A Writer asks a Famous Writer to Stop Writing Because–Why Again?

Every writer is jealous of other writers.  Whether it’s fame or fortune or talent, we can’t help but snivel a little when they become Them and we’re still just us.

Girl writing brightMost of us do it in silence or in the midst of a narrow group of co-commiserators.  Not many (Okay, a few, but they’re gone now) do it as publicly as a writer named Lynn Shepherd did recently when she wrote a blog post on HuffPo UK telling J.K. Rowling she’s had her turn and if she had any decency at all she’d hang it up and give someone else a chance.

Now, who is Lynn Shepherd to be telling the great Jo Rowling she’s being selfish with all that extraneous publishing now that Harry Potter is done and over?  Beats me.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Honestly, I don’t.  I’m all for audacity and truth-telling but I can’t get past her own admission that she really doesn’t read Rowling.  It’s all about the fame and fortune.  One person apparently shouldn’t have that much.

A snippet of what she said:

I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. . .

. . .It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

I guess you noticed that she never read any of the Harry Potter books?  Seems odd, doesn’t it, that she would then go on to say, “I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

Gulp and gasp and get outta here!  I’m a grown-up, I read a LOT.   I loved the Harry Potter books.  I felt a lot of things while reading them, but I’m pretty sure I never felt shame.

So here’s my dilemma, and I’m going to be honest about this.  I don’t much like that this person who puts herself in league with “ordinary authors” (see above) is getting all kinds of attention simply because she’s in a snit over someone else’s fame. (Check out her FB and Twitter hits.  Many more than I (sniff) ever got.  Hmmmph.)   And here I am, adding to the so thoroughly unearned attention.

But why Jo Rowling?  Because she had the nerve to move on to “adult” books instead of staying in the kiddie section where she belongs?  Because people are buying her books simply because her name is J.K Rowling?  Because she doesn’t deserve it?

I have a feeling Lynn Shepherd knew exactly what she was doing with this piece.  A friend tried to warn her, but I think she saw it as the perfect attention-getter for her own books.  If that’s what it was, she failed.   Look at this (My bold):

So this is my plea to JK Rowling.  Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.

Jo Rowling’s success was anything but overnight.  I get that she’s talking about her fame giving her a head start with any subsequent books, but Jo Rowling has certainly paid her dues.  There isn’t a writer on earth who doesn’t know about Rowling’s struggles while working on the first Harry Potter book.  She was a single, jobless mom living for a while on welfare and food stamps.  Her fame was not handed to her.  No magic wands.  Not by a long shot.

But, by golly, Lynn Shepherd got what she wanted.   First Huffington Post and now here.  (Oh, I’m kidding!)  I admit I’ve never heard of her or read her books, but I don’t need to in order to say this:

That was a cheap trick.  I’m sorry I got pulled into it but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to say publicly that that was a cheap trick.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – Albus Dumbledore”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

_______________

NOTE:  I wrote this post last night, before I heard there was a negative-review bomb against one of Lynn Shepherd’s books over on Amazon.  At last count I saw 44 one-stars, most of them published yesterday.  They were all paying her back for what she wrote about J.K. Rowling.  What I wrote above is fair game.  It’s my opinion, just as Lynn Shepherd’s opinion is hers.  What is happening to this writer at Amazon is an attempt to destroy a writer’s work by giving it deliberately low ratings.

I left my post as it was originally written because my thoughts about Shepherd’s piece haven’t changed, but I’m frankly appalled by the outside attacks on works that have nothing to do with what she wrote at HuffPo.  This is chilling to any writer who writes opinions on controversial subjects.

Whatever I said about cheap tricks above goes ten-fold for those who think this is a cool way to get back at her.  Get back at her for what?  I think Jo Rowling will be just fine after this.  Whatever I think about Lynn Shepherd’s opinions, I don’t want to see her writing career ruined over a simple thousand-word essay.

I hope I’m not alone.

_________________________________

Follow Up:  This is what Lynn Shepherd told The Guardian on 2/27/14:

Speaking to the Guardian today, Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think”.
“Many writers face the same challenges and frustrations when they’re just starting out, and JK Rowling did herself,” Shepherd said. “She’s been a phenomenal success since then and has millions of fans who are passionate about her books. That’s an amazing achievement. With hindsight I’d have written my piece an entirely different way, as I never intended it to upset anyone, and I’m very sorry that it did.

