Broad brushstrokes

   It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that Romance fiction is judged the way most things female are judged–with a broad brush covered in rose petals and sparkles. Sugar and spice and everything nice is all well and good, but it’s not all we are, and it’s not all that romance writing is.
   Chick-lit, chick-flicks–yes, such things exist in the exact form you’ve instantly conjured with those terms. There is a place for these lighter-than-air stories crafted to give no more than a moment or two of, “Oh, no–poor character. Her latte wasn’t fat free and now she’ll be all bloaty for her date.” They’re a form of fantasy, maybe a little wish fulfillment in a real life of job, kids, spouses, dog-poop on the carpet and/or dating a thousand frogs in the hopes of kissing a prince. Or worse. I know, when we were going through the worst of the worst, I devoured romance fiction of this nature like a kid on a melting fudg’icle.
   Then there is the rest of romance, the kind that touches on deep, painful, uplifting, complicated and otherwise intense aspects of life. Or death. There is romance set in war-time, in the aftermath of natural disaster, in the quiet and tragic illness of a loved one. There is also comedic romance, suspenseful romance. As a matter of fact, just add “romance” to any genre, and you’ll find excellent examples of what you can easily find. Anywhere. The “romance” part simply means there is a love story at the core, and that those two people will find a way to one another in the end.
   Now, I get it. In this world of self-publishing, there is a whole lot of poorly written stuff out there.And it’s not as if every traditionally published novel is fabulous. I’ve read quite a few stinkers on both sides of that fence. But you know what? Some of that “poorly written” stuff sells really, really well. Why? For the same reason it has since Professor Bhaer admonished Jo March that she wasn’t a real writer until she stopped writing her pirate stories–it speaks to a large number of readers, in language that doesn’t make them feel talked down to, or talked at. It reads the way they speak, the way they relate stories. In short–it’s real.
   Some readers want a more elevated form in their reading, just like some viewers prefer a film that has won awards in Cannes to those that win Golden Globes. And don’t get all wonky about me using the word elevated. I’m not saying one is for dumb people while the other is for smart people. One of the smartest people I know loves the Zoolander movies. Even I, grammar fiend, word-dancer that I am, love me some Tosh.0. Elevated simply means it’s done in an artful, more formal way. It’s almost a fantasy, because few people speak the way such novels are written. There are those who look for word acrobatics, for prescriptive grammar over descriptive. And then there are some who have no patience for such things.
   And you know what else? There’s a whole lot of stuff in-between that satisfies readers on both ends of the spectrum. That’s the beauty of life–diversity. Romance is diverse. There will always be good writing, and bad writing. Romance has its fair share, but defining an entire genre by that share is snobbery, and it’s unfortunate, because there is a whole lot of good stuff being passed over because it’s romance. The ever-growing genre of women’s fiction is growing as it is because people will pick up and be seen reading women’s fiction when they’d never even consider romance. I hate to tell you this, people, but most of what you read is romance. #sorrynotsorry
   This whole thing was sparked by an article shared by a sister-in-romance on Facebook this morning. Here’s the article.
Here, have a cute little crab. Peace out.
VAB

Courtesy of Karin Gastreich VAB16

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Romance, Writing is Life

When you Wish

You were a dream I had once, long ago

When I was young and hopeful and free

of the pain of my past, a new beginning unfolding

And you, the binding of that past to present, to the future

A tiny ball nestled on my chest, breathing baby breaths

I conjured you until you were real,

Pinocchio after all the wishing was done, after

the whale and the sacrifice and a fairy’s magicked compassion

Blond hair and blue eyes, where did you come from

in my swarthy sea of Italians? You always said you were

Viking, a long-ago raider marauding along the coast,

leaving behind the blood that would tumble through time,

through DNA strands and couplings and transatlantic voyages

to show up in my arms, held to my breast, a bundle of baby boy  breathing sweet breaths.

You are a dream again. Now.

Images. Conjurings. Memories true and sometimes blurring

around kinder edges that spare me

sustain me, always skewer me straight through. Sometimes

the pain is exquisite, and sometimes

it’s just pain that I gather in around me because it proves you were real

not some fading wish once made upon stars already gone to dust

as if you were never quiet here to begin with.

