Learns a Lesson.  I have been thinking that there will be a book somewhere down the road that builds on some of these characters for a continuation of the Rocking H family with a new romance.


 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What we watch...

As a writer, I think about what readers want. It can't impact what I write totally as we can only write the stories that come to us. As I've said many times, romances come to me. But I do like to figure out what readers like, what makes them feel good or even cry. This week has been kind of a weird juxtaposition of ideas on that subject.

a November Tucson sunset from our home here

For a long time, the most respected offerings in entertainment have been in the movie theaters. There the films range from the arty to the big box office version of what it is assumed we want (or should) as a people. What we 'want' is determined by ratings based on ticket sales-- can't get away from ratings.

Today there are many films being made with no intention of ever going to the movie theater. HBO, Netflix, and assorted other outlets make films which may be streamed, seen on cable, or go straight to DVD. These vary in the view they depict of the world. 

There was an era for movies where the stories were about the upbeat and trying to make people feel better about life. Even Casablanca where the hero and heroine didn't end up together, had a set of values and an ending for which one could cheer. Back then there was no mandatory happy ending but what did well in the theaters usually was uplifting.

I don't see much of that in today's films. Although I rarely go to a theater, I often buy films on DVD. I only buy what I believe will be uplifting. I can get the bad news by reading newspapers online-- which I regularly do. I am not suggesting we should ignore the dark side of human life but more be sure when we are learning about it, it's in non-fiction not what we choose for entertainment.

Most recently I purchased two DVDs, Maleficent and How to Train Your Dragon 2. I know they are kid films and maybe it's why I love them so much. I am not looking to spend time watching the films that win Oscars (most years when that time rolls around, I won't have seen any of the supposed best ten films of the year). I want movies that make me feel better by the time I take them out of the Blu-Ray. Both of these did that.

Recently, someone mentioned a good film they had seen on Hallmark Channel. I had nearly forgotten about those little movies but went looking for what was there. 

Schmaltzy some might accuse as opposed to the important films in the movie theater this month, you know like Gone Girl (mismatched couple, who are neither admirable, involving murder and fraud); Foxcatcher (nutty rich guy murders pro wrestler); Dumb and Dumber To (nuff said); Nightcrawler (exploring underbelly of city); Hunger Games (society crashes and only girl with bow and arrow can save it-- that one I often buy on DVD but wonder later why I did...); Wolves (werewolves, horror); and on it goes. Nothing in the majority of the films to make anyone feel better about life-- their own or our culture. 

I have heard Intersteller is fine art except about a culture that has destroyed its environment and must find a wormhole to go elsewhere. Aren't we living that one? Also a father must miss his daughter growing up to try and save some of earth's people (no, I haven't seen it probably won't, as space films, even if uplifting, don't really interest me). 

Since the suggestion regarding Hallmark, we've seen three of their new films for Christmas and enjoyed them all. If you have cable and the Hallmark channel, the films are free-- except for the ads, which has been educational to me since I have watched very little TV with ads. These are also going to be out on DVD after they play on the channel.  I don't know if eventually they will wear on me but for now it's been a nice discovery (list of new Hallmark films for 2014 Christmas).

The following is an example of the kind of stories, Christmas Under Wraps, scheduled for November 29th.
Dr. Lauren Brunell (Bure) has her whole life planned out. As a third year surgery resident, she is counting on being accepted into a prestigious hospital fellowship to follow in the footsteps of her supportive father, Henry (Pine). But when those plans quickly fall apart, and Lauren is put on the wait list, she must take the only other opening available: a head doctor position in the small, remote town of Garland, Alaska. Convincing herself it is only temporary, Lauren moves to Garland where she is immediately charmed by Andy (O’Donnell), a handsome local who soon starts to show her the importance of living in the moment and enjoying her unexpected adventure. As Lauren excels as Garland's trusted doctor, she warms up to the friendly town. But Andy's father, Frank (Doyle-Murray), is hiding something from her in his top-secret shipping warehouse. Just as Lauren decides to get to the bottom of her suspicions, she receives news that will force her to make a life-changing decision, while knowing for certain that the Christmas season will never be the same.
This year, the first Hallmark film hooked me on keeping an eye out for what was coming. The Nine Lives of Christmas has cats in it. How can a movie with cats in it not be great? Hero and heroine were cute. They are all cute in these films, but they also look like ordinary people-- not movie stars. That one had Gregory Harrison playing a supporting role. Remember when he was the hunk? This time he supported the hunk; and as an older guy, he's still pretty hunky :).