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Why Self-Help Almost Never Is

Here’s the thing about self-help:  If you’re reading a book or an article about how to fix your current miserable existence, or listening to a self-described “expert” tell you and hordes of others how to fix it, it’s not even close to being self-help.

It’s not that these folks don’t want to help you.  They do!  They really, really do!  The goal is to help you to let go and try their tactics on your own. (But not to such a degree that you won’t be buying their next book or watching their next program.)

They want you to spread the good news–it works!  Buy their book!  Watch their program!  You can do this!  But remember: you couldn’t have done it without them!

The self-help industry is based on one simple concept:  In order to overcome whatever it is that’s dragging you down you need to feel good about yourself.  In a nutshell.  But how many ways can it be said?  Just for fun, I went to Amazon and typed in Self-Help books.  There were 194,648 for sale there.  And that’s just the English versions.

Then there are diet books.  There were 80,690 of those.  I didn’t separate the numbers of books telling us we can eat anything and still lose weight, but there were many more than I thought possible.  (I’m pushing for a category all by itself called, “Scams and Shams and Just Plain Silly”.)

As Matthew Gilbert  wrote in his Boston Globe piece, “Self-Help Books and the Promise of Change”,

“The healing begins and often ends with a visit to the bookstore or a download. ‘What a lot of people want when they go to self-help books is to just feel better,’ says Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, author of a just-released look at self-help culture “Promise Land.” ‘And it doesn’t take that much to feel better. You feel better buying the book.’”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI admit that I’m a perpetual mess, physically, psychologically, socially, educationally, maternally, relationshiplly (not a real word and misspelled besides), and maybe even philosophically, but I feel good about myself knowing I never for one minute thought I could fix those things by accepting a complete stranger’s pop notion of what was wrong with me.

But a while back, on Maria Popova’s brilliant website, Brain Pickings, I read about a self-help book which, if I were into those things, I might actually read.  It’s Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message For An Age Of Anxiety”.  It was published first in 1951, when, contrary to current popular opinion, we were a country full of anxious people.

Watts’ main message is that in order to be happy we have to learn to accept insecurity. [Aside: tell that to a jobless/homeless person--you have nothing to be insecure about but insecurity itself]  But this is what struck me:

I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good “I” who is going to improve the bad “me.” “I,” who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward “me,” and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently “I” will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make “me” behave so badly.

I love that!  In the end, it’s a battle between me and myself.  The message, as I’m reading it, is for everyone else to butt out.  Even Alan Watts.

(Before you all come after me about the usefulness of therapy, let me be clear:  Reading a book or watching a TV show isn’t therapy.  Therapy requires a give and take, a mutual trust, an assurance that someone is actually listening to you.  Therapy may move you along toward helping yourself but it never was and never will be “self-help”)

Ramona

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Farewell, Pete Seeger. Peace Be With You.

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Pete Seeger, America’s folk singer and man of peace, has died.

He was 94 years old, so we should be grateful that we had him with us for so long.  He was a man whose presence was timeless and inspiring, and the truth is, we needed him.  We need him still.

He was more than a singer/songwriter, although in his case that would have been enough.  He was a man of courage, unafraid to face down fancy fools and demagogues.   In the 1950s he was hauled before Joe McCarthy’s Red-scare witch-hunters and branded a communist–a brand he neither confirmed nor denied until much later, when he said he had been a communist for a time but dropped out.  He never failed to remind those who asked that it was never illegal in this country to be a communist.  The young ones were, as you might imagine, surprised to hear it.

He was jailed, blacklisted, and was sentenced to 10 years for contempt of Congress. (That last one was overturned, but he was able to retain the bragging rights.)

 In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was famously uncooperative, citing the First Amendment (freedom of speech and association) instead of the Fifth (freedom from self-incrimination) when he refused to answer, because he believed there was nothing “incriminating” about knowing communists or being one. Clubs and TV shows canceled the Weavers’ bookings, their recording company voided their contract, and their records vanished from stores and radio airplay. Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress, and sentenced to ten concurrent one-year terms in prison (a sentence he didn’t serve, as it was overturned on appeal). Seeger and his band were blacklisted, and for years worked only in tiny clubs willing to take the risk of hiring them.

Pete never failed to let us know he was one of us.  His concerts became one big sing-along, where everyone joined in and became his back-up singers.  (That could be because Pete himself said as a singer he made a pretty good song-writer, but his audiences loved it.)