~TLD

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A Few New Things

The novel formerly known as Traegar’s Lunatics and now as The Pen has been marked final. Beloved Agent Janna (as she will forthwith be known) not only guided me to the perfect ending for the story within the story, but for the actual story itself. What I had was fine. Her “what if you did this…” made it amazing. I’m so in love with this book.

We’ve also decided that Helen Mirren will play Olivia in the movie.

The synopsis is written, the query is all ready. After the holiday weekend, it will go off to the list of publishers she and the powers that be at the Knight Agency have generated. And now, the wait.

In the meantime, I’ll work on Undeclared.  It’s up around 25K words. This story is once again different than anything I’ve ever written. There is no romance. Not even the scent of it. I’ve never written anything without it. This one, though? Nope. Ledanora, Nell, Beverly–maiden, mother, crone. I hadn’t planned that when I started this book, but it’s just so right. My subconscious knew, and acted accordingly. I’m in love all over again.

You might have noticed a change here on Modesty is for Suckers…the banner, above. A ridiculously talented and generous friend sketched this of me from a photo on Facebook. I’ve never had anything capture me, who I am, my spirit, as perfectly. It embodies my motto–Modesty is for Suckers. Does that imp look modest about ANYTHING? Nope.

Happy Independence Day! Eat well, stay safe, and have fun!

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Filed under The Pen, Undeclared, Writing is Life

The Ups and the Downs

Some days are harder than others. D-day, strangely, wasn’t. It was like watching a scary movie through your fingers. You can’t help watching, but if your do so through your fingers, you can keep the ghouls at bay. That’s what last week was for me. This week…

I have a confession; my first thought whenever I see a happy family is, “Fuck you.” It really is. On television, in person, on Facebook. How awful is that? It’s not directed at the happy family, but at my family’s fate. The words pop into my head instantly, and just as instantly dissipate. It brings a kind of relief, like slapping a hysterical person.

People die. There’s no way around it. We’re all going to experience loss at some  point in our lives. Parents lose children in far worse ways, under far worse circumstances. Had Chris not died, we might all be mourning him in a different way now. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe the other thing. Maybe nothing. Maybe doesn’t count for anything when the result is already in.

Frankie D and I had a perfect weekend, just the two of us. Beautiful weather, a little shopping, hanging out in the yard, playing Phase 10 (his favorite game) by moonlight. We had a great dinner out at our favorite place, got the yard ready for summer, put twinkle lights on the gazebo, and swam in the pool. Sunday night, I made clams and lobster tails on the grill, and corn on the cob. We watched the Game of Thrones finale. After a peaceful week last week, the weekend was the sigh at the end of a long, lovely day.

And now today…I find myself a bit weepy. Maybe that’s the consequence of all that peace. The ghouls held at bay got pissed. I think I’m pissed, too, because I have a good life. Better than most, I think, and yet saying that out loud feels so many kinds of wrong. Emotion and logic battle constantly. Happiness and sorrow. Hope and cynicism. That’s why I write these blog posts, to help sort through it all.

Peace.

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Triggers

Please note: I wrote this last week when D-day was still looming and freaking me out a little. I scheduled it for today, because this is where it belongs, but it doesn’t reflect my state of being. Rather than a quivering, keening, irrational mess, I find the peace I came home from France with still on me. It’s a bit intense, but…I’m okay. There are always tears. Every day. But this peace…it’s like he’s got his big arms wrapped around me. Pain can’t get past him. Whimsical, maybe, but…anyway. <3 

There is no avoiding triggers, because

I don’t know what they are

until they’re pulled

And the bullet flies

And the blood spills in trickles

or rushes

a waterfall from my body,

my brain tossing  memories:

chemical spatters on the wall where he once blew himself up

conducting experiments in the basement,

thrilled beyond words,

tamed–the crowding thoughts.

The roof he built

The tools he bought

The songs he sang

The love he gave

The sorrow and the sorrow and the sorrow he never meant to cause,

that added to the thoughts ever churning

a frenzy of joy and despair and back again.

A trigger is pulled, and down I go

Getting back up again is rote

Like breathing, like laughing, like remembering.

It’s been a year. It’s been a year. It’s been a god-damned bloody year.

The first of forever. And here I stand.

Braced against the next trigger pulled.

Willing to take that bullet.

Because, by now, I can.