From what I can tell, these all have some romance in them.  The romance though has (so far) not been the most important part of the story. Even when it's someone looking for the love of their life, what they find goes beyond it to values that are about quality living. There is nothing partisan or pushy about the agenda. Treat others well. Work for real values. Look around you. Be open. Remember when the world seemed more innocent!

Some have a supernatural element, like Northpole and Angels and Ornaments, but it's in line with A Christmas Carol by Dickens-- an element that makes the characters think more deeply about what they want in their lives. Angels and Ornaments made me teary because it dealt with love lost and the possibility of love missed. It was sweet, Christmasy and nothing pretentious or negative about any of it.

Northpole was likable enough for us to consider buying it as a Christmas gift for our grandkids. No, it's not likely to be a huge classic, like A Christmas Story, but it was about the meaning of the season-- something I tried to get across in my Christmas novella, A Montana Christmas

Northpole followed what seems a Hallmark theme-- showing people struggling with loss or disappointment. This one added how we can misjudge based on our pre-prejudice. I liked a line from it, paraphrased-- why is it easier to believe one person is a crook than to believe another is an elf? 
 
I am thinking this does relate to novels to write/read. We can choose to spend our time reading/writing upsetting stories about people who moan about their lives or are destructive-- or instead stories where it's about finding the nobility in human nature. That part is a choice but what it does to our view of life, that one is a consequence.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

researching women

and a tiny example of how life changes for women

With my work in progress, that will be set in 1900, I was particularly interested in women's rights since they were constantly changing.  These rights aren't just about what someone can do legally but an attitude that impacts character and expectations even more than fashion.

As an example, in 1769, the Colonies had adopted the English system of property ownership for women. Married men owned the property and even any income the wife might have earned. By 1900, all the states had passed legislation, like New York's 1848 'Married Women Property Act.' Married women could then keep their own wages and own and control (that latter is significant) property in their own name. 

It took until 1835 for married women to first be granted that right to own but not manage in some states. An example would be two laws passed in 1840. Texas passed a law enabling married women to own and control property; while Maine passed a law enabling married women to own property but not control it. 

Oregon was moving right along with it, in their typical rather bigoted way (blacks could not own property there until 1912). In 1857, married women could own property but not control it. The 1852 Homestead Act enabled married couples to each file on land... but it appears the wife could not control her section. It was 1880 before Oregon created a law where married women were entitled to earn their own wages and control them. Can't let the little woman have too much power, now can we!

Now if a woman was single, it goes way back to where she could own property, earn money, enter into contracts. This all lasted until she married, which most women did.  


It is not hard to see why some women of wealth might not want to marry. After marriage, they might maintain some power over what they brought into the marriage, the dower; but the husband basically ran their estates. 

Women had been fighting for the right to vote since the mid-1800s. Some states granted them that but only for their own elections, not to vote for President.  Wyoming was particularly notable for this as saying they would not come into the Union if their women could not vote. They were the first state, 1869, where women were granted the right to vote.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony put to the test whether the 14th Amendment, which granted all the right to vote, meant women. It did not. She was arrested. 

In Minor v. Happersett, a Missouri law that limited the right to vote to men, the Supreme Court said while women are persons under the 14th Amendment, they were a special category of 'non-voting' citizens. States could grant or deny them the right to vote. Remember even if a state did, that did not mean for the United States President!

Every single, female character in my historicals did not have the right to vote. Sometimes I brought it up as an issue that the women resented it and expressed the unfairness; but none of my characters were Suffragettes, the women who marched and demonstrated to get the vote and other rights for women.

All of this is a clear example of the hard fight women had to find anything approaching equal rights with men. It is not an attack on men because there were men who fought for this right for women. Without that, we'd still not be voting as the courts were not on the side of women without the men changing the laws.

Where it comes to writing an historical novel, human rights become of great interest to a writer. In basing my next story in 1900, when a lot of things were changing, including a woman's right to a university education and many professions previously closed to them, it was especially important to do the research. 

