My one public statement for this election season

My relatives are dear to me, and they’re almost all conservatives, and almost all devout practitioners of their conservative Christian faiths, and will almost all be voting for Donald Trump. We loved and respected each other before today and we’ll love and respect each other tomorrow.

So just for today, I’ll ask their indulgence–and that of anyone else who’s been heated up by this presidential race–and share why I think voting is so important, and why I’m so proud of my country.

If you aren’t interested, then read no further and remember to be kind to each other, and that as human beings and Americans we have far more in common than our ideological differences or doctrines or politicians would like us to imagine: we want security and comfort, success for our children, peace in our lives….
• Liberals, remember that when you spew hatred for Trump supporters… you might be behaving a little bit like Trump supporters.
• Conservatives, remember that Donald Trump isn’t Your Guy and you don’t have to stand behind him just because you’re conservative.
• Trump supporters, remember that you have more in common with your neighbors than you do with that guy, and that tomorrow there will be healing to do that you can be a part of.

Okay, here’s where you can definitely stop reading.
In 2001, when President George W. Bush was sworn into office I felt deep pride–not because I had supported him, but because our political system proved once more that no matter the vehemence of our disagreements or the energy of our election processes, our institutions held true. A peaceful transition of power occurred, even in a presidential race that was contested to the Supreme Court and decided, many believed, along political party lines.

Our country has some big problems: at least one intransigent political party (maybe two); monopolies in some key business sectors; bureaucracies disinclined to change; “company towns” who’ve lost their companies to globalization and changing markets; fear about the changing world; worsening education in public schools; a little unconscious racial bias; some very conscious bigotry and hate… and balkanized news media that create echo chambers, reinforcing the beliefs of separate groups, and an absence of resources that identify and celebrate our common ground as Americans.

BUT. Ours is the oldest democratic government in modern history. We have survived civil war, slavery, the Great Depression (and many other depressions/recessions)… segregation, racism, wave after wave of immigrants, classism, and sexism.

We survived all of that because of government and because of people who worked both inside and outside government to improve the system for all Americans. Once, only landed white men could vote; now everyone can. Once, there were no safety standards for food, or clean air or water rules; now there are. Once there were no rules about lead in paint and cookware and dishes and children’s toys; now there are. These are regulations; regulations can be good.

We’ve reduced the risk of poisoned food through departments like the FDA, and made air and water cleaner by creating standards through the EPA. Social security keeps our seniors from starving, and medicare (a single-payer system) gives them access to medical care they might not otherwise be able to afford. Our military budget is bigger than that of the next… 6? 8? 10? countries in the world, and our military might is unparalleled.

So, the federal government does know how to do things.

Maybe my pollyanna optimism is showing itself today, but I have a profound faith in my country and in my people–in American people.

I have a profound empathy for Trump supporters who are angry and afraid, who feel ignored and left behind and want nothing in the world more than someone to blame and someone to save them. I don’t think they’re right, but I empathize with their disaffection.

I have a profound empathy for rank-and-file Republicans who feel stuck with a Donald Trump as their party leader and would rather vote for anyone but him–except Hillary.

Equally, I have a great deal of empathy for Hillary Clinton, who has been beaten down and investigated, misrepresented (and sometimes perfectly represented)–and has done what I hope I’d do, if I believed strongly in something. She has gotten back up and kept fighting. That alone deserves respect. That alone reveals something about character and strength of will.

So I’ve changed my profile picture for the day, and anyone who had any doubts now knows for whom I’m voting. I’ve listened to the vitriol and dramatic emotion from all sides. I hope Hillary wins and I’ve been doing my part. I hope every citizen (and every resident) chooses to befriend a neighbor, be a diligent defender of American ideals, say something if you see something, remember that if you move into a gentrifying neighborhood and you’re white, you’re the suspicious character–not the people of color around you… you get the picture.

Pollyanna out.hillary (1)

Reporting on “Glass Coffin”

I used to think I’d be lucky, if I knew how much time I had left. I’d be able to get my affairs in order and say goodbye properly like my mother did. Have time to make my peace. But peace is overrated and right now I can’t feel my hands.

My mother might have mentioned this body-numbing terror while she sat propped on her leather sofa, dying.

My oncologist is steady and dispassionate, and her face radiates calm. Once, I believed it was because she’s been close to so much death. Now I think it’s because she’s not the person in the room with the terminal diagnosis.

* * *

Welcome to the first three paragraphs of this story about life and death and using every minute.

Critiquing fiction and the restaurant salad bar

I’ve thought for many years about the nature of editing feedback and critique of one’s work in progress. I don’t understand the fear of critique. Critique is most commonly provided in a generous effort to be of service to the writer–and even if it isn’t, it’s not like anyone can make me take it. Editing feedback is almost exactly like…

…a salad bar.
Good editing feedback is like a salad bar. It’s a buffet of thinking readers’ opinions, thoughts, reactions, and interpretations about a story, and the author has a simple job: survey the salad bar, and choose among the feedback offerings for she thinks might make her story better. Also, thank people for unused feedback without feeling compelled to accept it whole-cloth–or indeed, at all. The more experienced the author, the better she will be at selecting only the feedback that improves the story she’s writing. The salad bar may offer a lot, but it’s the writer who’s making that particular salad, and she’s the person it has to ultimately satisfy
 (and then maybe the people who buy her work for publication).

Ultimately, the writer should be satisfied with what she writes, what she changes, and her own vision of what she has written. This skill—selecting among the feedback offerings—is as critical, I think, to improving one’s writing as is learning the basics of writing (like lay/lie, or grammar or verb tenses or point of view), and as critical as just getting out there and writing regularly. 

Unlike a real salad bar, most people who make the effort to give you critique are trying to give you their very best. When we take the time to read, and think about, and examine your draft, we’re trying to look past our own favorite genres and character types, to see the story you wanted to write. We aren’t just going to throw some limp cut-up dill pickle on that salad bar before you.

Now, not many salad bars offer four bowls of the same kind of lettuce, but lucky writers receive redundant feedback. Redundant feedback can be the best guide. If, for example, several people comment similarly on the same story point, it helps the author understand how that point came across. It helps the author to identify whether what came across was what she meant to say. And, like healthier olive-oil-and-balsamic dressing, it’s something an author might want to consider more seriously than bleu cheese, for the good of the story.


In other words, as a man I respect often says, “Everyone is entitled to their shitty opinion. But some people’s opinions aren’t shit and they can be helpful. It’s your job to decide.”

NaNoWriMo 2013

National Novel Writing Month is upon me, and I’m excited again. I have participated in NaNoWriMo since 2005, and with the exception of a 2012 vacation month, I have succeed in 6 of 7 efforts to write 50,000 words.

Good luck to all and sundry who participate in NaNo; connect with me, if you’re local, and maybe we’ll get together to write.


Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference (SBWC) 2013

I had a wonderful week attending the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference (SBWC), saw some people I met last year, met some new people, hung out with longtime friends, and LOVED the writing and critiquing process. The panels were amazing–provocative, interesting, educational–and my only complaint is that I was unable to clone myself and attend every session with every panelist. Panelists I had the pleasure of enjoying, however, included: Geoff Aggelar, Lorelei Armstrong, Dale Griffiths Stamos, Lisa Lenard-Cook, Yvonne Nelson-Perry, Marla Miller, Matt Pallamary, and John Reed. People whose panels I hated to have missed included Barnaby Conrad III, Jerry Dunn, and Monte Schulz among too many others to remember.

I have great news to share, and look forward to doing so in a later post.