Going Political

Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters
Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters

Yep, going political on the blog today. So if you think that might bug you, move along…

An open letter to my pro-Trump friends (and yes, I do have several) who have said, “This isn’t a ban on all Muslims. It’s only a ban on the seven countries that pose the greatest threat.”

You are partially correct. It’s not a ban on all Muslims.

However, it also does not ban immigrants from those countries which history shows us pose the greatest threat to the United States with regard to domestic terror attacks. The nations included in the ban are as follows:

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Where is Saudia Arabia, home of most of the 9-11 hijackers? What about Pakistan, birthplace of at least one of the San Bernardino shooters? How about Kyrgyzstan & Russia. birthplace and previous home of the Boston Marathon bombers?

Nope. None of them are on the list.

So you are indeed correct, it is NOT a ban on all Muslims.

However, this ill-thought-out, sloppily executed order has banned many already thoroughly vetted refugees from coming into this country. Many of them are coming from places like Syria, countries we have frankly helped to destabilize with our many years of half-hearted war in that region, our short-sighted diplomatic policies there, and our apparent complete lack of understanding regarding the various sects of Islam in that part of the world and how they do (or more often, don’t) fit together. 

Basically, we helped break a number of these countries. Surely the least we can do is to help clean up the mess by allowing those desperate to escape to come here and live with us.

You may say, “Well, my president isn’t the one that created their mess.” But yes, he was. The previous president was your president, whether you like it or not. Just as, although the majority of voters in this country did not actually vote for Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is in fact their president now. Either every U.S. President is the president for all of us, the spokesman for all of us, the man we employ to implement our will; or he has no authority at all and this great experiment in democracy is at its end.

If, as I believe, each president is the president for all of us, then each president carries the burden of all his predecessors. That’s essentially the definition of the job: volunteering to come in and clean up the mess you think the previous guy made in the office.

Banning refugees who have already spent years having their credentials checked will not clean up that mess. Handcuffing Iraqi interpreters who worked with our soldiers won’t help clean up the mess. Separating a five-year-old child from his parents while checking his paperwork won’t clean up that mess. Sending a Cleveland Clinic doctor back to her homeland, where she had the nerve to go and visit family for a vacation – that will not clean up our mess in the Middle East. Detaining those who have Green Cards and other thorough documentation of their right to be here – that does nothing to clean up our mess in the Middle East.

In fact, nothing about this policy will clean up the mess made by the Obama, Bush or any other previous administration in the Middle East. It will merely add to the series of mistakes we’ve made in that region, mistakes which scream how little we understand the groups active there, the issues at play, and why the hell we are there in the first place. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world and gives a new recruiting tool to groups like ISIS.

Worst of all, this ban will do nothing to make any of us here in the United States safer.

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Blogging About Books

Flying Books © Sergei Razvodovskii/Stockfresh
Flying Books © Sergei Razvodovskii/Stockfresh

For those of you who wonder where the hell I’ve been – I’ve been asking myself the same question. Froghammer has turned out to be an interesting place to work, some of it good-interesting, some of it bad-interesting, most of it just weird-and-chaotic-but-will-make-great-stories-in-books-someday-kind-of-interesting. However, I hate catty, bitchy people, so I’ve resolved to just keep mum about Froghammer in the all-too-public realm of the Interwebs.

Meanwhile, this post has been making the rounds on Facebook in which someone lists their ten favorite books and challenges a group of friends to do the same. Of course, a few people decided to tag me, which is fine. But TEN?! Seriously? I need a list of at least one hundred to even make a dent in my list of favorite books. My whole living room is filled from floor to ceiling on all sides (except the one with the bay window) with just a few of my favorite books. Be that as it may, I decided I would answer the challenge, but the only way I could do it is to set some kind of limit. So I’m going to limit it to favorite books I’ve read in the last year or two. With maybe a little side note on a few all-time favorites.