A lot of what I learned makes me rethink a small section of what I wrote in an earlier epilogue of one of my historicals. I had not thought of a woman marrying and automatically her property becoming her husband's. Not a bad deal if the guy is honorable. A disaster if he was not! And since women didn't have the right to vote until much later, they weren't in a position to change it-- although some gave up freedom and suffered much to make it change.

Where it comes to history, so much of what we believe often comes not from historic fact but from movies or reading fiction. It pays to research and think about the details of daily life-- in this case where it came to government and its role in the lives of its citizens.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide if my epilogue, in the 1899 Arizona Dawn, was accurate. In the process, I read this article, Anna's Story, but am still unsure exactly how marriage impacted ownership, if not control of property. A quote from the article is worth paraphrasing: The judge said the presumption that a woman who has owned and managed property should, as soon as she married, lose the mentality needed to manage it, is nuts (Okay I added the last word.). It was however the very reason women had not been earlier given the vote. They were not trusted to be intelligent enough nor willing to do the research to vote wisely. Exactly how that meant all men were is debatable for anyone looking at this logically.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

what turns me off in a romance


Because I recently discussed what makes me love a romance, I am in the mood to also discuss what makes me, as a reader, hate one so much that I delete it. It's not about what makes for a bestseller or what other readers love. These are my personal preferences and prejudices.  

Any abuse of women or men, which is written to titillate, will be destroyed as soon as I get to that scene. Abuse can be in a book. It is a reality that it happens, but it should be shown for what it is-- horrifying and despicable. If it is done to arouse, I'm outta there. Some erotica has abuse that is consensual, kinky, and that is not the same thing (although I have limited interest in such books). 

To me, when the heroine says no, the hero should respect that not try to seduce her as if she didn't mean it. A woman who is so immature as to play the game of coyly saying no when she means yes, isn't a woman I want to read about. As above, game playing when both know they are, that's, of course, something else.

Unchosen abuse can be written to feel sensual. This was common in what used to be called bodice burner romances, of which we see very few these days. It was when romance first went sexual-- okay actually there have been erotic books written for a long time, but what I mean is when romances novels with sex in them went mainstream, didn't have to be hidden, went on bestseller lists, and were in bookstores.

A hero, who mentally or physically abuses other people, is not someone I can find ever redeemed. If that person is a bastard from the start, almost to the end, if I stuck with it, I won't be back to that author. Intelligent women should want men who are not mean. Encouraging any reader to believe that is acceptable is detrimental to healthy living. Under this category is rape. Any man who rapes a woman is the villain. There is no excuse that will justify it to me. (Naturally this all applies to a heroine also.)

While I recognize that romances are a bit of fantasy, they can teach and give examples of better ways to live-- sometimes when the hero or heroine see their wrong directions. I know some readers don't like thinking there is a deeper message to their pleasurable read but there can be and it can be slipped in without seeming preachy. I've read romances with no secondary message and can't say I abhor them, but my preference is a book with a takeaway message, which improves life.

Although the genre is popular, I can't handle horror in a book or movie. It doesn't matter if the horror happens to a villain. I don't want to read it. If horror has slipped past my guard, I'm done as soon as I come across it. I dream very vivid, mostly delightful dreams and don't want them turned into nightmares.

Next thing that turns me off is the stupid heroine who can't learn and consistently gets the hero into trouble by her bullheadedness. She might be quite intelligent, but she has lousy judgment where it comes to physical risk. I guess she is so focused she can't look around her. She can't take into account that the risk is not just hers.

Yes, some women are like that, men too. I don't want to spend hours with someone, who is clueless. I've seen it in one of the more popular, corporate published, series mysteries with a female lead. The author sells a lot; so I guess it's fine with many readers or viewers (hers are also made into movies). 

The attitude of impetuous, headstrong women, who always need to be bailed out-- or even if they don't, but they get the hero hurt as he tries to help them-- they are in my never-read-this-author-again category. If the author used that plot device to build drama once, they probably will do it again. 

I don't like books where, to create drama, stupid, reckless behavior is bailed out by someone else (yes, I've read books where heroes do it too-- Longmire mysteries-- which I generally like-- tend to be that way). Real life doesn't bail people out. Writing reckless behavior that is rewarded by a hunky hero or some lucky break in the last chapter is on my no thanks list.

