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Tip Sheet Explains How To Write Female Characters

You might think this tip sheet gives great advice. Or you might think it’s bunk.

There’s a Tip Sheet for Storytellers floating around the internet explaining what writers should do while they’re writing their female characters for movies and television.  The organization ( #SeeHer ) that created the tip sheet wants women to be portrayed more favorably in media, but this is the internet, so of course the tip sheet started some arguments  The reaction of writers on the internet who saw the tip sheet can be explained in two ways:

One group of writers said: “Yeah!  It’s about time women are portrayed better in media!”

Another group of writers said: “Don’t tell me how to write!”

Even though this sounds like a cop-out, I’ll say both sides are right.  I’ve read enough Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Stephen King, and Brad Thor books to know that some male authors write horrible dialogue for women.  I didn’t need a tip sheet to tell me this.

Even though some novelists write really crappy female characters, #SeeHer is more about movies and TV.  Women in television and movies actually have to say the poorly written dialogue and then make it convincing.  To me, the most memorable bad female dialogue in the media was in the movie GI Jane when the actress Demi Moore said to a male character: “Suck my dick.”

I think it was supposed to be empowering, but my wife laughed out loud in the theater(I think we were just dating at the time).  It was okay for my wife to laugh out loud because she’s a woman and won’t be called sexist for laughing at ironically bad female dialogue.  Then my wife whispered to me : “A man wrote that line.”

I never asked my wife what Demi Moore’s line should have been instead of “Suck my dick.”  That’s not her job.  As customers, all we have to do is watch and mock.  We don’t have to improve.  Anyway, that movie is over 20 years old, and all I remember is “Suck my dick.”  To be fair, if “Suck my dick” hadn’t been in the movie, I might not have remembered GI Jane at all.  Maybe poorly written female dialogue is a good thing.

I understand the point that women should be given more constructive things to do in movies than talk about men and relationships.  A few years ago, I wrote an episode of my blog serial romantic comedy The Literary Girlfriend and titled it A Conversation Between Two Women That Has Nothing To Do With Men Or Relationships  .  It was based on a true incident where I eavesdropped on my girlfriend and she never mentioned me.  I learned some stuff, but I also got caught.

I know it’s not unusual for women not to talk about men.  Whenever I’ve seen my wife’s social media (always accidentally), I never see anything about me.  It’s like I don’t exist.  I’m glad I’m not that important.  That means when I screw up and she gets mad, I know that she’s overreacting because she really doesn’t think about me much.  I don’t tell her that she’s overreacting because I know she’ll overreact to that, so I just take her initial overreaction and wait for it to blow over.  That’s what a man does.  We hold it in.  And then we die early because of it.

Men complain about how they’re portrayed in media as well.  Movies and television shows depict married men as goofy incompetent schlubbs who need to get bossed around by their superior wives.  I’m not complaining about that.  I’m not suggesting that men start a competing movement called #SeeMen to improve the way men are portrayed in media because that wouldn’t go over well.  A lot of things could go wrong with a #SeeMen movement.

To be fair, if you think of yourself as a demographic instead of an individual, you will always find something to gripe about.  I’ve been a schlubb during various periods of my life, but I’ve always snapped out of it.  Having a family can turn a man into a temporary schlubb.  There’s always a tough transition, from juggling a job and a girlfriend, to juggling a job, a wife, kids, huge financial burdens, and maybe a girlfriend (which is usually a bad idea when you’re married).  Taking care of so many issues at once can turn a man into a sleepless schlubb.  Anyway, these TV programs and movies that show the husbands as schlubbs should also show the man break out of the schlubb shell.  It happens.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to fiction and media, everybody gets everything wrong about everything.  I recently saw a movie where a town less than 100 miles from me was portrayed as a desert when it’s really surrounded by a forest with hills.  Another movie showed a beach about 100 miles from me with mountains in the background.  I wish I had mountains nearby.  These are geography errors and have nothing to do with gender, but it shows that when you create something for entertainment or enlightenment, you might not get all the details right.

It’s important for people like engineers and scientists and mathematicians to get all the details right.  The artist is a little different.  If you expect the artist to get details right, you will end up with a bunch of literal stuff that’s dry, uninteresting, and predictable.  In other words, it will suck.