MY RECENT FAVE RAVE BOOKS:

  1. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – maybe there was a murder, maybe not. definitely there was adultery. also, insightful thoughts on the complications of being a modern career woman and mom and how you can never be quite good enough at any of it. check out my earlier review here
  2. Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett – Jincy Willett is so funny she makes me laugh ’til I cry. This companion book to her equally brilliant The Writing Class follows Amy as she gets mildly concussed, says some very strange things and suddenly finds herself a media sensation. Brilliant wisdom about the state of publishing and entertainment, and a great dog companion too. Here’s my previous review.
  3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Because Neil Gaiman. Review here.
  4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – Teen angst + Time Travel. Fabulous. I actually read this one more than a couple of years ago, but it’s still a fairly recent find, so it goes on the list. Because it’s my list. And yes, here’s my earlier review.
  5. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer – a wonderful teen coming-of-age novel about a misfit girl who befriends a gay couple just at the start of the AIDS crisis in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Brought back vivid memories of that era and moved me to tears. An excellent book. No previous review from me, I’m afraid. You’ll have to form your own opinion!
  6. The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters – Just magnificent. A stupendously original take on the entirely overdone “Life After the Apocalypse” genre. My review here.
  7. The Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch – another promising young writer of SF/Fantasy and another Ben. Fresh out of the police academy, Peter Grant gets recruited into a special unit of the Metropolitan Police, one that handles supernatural phenomena and also those troublemaking river deities that still populate London. If a young, British Harry Dresden fell into the world of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere,  it might go a bit like this.
  8. Mrs. Dalloway – Because Virginia Woolf. And no, it’s not a new book and not a recent read, but one I re-read over and over again. I spent a lot of years trying to be Virginia Woolf, writing-wise, and to me, this is her masterpiece. The economy of style, the smoothness of the narrative as she travels through one day in one ordinary woman’s head, the love and hope and regrets that make up that woman’s life. The older I get, the more I understand and love this story.
  9. The Crystal Cave Series by Mary Stewart – often dismissed as a mere author of “gothic romance,” Mary Stewart was way more than that, and if her series about Arthur and Merlin had been written by a man, I’m sure it would get a lot more recognition and respect. But that rant about the lack of respect accorded “women’s writing” is a rant for another day. Instead, let me just commend this wonderful series of stories to you. There are five books in the series, but I confess the first three are really far and away the best. This is the legend of King Arthur told from the point of view of Merlin, filled with excellently researched detail on the mythical and historic origins of the tales. No, also not new. But it’s my list and my chance to get a few people to notice some overlooked masterpieces!
  10. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Magical Realism before there was Magical Realism. Also not new. But possibly my all-time favorite novel. Yes. If I had to pick only one book to take with me to Mars. If I lived in that world Ray Bradbury created in Fahrenheit 451 and I had to “become a book” to keep the story alive, this is the book I would become. Also, for those who are interested in such things, the book that famously inspired The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Try to get the Mirra Ginsburg translation, unless you’re lucky enough to read Russian.

And now, I conjure you all to go forth and make your own list. If you can’t think of ten books right off the top of your head, you’re living your life wrong. Also, for my many good friends and family members with learning disabilities and other reading problems – remember that audiobooks count too. Don’t ever let anyone say you haven’t “read” a book because you listened to someone read it to you instead. That’s the oldest and best way to tell a story!

 

Apocalypse Noir

World of Trouble (The Last Policeman, #3)World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The hapless detective, the loyal sidekick, the femme fatale, the unsolvable crime (or crimes) – all the crime noir tropes are here in Ben H. Winters’ wonderful “Last Policeman” trilogy. But the villain isn’t a goon or a crooked cop. The villain is Maia, a deadly asteroid hurtling straight toward Earth that renders notions of fairness and justice meaningless in the face of impending doom.

In the ultimate race against time, policeman Hank Palace, honorable to a fault, struggles to maintain law & order, mete out justice, and somehow protect his sister.

While others choose to abandon their jobs and families and party to the end, Hank follows the path he has always followed. Even as everyone else stops caring about concepts like fairness and justice, Hank goes on solving crimes and protecting the weak.

But what does his choice mean when honor itself will soon cease to exist, along with just about everything else on the planet? Is doing the honorable thing a foolish waste of time at the End of Days?

Winters pursues those questions as doggedly as Hank Palace would, offering up striking insights into the human psyche and a disquieting vision of a world waiting for the long good-bye.

“The Last Policeman” trilogy consists of The Last Policeman  (Book 1), Countdown City (Book 2), and World of Trouble (Book 3). All three books are intriguing and thought-provoking reads for lovers of science and science fiction — and achingly moving for readers who appreciate well-drawn characters trapped in desperate circumstances.