I like character developing books where a heroine or hero grows through the events and what they take away from it. But if event after event they keep repeating those mistakes, I won't be back. It annoys me and if I am reading for pleasure, why would I want to be annoyed.

There are some words I personally hate in a romance, but they happen to be very popular with romance readers. I'll just discuss one-- feisty. It seems to me a cat is feisty, but it's not a respectful word for a full-grown woman. If the author really means bitch, then say it. If this heroine is always snapping at everyone, which is kind of what feisty means, I have to wonder why the hero sticks around. I know as a reader I won't. If feisty means opinionated or even outspoken, those are better words. Feisty is used in a LOT of romances as somehow indicative, I guess, of strong women. It is another of those areas where I probably part with the average romance reader.

Crude words are okay with me and I won't list the ones I don't mind, but they are not acceptable with a lot of people. I am comfortable with them as being realistic for how people talk. Cursing, hey go for it-- unless it gets into the level where it really belongs in porn. 

I also don't care about how much sex. There can be none or a lot-- although if there is a lot, I am probably quickly bored and skimming ahead. Sex can be character developing and pillow talk is great for showing aftermath of the sexual encounter; so I keep an eye on a book that seems overloaded with sex to be sure I am not missing plot advancement moments. 

As a side note to this, which only arises... when there is sex, I am also always interested in how the writer describes the male sexual organ. I've read a lot of opinions on what works and what does not. I mostly only notice it when I am looking to see-- how did they handle it (figuratively speaking, of course).

When I get into a book, which I can tell is going to irritate me, sometimes I delete it and go onto another. A few times, hoping it will improve, I skim to the bitter end. More often than not, it never does. Once in awhile, where I thought where it was going and how it was going to make me angry when I got there, I got a pleasant surprise. It redeemed itself with a very logical, satisfying direction, but one I hadn't predicted. That always feels good as a reader-- when it is believable and not manipulated.

Thankfully, in reading so many, one right after another, I have  seen books with strong heroines who fight for what is right, who do what is needed to be done, and who I can enjoy spending hours getting to know. They often blaze their own path-- and yes, even in historical times, there were real women who did exactly that.

Likewise I've read books with heroes who made me melt. They were the kind of guy who walked into the fire to rescue others. They go off to fight the dragon (figuratively speaking) even when at great personal cost. These are the men we would all like to have as a neighbor or leader.

Fortunately, in my reading so many romances at once, I found some authors I will be reading everything they wrote-- once I get through this backlog. When I found someone like that many years ago, I'd have to go from used bookstore to used bookstore. Now it's often just a click away to get them all as eBooks or find lists of used bookstores across the country. My favorites are the used copy for $.01 and $3.99 shipping. I have yet to be disappointed by one of these shops. I do love the Internet ;).

Saturday, November 8, 2014

finding the window

We set our plans to head south to Tucson by aiming for an early departure of October 15th. We did this mostly to give ourselves a window where we could go, based on having the farm ready to leave and the weather cooperating for a smooth drive south through country where by mid-October, anything is possible. This time we planned to go through Eastern Oregon to northern California, straight through Nevada, and Arizona to Tucson. We aimed for short driving days but no vacation breaks. We had one goal-- get there.

We were taking our vacation trailer for two reasons. One shorter driving days as when we were settled for the night, we had what amounted to a small cottage, and whether the park had wireless, we have a Verizon hotspot (I highly recommend hot spots). 

I am not fond of hotels/motels for travel. Every night, with the trailer, we were in our own bed, we could cook a meal, watch a movie, and generally relax. We also wanted the trailer to make the travel as easy on our cats as possible. They hate traveling but being in a familiar spot every night helps. 


Finding parks to stay was a little different as there are less towns and sites. We stayed in one funky, kind of hippy park, but it was quiet at night. When we were younger, we stayed in rest areas, and very offbeat parks, but whether the world has gotten more dangerous; or we look more like targets, we take less risks these days. 

The road had its days where danger was coming straight at us. Anybody who has done long road trips (this was 1400 miles), usually has a few times their heart jumps up into their throat with someone passing into them or weaving into their lane. I would say the scariest this time was coming over a ridge in Arizona and on the center-line of a two lane road, sitting lotus position, was a woman arguing with a man who was standing on the shoulder. A big rig was beyond them, parked on the shoulder. 