Right now, I’m writing a college sex comedy that takes place in the 1980s, based on a true story.  If I follow the guidelines of the #SeeHer tip sheet, I’m screwed.  You can’t write a 1980s college sex comedy while following the #SeeHer tip sheet.  Maybe YOU can, but I can’t.

The #SeeHer tip sheet by itself isn’t bad.  It’s good for male writers to be aware of the female perspective, but I’ll treat it like I treat everything else.  I’ll see it, I’ll consider it, and then I’ll do what I want.

*****

What do you think about the Tip Sheet for Storytellers?  Does it give good advice?  Or is it bunk?

In Defense of the Grammar Nazi

(image via wikimedia)

It’s a lot easier to defend a grammar Nazi than most people believe.  Grammar Nazis are almost universally hated because they correct the grammar of others with no permission or warning.  People hate being corrected, especially about what is perceived as minor stuff.  People also hate Nazis.  When you combine grammar with a Nazi, it’s easy to make somebody hated.

But is it really fair to malign a grammar Nazi?  I’m not so sure anymore.  For a long time, I believed that correcting a grammar error was worse than making a grammar error.  For example, when a kid asks a teacher, “Can I go to the bathroom?” and the teacher responds with, “I don’t know; can you?” everybody thinks the teacher is being a dick.  Nobody thinks the kid is a dick for not knowing the difference between the words can and may.  Kids are almost always dicks, and the teacher gets blamed.  This doesn’t make sense.

This just shows how group think can poison the mind.  Grammar is important in making sure everybody can be understood.  It’s okay if a minor rule is broken here or there, but if every rule is broken all the time, people eventually will have a tough time communicating, and poor communication leads to conflict, and conflict leads to murder and genocide.  I don’t want genocide.  It’s ironic that a grammar Nazi is actually trying to prevent genocide.

The term Nazi is really overused today.  Technically, nobody is really a Nazi anymore.  Nazi was a political party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (it really should be NAZI, but nobody does that anymore, and I don’t want to correct myself).  Yeah, it was a political party filled with murderous thugs, but it was still a political party.  I’ve never seen a grammar Nazi try to murder somebody over imperfect wording or bad punctuation.  If anything, a grammar Nazi is more likely to be the victim of violence if he/she corrects the wrong person.

Besides, Nazi is just a term thrown around to disparage people you disagree with.  If somebody is a Nazi, you don’t have to reason with him/her.  Nazis are the lowest form of human scum and don’t need to be treated with respect.  That’s why you have to be careful with the word Nazi.  It’s a loaded word.

Some people don’t trust grammar Nazis because grammar Nazis are too structured, too bound to rules, and they change the topic of conversation just to correct grammar.  Nobody is talking grammar when the grammar Nazi corrects grammar.  The topic is politics or sports or reality TV when the grammar Nazi steps in.  That’s part of the problem.  The grammar Nazi almost always disrupts the flow of conversation just to make a point about grammar.  If people wanted to know about grammar, they would have been talking about grammar.  But nobody ever talks about grammar just for the heck of it, nobody except the grammar Nazi.

Even though most people don’t like grammar Nazis, I don’t trust people who get too defensive when their grammar is corrected.  I understand annoyance, if only because of the disruption of the conversation.  That’s understandable.  But people get defensive and angry and mean-spirited when their grammar is corrected.  You have to be angry if you call somebody a Nazi.  Nazi is not a term of endearment.  I don’t think even real Nazis walk around calling each other Nazi in a friendly way.  I’ve never heard a Nazi greet another Nazi by saying “What’s up, Nazi?”  I’ve never heard a Nazi say “How’s it hanging, Nazi?” to another Nazi.  I mean, I don’t hang around Nazis, but I’m pretty sure that stuff never happens.

Nazi is one of the worst things to call somebody.  A grammar stickler might be annoying, but the stickler doesn’t deserve being called a Nazi.  Hardly anybody deserves to be called a Nazi.  If somebody commits genocide in support of a political party, that person probably deserves being called a Nazi.  If a person combines nationalism with socialism, maybe that person is a Nazi.  But being obnoxious does not make a person a Nazi, even if that obnoxious behavior is about grammar.