View all my reviews

Apocalypse Next Week

Mayan Calendar
Mayan Calendar (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Holy Christmas Mania, Batman! Has it really been nearly an entire month since I blogged?!?!

Why, yes, it has.

I know you’ve all been clamoring for new insights from me into how to avoid zombies when the apocalypse happens next Friday, but I have to tell you — it’s probably not going to be a Zombie Apocalypse. I know. I was disappointed too. All the time I’ve spent watching that damned zombie soap opera, The Walking Dead, trying to learn how to handle a katana in case I need to start lopping off heads next weekend and it turns out — no zombies in the Mayan Apocalypse! [No I don’t watch it all the time. The zombies are too comical and the guys are too busy alternating between whining and trying to out-macho each other. Also because it really IS a zombie soap opera. But I love me some Michonne. She should have her own superhero comic. She’s almost up there with my girl, Wonder Woman. But I digress.]

Michonne2_(TV_Series)

Unlike a George Romero-esque zombie apocalypse, the Mayan Apocalypse sounds more and more like some spacey, New Agey Aquarius thing. True, maybe we’ll get hit by an asteroid and all die. Or maybe we’ll all just wake up and have some big collective revelation about how stupid it is to kill one another over boundaries and religion and nothing at all, and how pointless it is to trash this planet when it’s the only one we’ve got, and even how equally stupid it is to NOT be spending more time exploring other planets so that we can finally build a zombie-free colony on Mars or maybe even a planet orbitting Alpha Centauri. (The advantage of the latter is that if I moved to that colony, I would probably no longer be expected to spend major holidays with the in-laws.)

So my main advice for you regarding next week’s Apocalypse is: Be optimistic. The word “apocalypse” actually comes from a Greek word that means “to uncover or reveal.” So as it turns out, it’s not really about endings at all. Just about cleaning house and making a fresh start.

But just in case I’m wrong (it does happen), make sure to stock up on canned goods. Remember, as Susan Beth Pfeffer has pointed out in her brilliant Moon Trilogy, Progresso soup is better than Campbell’s in an Apocalypse because you don’t need to add water. And don’t forget a manual can opener. That pesky electrical grid might get kind of wonky after next Friday.

You won’t be hearing from me for awhile. I’ll be away for the holidays, then I’ll be recovering from the holidays, then I’ll be adjusting to post-apocalypse living. Plus there’s this freaking book I need to finish writing. Two books, really. Because after I finish [start] The Monaco Mission, I’m seriously considering writing a chick lit apocalypse novel. What do you think of the title Zombies and Margaritas?

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and may a wonderful, zombie-free 2013 be yours!

Book Covers & the Law of Unforeseen Consequences

I try not to use the blog to self-promote, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do with blogs. But I’m like that.

Nonetheless, this blog is mostly about my new/old book, Thirty-Nine Again, which was originally released over four years ago by a small indie ebook publisher. I’m sure they did their best, but small indie publishers nowadays seem like the worst of both worlds – you don’t get the kind of royalties you get when you self-publish and you also don’t get widespread distribution in bookstores. So Thirty-Nine Again, the original edition, sold maybe 250 copies. Since my other novel, Love Capri Style has now sold about 25,000 copies at Amazon, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to move more copies of Thirty-Nine Again in its new self–published edition.

Poor distribution certainly hurt Thirty-Nine Again, as it does most other novels published by very small publishers. But there was another problem with Thirty-Nine Again that I hadn’t foreseen at all. It was this:

Now, I thought this was a pretty awesome cover, and I still do. It’s got the romance, it’s got the danger. The chick is grinning mischievously at the camera, so it’s got the humor of the story too. My biggest objection to this cover was that it looked more like the book should be titled Twenty-Nine AgainBut that’s where Lynn’s Law of Unforeseen Consequences comes into play. Lynn’s Law of Unforeseen Consequences states that the more enthused you are about an idea, the more likely it is that it will blow up in your face.

As it turned out, the age of the heroine on the cover was the LEAST of my troubles. And so I will tell all my aspiring author friends a little secret: It doesn’t matter if you like the cover. If the target audience doesn’t like it, you are going to have a hard time promoting that book. My target audience was, as evidenced by the title, forty-something women. There are two things most forty-something women have – kids and failing eyesight. The first reaction to this cover from even my most liberal, artsy, aging Bohemian friends was, “Oh dear God, I’ll have to hide it in a drawer so the kids don’t see it when they come home.”