With no traffic in the northbound lane, Farm Boss swerved into it to avoid driving between these two. That situation was wrought with the potential for tragedy. The man's face looked aware of it while the woman appeared only interested in berating him.

About the time we got over the shock of what we had seen and I was saying should we call 911 (Farm Boss said that the big rigs right behind us already would have), a police car with lights flashing came zooming north. Since we saw no more emergency rigs, we assume the woman was not hit by any of the heavy traffic. I guarantee you that anyone other than a police officer stopping could have made the whole thing potentially much more dangerous. These are 70 mph highways with little opportunity to fix a mistake. 


 Someone has been going to renovate the Goldfield Hotel ever since we have been making this drive. It never goes far. There is talk that it's haunted. I could believe it as Goldfield has a very interesting history with all the mining disasters. Virgil Earp was marshal here for a few years after the OK Corral.

Through our many years of making this drive, we know to expect the unexpected. Weird times are never something you can see coming. It's just an odd window where there you are, and the unpredictable happens. Once it happened to us about a mile south of Goldfield, Nevada. We had the kids then and were pulling a much smaller trailer. A motorcycle gang, with Harleys beside them, were stopped alongside the highway. One man walked into the center of our lane trying to wave us down. I won't say we have never stopped for those who look like they are in trouble but a motorcycle gang, all with leather jackets, all men and just outside of town and they want us to stop? No thanks. What we always did back then was look for the first phone booth. In the case of that gang, we did call. Who knows what it had been about. Always you wonder what it had been about.

In the recent incident, were the woman and man both in the big rig and she got mad at him? She was mad for sure but why suicidal? Why a lotus position? It was rather incongruent considering what she was doing. Another possible scenario is he saw her on the highway and stopped his big truck, walked back to try and talk her into some sense;  and the vehicle she had been in had driven off without her. Anything was possible, but we will never know. There have been a lot of partial stories in our many years of making such drives.

With no disasters on the way, we got to our Tucson home at the right time and had good weather all the way with very little wind and no rain. We chose the right route and the right window. 

Every time we had been forced to delay leaving Oregon due to a farm problem (there were several of those), I felt that it was going to be for the best. 

Be patient. Wait for the window. 

I think about that a lot in my life with many things. Being patient and waiting for that window and then jumping on it, that can sometimes be hard. It is always though better. The question is getting it.


Once we got mostly unpacked in the Tucson house, we expected a problem. We didn't expect it to be a huge one. We have had an ice maker with this refrigerator/freezer. It leaked two years ago, and we had damage as well as mold to deal with. This time we had someone watching the place, neighbors, who kept an eye on it and regularly went inside. We had been told there had been another leak; but we had no idea it would prove so extensive. 

What we found required moving the refrigerator and stove away from the wall. Once the mold problem was revealed it meant tearing out cabinets, wallboard, using a protective mask and plastic sheeting for protection of Farm Boss and the house in case it was the toxic kind of black mold (only a microscope can tell for sure). This was a case of better safe than sorry. Then scraping and painting the area with mold killing paint before beginning the process to put the kitchen back together. Once the mold was gone, there was no rush on getting the kitchen restored. For cooking, there is always the microwave, and I am used to having things torn up when we get here. It is the price you pay for having a second home.



We also didn't have to rush to get the wireless working-- although it was supposed to be up when we got here. Something was catastrophically wrong and once again-- hurray for the hotspot, which allowed some online activity (3GB a month without extra fees) until three days later when Century Link could get a repairman out to discover the outside wires had been damaged. Who knows how, but javelina root out things. The repair guy said he now uses plastic gloves to set down the wires as if they smell human scent they dig it up.

Our two beautiful black cats are still adjusting. I am still reading. The kitchen is more or less functional again. We have had some beautiful sunsets and are adjusting to this as our home for the next month and a half with two great guys keeping an eye on the livestock in Oregon. Hopefully nothing will happen there that they cannot resolve. If it does, our trip might get cut short-- as when you ranch, the animals come first. 
 
I haven't forgotten my new book idea for the Arizona archaeology based romance but ran into a glitch when I got to the Tucson house (well besides all the physical glitches) the research book I expected to be here was not. I am hoping I took it back to Oregon and didn't look deeply for it there because I assumed I had it here...  