This brings me to the hateful people with sloppy grammar who use the term grammar Nazi.  Those lazy, sloppy communicators would rather call a grammarian a Nazi than admit their own minor mistakes in grammar.  They would rather use a hateful term than agree that they were wrong about a really minor point and move on.  The term Nazi is used to shame people who are simply trying to make sure that the standards of communication are maintained.  Yeah, being called out on your grammar can be embarrassing and annoying, but it isn’t done from a place of hate.  Calling somebody a Nazi, though… there is not much that is more hateful than that.

*****

What do you think?  Do grammar Nazis really deserve that much hate?  Is calling somebody a Nazi one of the worst insults you can use?

University Library: The Naked Woman in my Dorm Room

(image via wikimedia)

One morning I walked into my dorm room after I’d spent the night at the University Library, and a naked woman was sitting up hunched on my roommate’s bed.  Since it’s been over 30 years, I don’t remember much about what she looked like, except she was very pale, very naked, with blonde hair, head leaning forward like she was about to throw up, and she was smoking a cigarette.  I figured she wasn’t really going to throw up if she was still smoking a cigarette; that takes a skill that few people have.  When she glanced up, her face was kind of rough in a tired (but not necessarily ugly) way.

“Where’s Kirk?” I asked.

“Breakfast.”

“You aren’t hungry?”

She eyed her cigarette.  I threw my backpack onto my bed and began emptying the contents.  I was hungry and wanted to get to breakfast as well, but I felt funny with a naked stranger in my room.  I was in a social bind.  If I stuck around, it would look creepy, like I was trying to stare at a naked chick.  Then again, it was my own room.  If a naked chick wanted to sit on a bed and smoke a cigarette in my room, that was her fault, not mine.

“You okay?” I finally asked.

“Hungover,” she said.  “I could use a beer.”

I opened Kirk’s mini-fridge and pulled out a bottle.  He still had a few left.

“Thanks,” she said.  She drank and smoked and then drank and smoked.

“I’m the roommate,” I said, trying not to look at her without acting like I was trying.  “Where are your clothes?”

She shrugged and worked on her cigarette some more.  I looked at my bed and pulled the sheets up.

“We didn’t use your bed,” she said.

“Thanks, but I have to make sure,” I said.  “Kirk left a gift for me once, so now I always check.”

The woman laughed and then stopped herself.  It was a lie, that Kirk left me a “gift” on the pillow, but I told the story anyway, and everybody believed me because it sounded like something Kirk would do.  Kirk never corrected me, even when he’d been there as I told the story.  He liked the story.

“Don’t make me laugh,” the woman said.  “It hurts.”

“I almost put my face on it,” I said.  I have a bad habit of making one comment too many.

“I heard it’s good for your complexion,” she said with a straight face that threw me off.

I was going through a zit breakout, and even though it wasn’t as bad as some of the bursts I’d had in high school, I was still self-conscious of it.  I was tempted to make a remark about her being an expert because of her flawless skin, but she was smoking and holding a beer bottle and was naked, and if she got mad at me and things got loud, it wouldn’t look good.  Women weren’t even allowed on our side of the floor until noon.

“I’m going to get breakfast,” I said.  I felt weird leaving a naked stranger alone in my room, but she had been there when I arrived, so I guess I wasn’t making the situation any worse by leaving than it already had been.  Besides, everything valuable in that room, except for a bunch of overpriced textbooks, belonged to Kirk.  If she stole his stuff, it would be his fault anyway.

I found a spot at the cool guys’ table in the cafeteria before everybody had left.  The cool group was a bunch of guys, maybe 30-40 (I never counted), who lived on several floors but hung out together.  They ate meals in the dorm cafeteria at the same time, they knew where the parties were, and they’d hang out in each other’s rooms in groups of 5-10.  My roommate Kirk was one of the cool guys, so I was given unofficial temporary cool guy status.  Having a car helped, and since I didn’t drink much, they could count on me to be a sober driver.  That meant I was welcome to sit with them in the cafeteria.  They never stopped outsiders from sitting with them, but they could make outsiders feel unwelcome, and they were usually nice enough to me.

“Where’s Kirk?” I asked as I set my tray on the table.  A bunch of guys stared at my overloaded plate.

“Just left,” some guy said.

“There’s a naked chick in our room,” I said.  “Smoking a beer and drinking a cigarette.”