We knew the words to his songs by heart and understood where the words came from.   He cared about the least of us.  He was a union man.  He was a man of peace who would not submit.

Solidarity forever, Mr. Seeger.  It was a privilege to be on this planet with you.  You will live on.  We’ll make sure of that.

Edited to add the link to Seeger’s  “Old Devil Time”.

No storm nor fire can ever beat us down,
No wind that blows but carries us further on.
And you who fear, oh lovers, gather ’round
And we can rise and sing it one more time!

(Thanks to Tangly Cottage for the reminder.  What a shame if I had missed it.)

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On Drunks and Skunks And Why It’s Good That Mickey Spillane Isn’t Here To See This

You may or may not have heard about the new show on CMT called “Party Down South” (originally called “The Dirty South”, or so the rumors go), a purposely stupid, sexy, boozy 10-week series about a group of 20-something southern rednecks, strangers to one another, thrown together in a house near Myrtle Beach for a month just to see what happens.  The booze, provided by the production company, flows freely with no danger of running out, and the participants are encouraged (I hope that’s it) to out-dumb each other. The program is produced by the same folks who gave us the equally stupid, sexy, boozy–but popular– “Jersey Shore”.

I have never watched “Jersey Shore” but I’ve seen enough about it to know it’s okay that I’ve missed it.  I watched the premiere episode of “Party Down South” on Thursday night, without knowing anything at all about it until earlier that day, when I saw on the local news that a reality show had been filmed last summer at Murrells Inlet and was about to be shown for the first time.

Our temporary winter digs are mere miles from there and if I stand in the right spot I can actually see the inlet from my house.  Murrell’s Inlet is many things to many people but the leaders and promoters sorely want it to be known mainly as a quaint but hip fishing village with restaurants and shops and a fine old history.  It is  located on the banks of a wide and beautiful saltwater tidal marsh known for good fishing, crabbing and oystering.

There is a half-mile U-shaped boardwalk along the edge of the marsh (or “creek”, as they call it) that connects a long established grouping of bars and seafood restaurants–running from the cool kind of rowdy to the sublime and expensive.  Around here Murrells Inlet is known as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina”, and the restaurants are packed, even in January.

Murrells Inlet high tide

Murrell’s Inlet Marshwalk. (All Photo Credits: Me)

Mickey Spillane, author of dozens of detective novels and creator of “Mike Hammer, Private Eye”, fell in love with Murrell’s Inlet in the 1950s and lived there until his death at 88 in 2006.  He was their honorary good will ambassador and he never missed a chance to talk up the place.  He loved the beauty of Murrell’s Inlet but I’m guessing he also got a kick out of the rowdies.  (I’ll go out on a limb, though, and bet he would have hated what is happening now with “Party Down South”.)

There are two biker bars down near the main highway, a couple of miles away from the MarshWalk, that give Murrell’s Inlet a different kind of attention.

“Suck Bang Blow” gets its name from motorcycle jargon, they say, and is large enough to open its doors wide and let the bikers roar right up to the bar.

“The Beaver Bar” started out as a roadside stand and got its name from its owner but it has no problem with you thinking what you’re thinking.

It could be that they were what brought TLC and the “Jersey Shore” producers to this spot, setting those doofuses up in a century-old historic home, but whatever it was, the producers’ reputations for sleaze no doubt preceded them, because right from the start the welcome mat was definitely not out.

(Coincidentally, “Trailer Park: Welcome to Myrtle Manor”, TLC’s controversial redneck reality show filmed in neighboring Myrtle Beach, began its second season on the exact same night and at the exact same time.  Enough to drive a body crazy trying to decide. . .)

But about Party Down South:  CMT hypes their new show this way:

“From the producers of Jersey Shore comes the most outrageous Party Down South. Follow eight young, brazen adults for one wild summer of extreme fun. Their summer vacation spot, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, may never be the same after these fast friends work, party and bond with one another over their common love of the South.”

Yeah, well.

So to understand why some people might not like this very public but skewed portrayal of their fair town, here are a few pictures I’ve taken of the area over the years, very near where the production company chose to film these episodes.  This is the real Murrell’s Inlet.  Or at least the one we’ve come to know and love.