~TLD

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Filed under poetry

InD’tale Reviews

Seeking Carolina

4 1/2 stars

WOMEN’S FICTION:  Johanna Coco has returned to Bitterly, Connecticut to attend her grandmother’s funeral but misses it. Charlie McCallan finds her in the cemetery and brings her home. For Johanna, Charlie is everything in her past that she has tried to forget. For Charlie, Johanna is everything he wants in his future.

One would have thought that this was a straight love story, but the underlying sub-plot of finding Johanna’s mother, plus the mental illness that affects Johanna and her sister’s life choices, makes the story multifaceted and interesting. It is a love story revolving around the Coco daughters and their missing mother and the secret that their grandmother kept. To juggle more than one subplot to bring the love story, between a man and a woman, and among the women of the Coco family, forward is a feat in itself which Ms. Defino does very well. She has also allowed one to see the internal conflict of each of the characters in varying degrees (including that of the secondary characters) leading to a rich tapestry of the lives and loves of the people in Bitterly, Connecticut.

While the characterization was rich, the setting was limited only to the places where the characters went. Sometimes it came across like sets inside a studio. Nevertheless, the poetry that precedes every chapter more than makes up for this. Ms. Defino is one author to watch out for because of the beautiful stories she writes.

MP Ceja

Dreaming August

5 stars

WOMEN’S FICTION:  Benedetta “Benny” Grady is a widow who continues to pine for her dead husband. She religiously visits the cemetery and plants flowers around his grave, speaking to him and also to Mrs. Fargus and to August, each of whom died centuries ago. Benny has a secret, something that she only tells her dead husband and ghostly friends and would like to hide from one person she has fallen in love with – her husband’s best friend, Dan Greene. Dan has fallen for Benny and plans to woo her but she keeps on avoiding him until she finally gives in. But then Dan unearths her secret and it’s now his turn to move away.

Ms. DeFino is a remarkable storyteller. Her writing style is as beautiful as it is original. One wishes that they lived in Bitterly, Connecticut in order to know Benny and Dan, as well as a host of other secondary characters that give meat to the story. These characters have their own stories to tell and are not just included in the story as props. Readers will come to love August and Mrs. Fargus and get a glimpse of what life after death must be like. Their dialogue about the great beyond is as humorous as it is bittersweet. Ms. DeFino is definitely an author to watch!

MP Ceja

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There And Back Again

Home again, home again. France was amazing from start to finish. Magical, even. The people, the places, the experiences will not be forgotten, even by my errant mind. I walked 50+ miles in the last week and some, ate entirely too much fabulous food (CHEESE! THE CHEESE!) drank a lot of coffee (not a single bad cup the whole time. Seriously good coffee) and come home no worse for wear…but for the blisters the size of silver dollars on my feet. They’ll heal.

French-Coffee

Being home again is good. Very good. I missed it, and my routine. I haven’t been so long without writing in twenty years. No lie. I’ve been writing daily since 1996, and haven’t gone more than a weekend or a week’s vacation without writing in all that time. This extended hiatus has been hard, to be honest. I’d be afraid I won’t be able to get back into the swing of things but that won’t happen. As I said to a friend yesterday–I have to at least pretend it’s hard once in a while.

I feared the world would come crashing in on me once I got home and “the day of days” smacked me in the face. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still settling in, riding the French high, or that I have a beloved dollbaby house guest here this week, but the world remains intact. Yet the weekend looms. Father’s Day will never again be a day to celebrate fatherhood for me. It will ever be the last day of my son’s life. I’d hope it might change one day, years from now when the pain isn’t quite so raw, but I don’t see that happening. It will never be any less raw. After a year waiting for that to happen, I’m pretty certain it’s not going to. That’s not to invite a pity party. It’s simply a fact. An aspect of my life I’ll get accustomed too, that I have actually already become accustomed to. We wear our pain well, or poorly, but we wear it one way or another. I choose to wear it well rather than let it wear me down.

Now it’s time to get back to Nell and Ledanora in quaint, magical little Sprookskill, NY. They’ve been waiting for me.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Un-dismissed

It lingers, this strange little event from yesterday, and leaves my brain buzzing, my heart lighter. Channeling Raven’s message, and its magic, I’m not dismissing this as a strange but nevertheless insignificant event. I need to share the happiness, as well as the despair. There is both, in grief, absolutely.