A bunch of guys got up like I was the plague.  For a second, I thought I was in high school again, but then I remembered what I’d just told them.

“The door’s locked,” I said.  “She’s not the type to just let you in.”

“Hurry up and eat,” some guy demanded.

“Why?” I said.  “I’ve already seen her.”

“Then let’s go see her again.”

“She’s not that great.”

“Is she naked?” one guy asked.  “Like full… up top?”

“She was R-rated naked,” I said.

“Hurry up!” a couple guys insisted.

I didn’t make myself any more popular that morning.  A couple guys were actually ticked off that I wouldn’t let them in to see the naked chick.  To make things worse, I deliberately ate slowly and read the morning newspaper.  They knew once I started reading the paper that I wasn’t going to budge, so they left me alone.  A few guys even went up to my room and pounded on the door, but nobody answered.  When I went back to my room a few hours later after class, she was gone.

This incident alone didn’t affect my life or my reputation in the dorm, but when that crazy thing happened at the University Library (and I’ll get around to explaining it later), this didn’t help me one bit.

*****

To be continued!  In the meantime, start at the beginning with University Library: State School.

Literary Glance: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

This is the cover of the book I’m reading.

Reading a novel from a writer’s perspective can cause you to notice things that make reading less enjoyable.  For example, The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand seemed like an entertaining book at first, but once I read the first couple chapters, I realized that not much had happened.   A couple characters had thought about a bunch of other characters, but those other characters who were thought about hadn’t actually shown up.

Readers of Hilderbrand’s previous books The Castaways, Beautiful Day, and A Summer Affair might know these characters, but I haven’t read those books, so as I read the first couple chapters of The Perfect Couple, I kept asking myself “Who?”  “Who?”  “Who?”

“The Chief”

Anyway, in the first chapter (called “The Chief”) Chief Ed Kapenish gets a call early on a Saturday morning, and he knows it’s going to be bad news.  In the next few paragraphs, he thinks about Andrea, her two teenage twins Chloe and Finn, and Finn’s girlfriend Lola Budd, but none of these characters do anything in the chapter.

Chief then talks to Sergeant Dickson and mentions that Dickson one time had told him that Tess and Greg were dead, but I have no idea who Greg and Tess are (probably from another book).

Then Dickson talks about Merrit Monaco who’s been found dead (Merrit Monaco is a cool name for a dead character; I’d probably save the cool names for the characters who are alive for most of the story, but that’s just me).

Some guy named Roger Pelton called it in.  Somebody named the Greek is on the way to the crime scene.  Two characters named Cash and Elsonhurst are on “vacay” (Dickson’s word, but I don’t think men say the word “vacay.”).

Then Chief thinks about somebody named Jordan Randolph from the Nantucket Standard.  Then it turns out the dead body with the cool name was the maid of honor for an upcoming wedding in town, but thankfully, the wedding names weren’t given.  That was the first chapter.

“Greer”

Next is a chapter introducing Greer, and this takes place on the previous day.  Greer Garrison Winsbury (that name sounds like somebody trying too hard) is thinking about weddings and thinks about her husband Tag.

Then she thinks about Benji’s wedding (who’s Benji?) and then Thomas and Abigail Freeman (Who are they?).

Then she mentions a singer named George Strait, and I think that’s a real person, but then she explains who George Strait is, and, yeah, I was right, I already knew who he was.  I didn’t know who Benji or Thomas or Abigail were.  I thought that was weird, the author explained who the real person was but not the fictional people who had never been introduced in this novel yet.

Then she thinks about picking up Celeste’s parents, Bruce and Karen Otis.

Then she listens to “Hooked on a Feeling” by BJ Thomas.  I had to look that up because I only knew “Hooked on a Feeling” by Boston.  (What?  “Hooked on a Feeling” by BJ Thomas came out in 1968!!??  Thank you, internet!)

Then she worries about Tag’s faithfulness and a possible affair he’s having with Featherleigh Dale.

Then there’s Jessica Hicks the jeweler.  Then she mentions Celeste’s mother Karen who has stage 4 breast cancer (I’m sorry).

Then she thinks about the protagonist of her books (she’s a novelist!) Miss Dolly Hardaway.  Then traffic starts moving and there’s no time to think.