Murrells Inlet harbor

Murrells Inlet harbor

Pelican and Egrets at Murrell's Inlet

Pelican and Egrets at Murrell’s Inlet

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Palmetto and the marsh at high tide

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Siesta time at Murrells Inlet

Veterans Memorial at Murrells Inlet MarshWalk

Veterans Memorial at Murrells Inlet MarshWalk

There is more to Murrell’s Inlet inland, including world-class golf courses and the amazing Brookgreen Gardens, the sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington’s gift to the Low Country.

Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Court

Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Court

But if you happen to watch the first episode of “Party Down South” (and why wouldn’t you?) be sure not to blink during the scenery shots.  You won’t see much of Murrell’s Inlet.  Seems a shame, considering the notoriety that lovely place will now have to endure.

But worse things have happened to this little community.  Remember Hurricane Hugo?

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A New Year’s Evolution

It’s January 1, 2014.  Every year at this time we Snowbirds are on the road to our southern digs, so after a day’s travel, even on New Year’s Eve, we weary road-warriors hit the pillows early.  (I missed the ball drop by about 2 1/2 hours.)  In this mid-priced freeway-motel-with-breakfast (a waffle machine, oatmeal packets, yogurt, juice, sporadic fresh fruit, and traditionally lousy coffee), New Year’s Eve is just another night.

Most of us get to our destinations on January 1, which means New Year’s Day is actually moving-in day. One big whoop when we finally turn into the parking lot after driving a thousand miles over a few days, and that’s about as boisterous as it gets.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been thinking about the new year and what I expect to get from it.  I don’t make resolutions any more.  I took them so seriously at one time I’d even been known to write them down.  A whole list.  Ten was the magic number–even if I had to make things up.  But after a while it didn’t matter, since I knew I wasn’t going to keep them anyway.  Then it became a kind of a joke.

Lose 20 pounds?  Fat chance.

Finally learn long division?  Number 10 on my list, carry the five.

Take a class in Far Eastern philosophy?    I’ll think about it.  Or not.

So this year I’ve decided to evolve instead of resolve.  I will leave the lists behind and grow into the best of me.  Or the better of me.  Or at least into someone who learned a little something along the way and got a little something out of it.

Oh, wait.  I can’t.  I feel a list coming on.  Just a short one, but a list, nonetheless.  (Old habits die hard. Sorry). 

I will go on loving the people I love and try not to hurt them.

I will remember and keep fighting for the shadow people–the poor, the sick, the weak, the self-destructive, the unlucky.

I will ignore my real age and live the way I want to live with the time I have left.

I will study my surroundings and take lots of pictures.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI will listen.

And I will write.

I will write.

I will write.

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Candy is Dandy and Desserts are Never Fattening on Holidays

As much as I dislike snow (except for that first snowfall, which is always magical and beautiful), as much as I griped endlessly over having to take three whole days to go 350 miles, as much as I felt put-upon over last minute Christmas shopping and food preparation and more driving and staying up late, I loved every minute of being with our family and friends over Christmas.  We’ve been having a great time, as always, and any thoughts of blogging have been fleeting and–so sorry–quickly forgotten.

But I thought I would share a couple of quick recipes, since desserts are still appropriate for the rest of the holiday week. And into the New year. And beyond.

This one we call “Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge” but it’s not fudge at all, it’s candy.  It melts on your fingers and feels cool at the same time.  It’s simple and elegant.  Here it is:

Chocolate Peanut Butter “Fudge”

1 bag chocolate chips (milk or dark)

1 bag white chocolate chips

1 cup peanut butter

(I keep mine plain, but you can add any kind of sprinkles, coconut, mini-chips, nuts, etc. either mixed in or on top.)

Melt each bag of chips separately in a microwaveable bowl in 20-30 second bursts, stirring after each, stopping when it’s almost completely melted.  The few chips left will melt on their own after more stirring.

Stir chips together with the peanut butter until mixed, pour into a 9×9 pan greased with vegetable spray.  Refrigerate until cool but not hard.  Cut through in small squares, refrigerate again until cold and then you can separate it, placing the candy on a pretty plate.  (If you try to cut it while it’s cold it’ll shatter.  That’s why.)

Chocolate Pizza Lolapalooza

I pkg. refrigerated cookie dough, softened at room temperature. (My bunch insists on Chocolate Chip.)