I have the dearest friends, friends who know the upcoming anniversary of Christofer’s death looms, awaits me on the other side of my trip to France. They’ve worried about me all year, but especially now. And so, after lunch yesterday, they presented to me a beautiful gift, a marble turtle, a loving card, and a garden stone to put out by Christofer’s tree.

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Honestly, I was so moved by joy and love, I didn’t cry the way they’d feared I would. I was simply happy to know I had these amazing women who love me so much. My friend and I talked on the way home, about Chris, the upcoming anniversary, how I feel about the boys who are paying their own prices now, a year later. There is so much “I don’t know” concerning all those things. I don’t know how I’m going to be on that day of days. I don’t know how I feel about the boys, and the penalties they face. I don’t know many things. Only time will give those answers.

Months ago, when this was all still a fresh hell, another beloved friend (gads, I have so many of those, and how grateful I am) sent me a token of love and sisterhood. She’s a dollbaby, and our mascot has always been the turtle. It’s because of a shirt I brought home from one of my dollbaby trips that Chris started calling me Turtle to begin with. Turtle has lots of space and meaning in my life. She sent me a turtle nightlight, to remind me that the smallest light can dispel any darkness.

And what did I find, upon returning home from lunch yesterday?

IMG_1454

Yes, lit. The little turtle sitting on my beside table was lit up. I hadn’t turned it on. The cats certainly didn’t. I laughed, and then I cried, but the happy kind. My boy. He has a sense of humor. And he loves me so much.

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Filed under Life's honest moments

Psychosomatic

I think my heart is broken

It hurts me all the time

It stutters when it should thump

Crackles like safety glass

My right knee is numb

along the right side down

from owl to beanstalk inked in black

And green, and yellow.

Is it possible to have psychosomatic symptoms

if you’re aware of them?

**

I sat in my Comet (Mercury Caliente, 1965. Sublime)

for hours, for days listening to a’ha

Take on me

He surprised me with the cassette tape only

days before his death. I wore out two copies

but only kept the one.

I always cry when I hear it.

Pavlovian response, or grief?

***

I’m several days without crying

And can’t figure out why. Days at the beach

Love, and love and love.

A raven whispering messages, and

quorking on the deck.

Superheroes viewed from recliners,

in the dark. Dinner out. Sangria. Cake.

Happiness is as strong as grief.

****

I see a picture. Tears come

buckets. A whole sea of them

My heart is broken.

My knee is numb.

I am happy, still, sometimes, in any event.

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Time to decompress

     The probation officer assigned to one of the guys who sold Chris the drugs that killed him just left. Nice guy. He wanted to know if I had anything to say. I said I didn’t think jail time was going to do anything good for (the kid) or the world. He’s been through a lot. He has mental issues he can’t seem to get help for. He can feel guilt, remorse, sorrow, but he has no real concept of the world beyond himself. He’s devastated about what happened. Of course he is. “For what it’s worth, this is killing him,” the officer said. It breaks my heart.
      I had a lot to say about the mental health issue in this country, and that there’s something really wrong when a whole generation feels the need to turn the world off badly enough to create the epidemic we’re facing now. Honestly, I don’t see any answers. Well, I do, but changing attitudes about such things isn’t going to happen. It’s societal. And it’s biological.  There are too many who believe it’s all about self-control. That “crazy” people are somehow lesser, and not simply different from the norm that doesn’t actually exist. Teddy Roosevelt would have been diagnosed ADHD and given drugs to calm him the hell down. Most of history’s genius would have been medicated away. There is no room in society for those existing outside of boxes someone, somewhere (many someones, many somewheres,) have decided are what’s best for everyone. We don’t celebrate difference. Not yet, anyway. I think we’re getting there. I hope.
     There are those who truly need to be medicated simply to function without hurting themselves or others. I’m not a fool. But there is a fine line between medical science helping and hurting, and I believe we’ve crossed it. Society wants it that way. It helps keep “difficult” people in line.
     Just make me Queen of the world, Empress. I’ll take any title, as long as it comes with a sparkly crown.
     Whew. Time to decompress. I’m halfway through second round revisions on the novel formerly known as Traegar’s Lunatics, now titled, in my heart, The Pen. I love this story beyond words.

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Filed under Life's honest moments, The Pen, Traegar's Lunatics