*****

That’s two chapters, and all we have is a dead body and lots and lots of thinking.   I’m sure these characters who were thought about will show up later.  Even though there’s a lot of thinking, it’s well-written thinking.  I almost didn’t notice that nothing happened.   Then I realized that I got more accomplished reading these chapters (I fixed the sink and clipped hedges) than the characters in the book.  I’m not a bestselling author, but I’d probably wait until the middle of the book to have chapters where nothing happens.  Maybe the rest of The Perfect Couple is action-packed!

*****

What do you think?  How much background information should be dumped in the first few chapters?  Is Merrit Monaco too cool of a name to waste on a dead character?  Have you ever heard a man say “vacay”?  How many characters should a writer mention before bringing them into the story?

Thoughts and a Story about the 4th of July

(image via wikipedia)

This is a good time for the 4th of July.  Some people say the United States is divided worse than it’s ever been since the Civil War.  I wasn’t around during the Civil War, but I was a kid in 1976, and there was divisiveness back then.  Watergate and the Vietnam War had just happened.  Watergate and the Vietnam War were both kind of divisive.  Yeah, the protests were winding down a little in the 1970’s, but if cable news and social media had been around back then, they could have fanned the flames a lot worse.

Politics can be toxic and turn normal people insane.  That’s why we need unifying events like holidays and celebrations.  The 4th of July is a great unifier for the United States.  It doesn’t matter what our political beliefs are; we can celebrate our love of liberty together.  Law abiding citizens can watch stuff get blown up legally, and in a few places, law abiding citizens can legally blow up the stuff themselves.  It’s awesome, as long as you don’t get hurt.

And if you’re in the United States and can’t stand celebrating the 4th of July, if you feel like you can’t associate with others because of political beliefs or other differences, then… YOU ARE UNAMERICAN AND YOU SUCK!!!!

Okay, I was just kidding about that last part (people can’t tell when I’m not serious because of my monotone voice), but…  USA!  USA! USA!

And now for the story!

*****

4th of July Story

 Relax. This picture was created in 1902. It was okay for kids to fire off guns back then. (image via Wikipedia)

(image via Wikipedia)

I was 10 when the United States turned 200 years old.  It was a big deal back then, but at the time, the meaning of the 4th of July was lost on me.  As an adult, I understand July 4th  is the annual celebration of the signing and approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

I understand how important the following sentence from The Declaration of Independence is:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That one sentence had a bunch of concepts that were unique way back in 1776.

The Declaration of Independence is also known for John Hancock’s really big signature.  As an adult, I appreciate how momentous the signing of that document was and how it began the process of liberating the colonies and forming one of the greatest nations in the world. I also appreciate John Hancock’s really big signature.  Several jokes have been made about how a guy named John Hancock had a really big signature.

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand all this, including the John Hancock jokes.  Back when I was 10, the 4th of July was about shooting off fireworks.  And 1976 was a great year to shoot off fireworks.

Read More!

Awkward Moments in Dating: The Ex-Boyfriend

(image via wikimedia)

This date had several warning signs before it even started.  The first was that we’d met at a football-watching party at a sports bar (we were fans of the same team but hadn’t previously known each other).  The second was that she had been drinking when we met.  The third was that she was obsessed with Garth Brooks.

Keep in mind, this date happened in 1991, before Garth Brooks was a household name.  I didn’t like country music, so I had no frame of reference when she first mentioned him.  I usually can’t stand drunk women, but she seemed to handle liquor pretty well (another warning sign) and understood my sense of humor.  Most people take me literally all the time, so when a nice-looking drunk chick understood my humor and laughed appropriately (she didn’t laugh like a drunk), I blindly hoped she would understand my humor when she was sober, and I asked her out.

Back then, you had to write down phone numbers (or memorize them), and women would often give guys fake numbers (usually to a Pizza Hut or Dominoes) and I had all those local pizza place phone numbers memorized.  Asking her out wasn’t awkward (that was a good sign), and I didn’t recognize the phone number she gave me.  At the end of the party, she left with a friend who hadn’t had much to drink, and she reminded me to call her.  I didn’t walk her out because I didn’t want to seem overly eager.