1 12 oz. pkg. cream cheese

1 small box chocolate pudding mix

1 3/4 cup milk (slightly less rather than slightly more)

1 container Cool Whip (I use Light)

mini chocolate chips

Spread cookie dough evenly in a pizza pan, bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, until edges are browned and center can be pressed without feeling squishy.   Set aside to cool.

Whip or stir cream cheese until fluffy.  Spread on warm (but not hot) cookie.  Leave on counter while mixing pudding and milk with electric beater.  Two minutes on high should be enough.  Spread on cream cheese.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes or so, until pudding is set.  Spread Cool Whip over pudding and sprinkle with mini-chips.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably longer.  Cut into small squares.  (You can cut into pie wedges if you choose, but, as you can imagine, it’s very rich and filling.)

We made a batch of milk chocolate “fudge” and a batch of dark and they looked lovely together on a plate, but of course I forgot to take a picture.  I also forgot to take a picture of the pizza, which looked even more wonderful.  (Some blogger, huh?)

But here. This should do it.  My son’s cat “Buddy” found a friend under the tree:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Peace, Joy, and Love today, tomorrow and every day.

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I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, too

On Christmas Day, 1914, only four months into the brutality of World War I, a spontaneous miracle happened on the Western Front.  On that day German and British soldiers laid down their arms and gathered together in No Man’s Land to share food and cigarettes, sing Christmas carols, and play a few games of football.

On other battle lines along the front,  “Merry Christmas” signs were hastily constructed and held up to cheers from the other side. Without orders and in spite of warnings from their superiors, the soldiers on both sides declared a truce for, at the very least, one magical day.  For some, the truce lasted for days into weeks, or until new troops replaced those who had been involved. There are reports that it happened the next year and the year after that and each year on Christmas Day until that terrible war ended.

For generations, Christmas has held that kind of Good Will magic, and no matter who we are or where we are or how we got there, that holiday spirit endures.  For a few days out of the year millions of us do our best to take kindness to a whole new level.  We wake up with a song in our heart, feeling.good.  We want to do things.  Not to others but for others.  For a precious few days near the end of the year we like people.  We really, really like them!

Unless we don’t.  Unless we’re those few  “It’s Merry Christmas, Dammit!” people and someone nearby has the nerve to either ask for some life-changing help or to say “Happy Holidays!” out loud.

“Happy Holidays!”  That simple phrase, known for what seems like forever throughout the world as a perfectly acceptable seasonal salutation (preferable in almost all circles to the truly lifeless “Season’s Greetings”), turns out to be a secret code for declaring war on Christmas.

Did you ever in your life think the day would come when “War” and “Christmas” would share space in the same three-word phrase?  Neither did I. But it is the notorious 21st Century, and so far it’s not a century noted for common decency, let alone common sense.

I’m out of the woods and in the big city now, and I’m happy to report that “Merry Christmas” is everywhere.  So far nobody is showing signs of preparing for battle against Christmas. Our December has not suddenly turned gray.  Tanks are not on the move anywhere.  There are no soldiers in freezing, muddy trenches.  The War on Christmas is a lie. So who’s making this up?  The Scrooges.  The Grinches.  Those nasty, wasty Grinches who don’t have a clue about the true spirit of Christmas. That’s who.

I love my Christmas.  Christmas is in my blood and  I’ve been celebrating it for what seems like an eternity.  Through new births and great losses, through times thick and thin, this is the one Happy Holiday season that I wouldn’t ever want to miss.

I love Christmas carols as much as I love sweet secular Christmas songs and it’s okay because it’s Christmas.

As much as I love the Chinese Restaurant scene in “The Christmas Story”,  it’s also possible to really, really look forward to interpretations of  Luke 2′s nativity scene.

The White House Christmas Card is traditionally (and I would say necessarily) secular.  This year it’s something special for us Michiganders.  From start to finish, it’s a Michigan product.  From the artist who designed it to the printers to the folders–all Michigan.  The White House specifically wanted something that was wholly made in the USA and here it is:

whitehouse-christmas-card-2013-slideshowA lot of Hoo-Haw over it by the Grinches, but I think it’s beautiful.  (I didn’t get one, but that’s another sad story.)

No matter who we are or how we celebrate, this is a day of hope and joy.  So when I say I want to wish you Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas, you’ll just have to trust that I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

(Note:  This is a slight adaptation of a piece I wrote on Christmas, 2011.  I tell you that in case you were one of the few who actually read it back then and thought is looked familiar.)

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