There is another possibility. In this rental house, we provide quite a library of different kinds of books for our vacation renters; so it seems like a home when they spend their week or month here. Maybe one took it not realizing how important that book was to me. I know that a comforter was taken this year probably by someone who also didn't know it was one Farm Boss's mother had owned, and it was special to us. We take that risk with leaving art work here too but so far nothing had been taken because we've had honorable renters. There is always a first time though.


For future projects, we plan to get a fence around the patio connecting it to the fenced pool area which will enable the cats to safely be outside. As it stands with coyotes, javelina and bobcats in the area, there is no way they can be out until we know the predators can't get at them. As to scorpions, black widow spiders and rattlesnakes, we'll have to watch out... and there will be no pet doors to let them straight into the house whenever they want... 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

transitions

 Sunset October 31, 2014 from Casa Espiritu

This is kind of an in between time for me, call it transitional. I think most people who have been reading my blogs know we have a second home in Tucson, Arizona. We were there in January of this year because of a cancellation of one of our VRBO renters. Mostly this house rents from January through April, and we leave it vacant or let our friends here use it for family events. With no potential fall renters, we decided we would come back in October and spend a little longer with several improvements planned, two potential repairs needed, but time this go round to do some enjoyable things too. Best laid plans and all that.

When we left Oregon, I had on my Kindle a LOT of books, more even than I knew, which I had accumulated from writers I knew as well as those I had seen blurbs for and thought their books sounded interesting. With one exception, these are romances, a genre that I haven't read much for the last few years due mainly to writing for it myself.

Buying books and storing them with the idea of reading them in the future, is not just something I've done with eBooks. I also do it with paper books thinking the right time will come. I am a big believer in there being a right time, a window, where the book will mean more to my life. It happens that way a lot.

In this case though, I kind of overdid it. It turned out I had about 100 unread titles on my Kindle. Because over the last year or two, I have been doing a lot of writing, there had been almost no time for reading more than research, non-fiction, social issues, and newspapers. A book for pleasure had not been on my agenda. 

Some claim that you should never read in your own genre when you are writing. I don't know if that is true. I do know when I am trying to generate my own plots or characters, I don't want to by accident get them from someone else's fiction. I have read enough books, through the years, to know a lot of writers do take their ideas from books they read. If they don't do it word for word, nobody says anything-- even if they think hmmmm, this is very familiar. For me though, the enjoyment of writing is generating my own ideas, letting them come from my observations, the book's setting, and its characters. It would not be fun for me to take what someone else created-- whether I could ethically do it or not.

However, I had been promising myself for months that I would take a time out and read just for pleasure. I began this project as we headed south, reading each night. When I read a book that I liked a lot, I did a review but only if I could give it 4 or 5 stars. If I could not, I didn't review it. If I ever felt an author needed some kind of slam, I'd email them (I don't get that irate at fiction and stop reading and delete; or if it's a physical book and horrible enough, drop it in the garbage). 

Fortunately nothing I have read so far is anything like I write. They have all been romantic stories, which is why I bought them-- serious fiction and research books are already in folders. 

Some of the books I've been reading turned out to be pretty shallow. A few had manipulative plots, but then what isn't manipulated if it's fiction! Yeah I know literature is different... uh huh... When it is fiction, writers control their stories, and whether the manipulation stands out or seems to fit, it's all used to suit the purposes the writer has for that book.

 I do not know who did the cover for the book I am discussing below, but coincidentally I had bought a similar image some months back but have not found a way to use it yet as a cover. I like the one I have best but hers was pretty good too :) 
It's Jimmy Thomas whose images I have used a lot in trailers and covers. I never can see too many of this guy;). Yes, he's a beautiful man but it's the way he shows emotions on his face that makes him a winner for me.

From my recent reading binge, my favorite book so far has been Princess and the Ox by Peggy Ann Craig. The title alone had me interested. Set in 1884 on the shore of Lake Huron, it is a romance with good character development, very romantic, but something extra as it explored cultural and social issues. 

A book that looks at social issues and how someone can grow, when they are exposed to new ways of thinking, will always be one I like better than just a simple love story. Yes, a romance explores the developing relationship between two people, but it can do it through showing the social issues of a time. It can do it through illustrating actions and the resulting consequences. Princess and the Ox went into all of that but without preaching. It dealt with it through the divergent goals of the various characters and showing the lives people were leading during a time that was also of transition.