I called three days later (that was supposedly the number of days that was appropriate in the 90’s), and she answered before the machine picked up.  Even though I’d made an outline for our possible conversation, I didn’t need it.  She asked me a bunch of stuff, and she seemed to like my answers, and we set a date for the upcoming Saturday.  Dinner and a movie.

Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but that’s what she wanted.  There was a movie she wanted to see and a restaurant she wanted to go to.  As long as we stayed out of country bars, I figured things would work out okay.

I showed up on a Saturday night at her apartment, and she held my hand as she led me in.  She maintained some eye contact but allowed me plenty of time to check out her cleavage as she showed me around her place.  I’m not the kind of writer who describes cleavage, but hers was pretty good.  Plus, she kept a really clean apartment.  I had dated a slob before, and that had caused issues (that’s for another “Awkward Moments in Dating” episode).  She suggested a Mexican restaurant that I’d never heard of, which was surprising because I considered myself an expert on restaurants.

I was driving, and as we were pulling out of the apartment complex, Jenny (I guess I should mention her name) pulled out a CD from her purse and asked, “Do you mind if I play this?”

“Garth Brooks?” I said, looking at the CD.  “You keep Garth Brooks in your purse?”

“It’s never a bad time for Garth Brooks,” she said, as she looked through the mini-collection of CDs in my car.  “I don’t know any of these people.”

She put the Garth Brooks CD in, and I really didn’t like the music.  When you don’t like a music genre, there’s no logical way to explain it.  I’d even grown up around country music, and it still didn’t appeal to me.

“It’s groovy,” I said.

“Is this guy groovy?” she said, holding a David Bowie CD from twenty years earlier (the music and the album cover were from twenty years earlier, not the CD itself) .

“He was going through a phase.”

“Oooookay.  You pick the music after dinner then,” she said.

“Groovy Garth is fine with me,” I said.  When I was dating, the lady always picked the music.  That was one of my rules. “This Mexican restaurant, you’ve been there before?”

“I think you’ll like it,” she said.

“How do you know this place?” I asked.

“My ex-boyfriend.”  She said it so casually that I wanted to slam the brakes and stop traffic.

“Your ex-what?”

This wasn’t good.  She was taking me to a place that her ex-boyfriend used to take her to.  It wasn’t going to matter if I liked the place.  It could serve the best food in the world, but in the restaurant’s mind, I would always be sloppy seconds.

“Boyfriend,” she laughed.  “Ex.  We’re not dating anymore.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  I didn’t want to sound snide. “I don’t want to intrude on your special place.”

“It’s not ‘our’ place,” she said cheerfully.  “He works there.  He’s the manager.”

THAT MAKES IT EVEN WORSE, I wanted to yell, but I could only stammer, “Is he gonna… uh… be there?”

“He’d better be,” she said.  “I’m counting on it.”

At that moment, I didn’t care what kind of cleavage she had.  I was too ticked off to concentrate on cleavage.  I was ticked off that this first date that hadn’t felt awkward at all was now going to be really strange because of an ex-boyfriend.  I didn’t know that in the next few hours, though, an ex-boyfriend was going to be the least of my worries.

*****

To be continued!  And while you wait, you can read earlier episodes of Awkward Moments in Dating!

Is Little House on the Prairie Racist?

(image via wikimedia)

This is one of those topics where it’s not really necessary to have an opinion, but people will anyway.  Last week the American Library Association changed the name of its children’s literature award from the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s Literature Legacy award.  That by itself might not seem like a big deal.  I read a lot of books, and I had never heard of (or don’t remember hearing about) the Laura Ingalls Wilder award before. Under most circumstances, most people wouldn’t care what the name of the award is.

Then people found out that the award name was changed because of some stuff in the Little House on the Prairie books that is considered racist.

RACIST?

Did you say RACIST?

Did you say The Little House on the Prairie books are RACIST?

AW, CRAP!!  That means everybody has to have an opinion!!  Look out!!!!

Before everybody starts taking their predictable sides, let’s try to get some of the facts… and then we can take our predictable sides.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder award was first given out in 1954 to Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is kind of cool, I guess, to win an award that was named after you.  This also shows that in 1954 the Little House on the Prairie books weren’t considered racist.  Or it might mean that racism wasn’t an issue that the ALA paid attention to.  Or it might mean that the ALA was an organization filled with racist librarians.  Racist librarians are the most dangerous racists because they control the books.  Plus, I always hear that it’s those quiet people you have to watch out for, and that includes quiet librarian racists.