The second and far more disastrous reaction was: “Is that two WOMEN?? I didn’t know you wrote erotica! Is this a Lesbian porn novel???”

Because it turns out that if you need reading glasses, but you’re on that threshold where you think you can see clearly enough so you keep refusing to wear them – well, then that slender guy with the longish hair apparently looks to you like HE is a SHE.

Now, I’m as liberal as they come when it comes to sexual orientation, so I have no problem with Lesbians at all. In fact, if Scarlet Johansson was a Lesbian, I – well, never mind. Anyway, the problem here wasn’t that I was morally offended. The problem was marketing. If you’re trying to sell middle-aged moms a chick lit suspense story, they get confused if the cover looks like Gay Fifty Shades of Grey. It also makes local libraries and businesses reluctant to carry bookmarks with the cover image on them. I had to have new bookmarks done that showed only the lower half of the book cover – the title with the gun and roses. Some websites agreed to mention the book in posts but refused to put up an image of the cover. Ultimately, after only three appearances, it made me lose all interest in doing any in-person signings or talks about the book.

When I decided to self-publish a new edition of Thirty-Nine Again, I knew I needed a cover that would more clearly reflect the chick lit nature of the story. I call Thirty-Nine Again “chick noir,” not because it’s bleak and dark (it’s not), but because it combines the self-deprecating humor of good chick lit* with guns and gangsters. I hope the combo works, and I hope you’ll buy the new edition with the improved PG-13 cover by the lovely and talented Rita Baker-Schmidt. Most of all, I hope you’ll be able to look at the cover (even without reading glasses) and know what sort of story you’re getting into.

Next time – we’ll talk about tempting fate by making bad things happen to your characters.

Or maybe the Mayan Apocalypse. It’s getting mighty close, folks, so we really do need to be prepared.

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Getting Real

You know, taking a part-time receptionist job in a real estate office seemed like it would be easy, but that’s because I was assuming that people still have manners and that our instantaneous, multi-tasking mad society hadn’t rendered them all into blithering idiots in the space of just twenty years (the last time I was a receptionist).

Why the hell would you – a real estate agent from another office – call this office and say, “I got a call from your office, but I don’t know who called me.”

Duh. Neither do I, sister. There are 75 agents in this office, three loan agents, a branch vice-president, three receptionists, two office administrators and a nocturnal computer geek who shows up for five minutes once a week, crashes all the computers, and then goes home to play World of Warcraft.

If you don’t friggin’ know who you’re doing business with in this office, I sure as hell don’t.

Why would you dial a number and then say, “I got a voicemail message from this number, but I don’t know what it was about because I didn’t bother to listen to it.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes! That really happened!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was all, Whatty McWhat? Are you seriously calling ME to ask what the message is on YOUR voicemail? Because if you are, clearly you are not understanding how this voicemail thingy works, dude.

Or maybe you understand perfectly well how voicemail works but you are “too busy” to actually listen to yours? Clearly, you are angling to be the first up against the wall when the revolution comesBecause talk like that is going to get you there, and I will be happy to lead the firing squad.

And last but not least – Why would you call a real estate office while you are driving around in an unfamiliar area and say, “I saw a house with one of your signs on it and I’d like to make an appointment to see it. But I don’t know what street it’s on and I’m new around here so I’m not even entirely sure what town I’m in right now.”

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921
Einstein in Vienna in 1921. He probably parked his car first. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Here’s a thought, Einstein. PARK THE DAMN CAR. Ask someone where you are. Get out and look at a street sign. Or if you are so high-tech that you can dial an unfamiliar number while driving, I bet you own a GPS. Click that button that says “My Location” or “Locate me.” GO ON, TRY IT!

Wow, isn’t that stupendous? Now you know where you are. Now you can say, “I’m interested in the house on Sputnik Street in Cowtown.”

Now I might be able to help you!

Although I suspect there is no help for you or any of the people I’ve talked to this week. I suspect we’re all just becoming plugged-in cogs in The Matrix, incapable of rational thought, deliberate decision-making skills, and simple common sense. Maybe we will all deserve exactly what we’re going to get when the Mayan Apocalypse comes in December.

But more about that next time.