Because I write the sort of book that also uses social issues as plot elements, I know I lose some readers. If you illustrate, through actions, how some can be selfish and desire only power, while others have the good of others at their heart, some will find that partisan and political. Same problem, if you deal with religion-- which explains why some writers won't touch either to avoid offending someone. To me those resultant books are shallow and not that interesting to me. A good writer can explore problems and issues and not preach doing it. Craig was a good writer for this story.

I was delighted to find this kind of book out there and recommend it to anyone who is interested in historicals as well as a good romance.
Right now I don't know if she has such strong social issues explored in her other books because I refuse to buy any more eBooks (I hope anyway) until I have whittled down my massive backlog. I am not sure how long I can just read other writers' books. After awhile I get to itching to do my own, but I am going to stay with it for now anyway. It's been fun and actually educational to see what else is out there. I only though buy indie romances, no corporate published on my Kindle.

Because this blog has gone on too long and because I want to say more about our trip south and what we found when we got here, it's going to have to wait for Sunday's blog.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

physical beauty and character

 1967 and a mama with one baby

Here's the question: Is the possession of what is perceived as physical beauty an asset or a drawback? In short, does it impact character?

When I was growing up, my parents never told me I was beautiful. They felt that it would make a girl conceited to hear that. As to how I saw myself, well, I have a very French nose (didn't know that was what it was with all my female relatives having English noses) and don't know that I saw myself as pretty either. I did though know others saw me that way by the things they told me. Half the time did I believe them? Not necessarily, as people say nice things even when they don't mean them. Compliments are a meaningless way to determine if one has beauty. What is more accurate? Don't ask me. I have no idea. Each culture determines beauty based on criteria that can change. 

When I raised my children, I did tell them they were good looking but reminded them that beauty of the physical sort does not last but character does. So grow your intellect and strength of personality. That will stay with you longer. Beauty might open some doors. It closes others. I don't think it's bad to be aware of beauty but not good to depend on it. I also think it's better to look interesting than handsome or beautiful. Perfect features that look like everybody else are not necessarily even beautiful to me-- especially if the character doesn't follow through.

When I create my fictional characters, I have generally written about good looking men (with one decidedly ugly) but only a few who have exceptional looks, which some of my heroes considered to have been a drawback-- too handsome a man can be seen as shallow. Being hit on by men and women isn't a plus if someone doesn't want it. 

Most of my heroes are tall (a plus in our culture for a man) but happens in my books mostly because it's what I know. I live with a tall man, and all the men in my immediate family have been tall.  Tall is average for me. Most of the time living with a tall husband, I don't think about it until I stand next to him and have to look up (me also being a tall woman).

I emphasize to my grandsons though that tall isn't important, as who knows if they will be. What is important is confidence.  A short man with confidence in himself is more desirable to me than a tall man without it.

Physical characteristics in books are important in character driven stories-- less important when the plot drives the action and the protagonist is just a tool for it.

In my three Arizona historicals, I write about women whom others see as beautiful, but it's not how they see themselves. The first one, Arizona Sunset, has a heroine who regards herself as a homely spinster, but it's mainly because of her attitude that others also don't see her as so pretty. When she begins to love her life, her face reflects that glow. The second heroine, Tucson Moon, sees herself as overweight even though others see her as curvy. The third, in Arizona Dawn, is insecure about her looks as to even how the hero sees her until the epilogue. She was raised until the age of nine by strict grandparents who probably had an attitude a lot like my parents.

Where it comes to real life, one day I was in the dentist office as the young hygienist was telling the dentist that men don't ask her on dates, and it frustrated her. He said it was because she was too beautiful, that her beauty intimidated men. At that time, I entered into the conversation and said that I don't think beauty has to intimidate men-- but on the other hand, as I've thought more about it, I am not so sure.

My daughter was told by one of her older clients that he would not want a beautiful woman like she is. He wanted a wife, but he wanted her to be ugly because then he could treat her however he wanted, and she would not leave him. (He obviously didn't know women too well!)

Adding another angle to the question: Do women avoid friendships with beautiful women because they feel they will be overshadowed or that the woman might go after their partner? When a woman is much admired by others, it can be an issue-- even if the woman herself does nothing to encourage it. 

All these things factor into how beauty is used in a book. As to how it works out for real life, well that's another question altogether!