The ALA thought about changing the name last year, but didn’t actually do it until last week.  That means the ALA wasn’t concerned about racism until last year, which means they… Okay, I’m kidding.  It might mean nothing.  It might mean they had other stuff to worry about.  It might mean that standards have changed since the books were originally published.  Ugh, this could go on forever.

Anyway, here are some of the controversial quotes.  I should mention that I found these quotes and commentary from this article .  I didn’t read a bunch of Little House on the Prairie books to find them myself:

The phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”, is repeated three times in Little House on the Prairie,

Well.. that expression isn’t nice, but it’s a common expression that’s not used exclusively about Native Americans.  A Native American (or any demographic) can say the exact same thing about white people (and probably has).

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Mary tells Laura: “You’ll be brown as an Indian, and what will the town girls think of us?”

Comparing skin tone isn’t necessarily racist, but the character makes a disparaging remark about darker complexions, so that’s problematic (I hope I’m using the term problematic correctly).

 In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura’s father takes part in a minstrel show, while Laura’s mother’s dislike of Native Americans is made clear: “She looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian whenever she said the word. Ma despised Indians. She was afraid of them, too.”

Okay, those characters would definitely be racist by today’s standards, but you can have racist characters without the author or the book being racist.  A few years ago, talking about this topic would have been considered a “teachable moment” (which is a term I despise because it’s often used in a condescending way).   Literature is supposed to deal with difficult issues and give us those “teachable moments.”  Bad literature runs away from difficult issues.  I didn’t live on the United States prairie in the 1800’s like Laura Ingalls Wilder did, but I bet settlers thought and talked like that.

Personally, I don’t think it’s right to apply today’s standards to people living in the past.  Settlers on the frontier (and pretty much everyone in existence) had to deal with the everyday possibilities of starvation and being murdered.  When those are your two main worries, gentle language is not a priority.   Being a settler was a brutal life by our standards.  We’re privileged to live in a time where starvation and being murdered aren’t quite as high on our daily list of worries.

Having said that, I’m a believer that people can name their awards whatever they want to name their awards.  If librarians want to change the name of their award, why should I care?  They’re not trying to ban the books.  They’re not discouraging anybody from reading the books.  I might question their logic (especially since Laura Ingalls Wilder was such a prolific female writer during The Great Depression and people still read her books almost 100 years later), but I’m not part of the ALA, so I’m not going to get overly-opinionated about it.

I’ll say one thing.  I’m glad the ALA finally got rid of all those racist librarians.  They used to make me really uncomfortable.

*****

What do you think?  How much should we judge people from the past by today’s standards?  How strong should people’s opinions about this be if they have nothing to do with the ALA?

Let’s Save the Brick & Mortar Book Stores!

(image via wikimedia)

Things don’t look good for Brick & Mortar Booksellers.  Last week Barnes and Noble announced that total sales are down 6% compared to this time last year.  There’s some other bad news (and you can read it here ), but I think almost everybody has an idea about how bad it is.  Things might not get better.  A few weeks ago, a study claimed that binge watching from streaming services is causing people to read a lot less.  Streaming services probably aren’t going away.  And Amazon, Brick & Mortar’s competition, isn’t going away either.

A lot of people don’t remember or don’t know, but twenty years ago Barnes & Noble was the bad guy.  Barnes & Noble was the giant putting the Ma and Pa book shops out of business.  Does anybody still remember the movie You’ve Got Mail? Sometimes people get it confused with Sleepless in Seattle.  Anyway, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s rom-com You’ve Got Mail  told the story of the B&M giant owner falling in love with the small-time book store owner.  It was sweet, but that story probably wouldn’t be told the same way today.  Now it would be Tom Hanks B&M Booksellers character falling in love with the female Jeff Bezos (if you can picture that) who’s using the cinematic version of Amazon to destroy the former bookselling giant and gain world domination.  I might watch that movie, as long as it was funny and didn’t get preachy.

Amazon’s original strategy, when Amazon was seen as an underdog, was to sucker people with low book prices and encourage them to then buy other products.  Now Amazon doesn’t have to worry as much about book prices because it has wiped out so much competition in that market.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Amazon.  I use Prime a lot in many different ways, but I can also see why people think of Jeff Bezos as a diabolical figure.  The Amazon warehouses have a bad reputation for horrible working conditions.  Amazon has been able to avoid taxes that other businesses have to suffer with paying.  That’s what diabolical figures do, screw over employees and avoid taxes.  But as long as Amazon keeps prices down, people use its services.

Bezos also owns The Washington Post newspaper and now can control any negative news about Amazon (such as the previously mentioned warehouse conditions or tax avoidance).  I’m not saying that Jeff Bezos would use a prominent newspaper to contain negative information about his company, but it could happen, especially if he’s a diabolical figure.  I’m not about to research the Washington Post to see if/how it’s reported on these matters (I’m not that kind of blogger), but it’s an… interesting question.

This is a problem for B&M Booksellers.   They’re competing against a company that controls the news, controls a major streaming service, has investors who don’t care about short-term losses, and sells a bunch of items others than books and coffee.  What advantage does B&M Booksellers have?

The local booksellers have a community, if they choose to take advantage of it.  More people are sympathetic to B&M Booksellers than they were 20 years ago.  It’s not quite like Blockbuster, where consumers mockingly waited for the dinosaur to finally go instinct.  Most book buyers actually want B&M Booksellers to succeed.  Most people see the value of having a local book store.  But the local book store owners have to take the initiative and take advantage of this goodwill.

Our local B&M Bookseller hosts a bunch of school book fairs, with games and drawings.  It’s also pretty good about hosting book signings.  The sales consultants (I don’t know what to call cashiers anymore) talk about books when we check out. These stores also… Yeah, I’m not sure what else they do, but they’d better think of something.

B&M Booksellers isn’t the same thing as Sears or Blockbuster.  When those old stores fade away, nobody really misses them.  There might be some nostalgia, but very few customers yearn for the day they could browse through rows of videos or wander aimlessly through a department store that sold jeans and washing machines right next to each other.  Book stores are different.  The world needs book stores.  Maybe the world doesn’t, but I do.  Even though I don’t buy as many books as I used to (the publishing companies could help by not pushing so many $16.00 paperbacks), I buy them at B&M Booksellers.  Yeah, I still have my own ebooks on Amazon, but we aspiring authors have to use the resources available.

I’m not putting B&M Booksellers on higher moral ground than Amazon.  I’m sure the owners of B&M Booksellers are just as diabolical as Jeff Bezos.  Right now Jeff Bezos is simply better at being diabolical.  Me?  I’m just rooting for the diabolical owners of B&M Booksellers to get their act together.

*****

What’s the best thing to say to somebody who disagrees with you?

“You suck!”  HaHaHa!

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Is This Bad Dialogue?- When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

When I first saw the book When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger, I didn’t know what Lululemon was.  I don’t like to start off a review by admitting that I didn’t know something that’s common knowledge, but I believe I should be upfront about these things.

Anyway, I was in the bookstore with my daughter while she was picking up books for her summer reading list (summer reading list, haha!).  As we stood in line, I dramatically read the titles of bestsellers that were propped near the entrance.  I admit, that sounds obnoxious of me, but I wasn’t loud.  With my quiet voice, only my daughter could hear, and it’s a parent’s job to be obnoxious to the kids in public.

The… President… Is… Missing” I said, trying to imitate a movie trailer professional.

She ignored me.

The… Out…Sider,” I said.

Nothing.

When… Life… Gives… You… Lululemons,” I said.

Still nothing.

“What… the… heck… is… a… lululemon?” I said, maintaining my movie trailer tone.

My daughter finally snickered at me.  “You’ve never heard of Lululemon?”  She was talking normally.

“I… have… NOT!”

“It’s a store… at the mall… and you walk past it all the time… when we go.  Are you okay?”

She asks me if I’m okay whenever she thinks my memory is getting bad.

“I’m fine,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure I’ve never known what Lululemon is.”

And that was it.  Since the book title caught my attention, I figured I’d give it a try.  I’m not sure the store Lululemon will be around in 20 years, but a lot of bestselling authors don’t care about stuff like that.  So far, When Life Gives You Lululemons is an easy novel to read, except for some of the dialogue.

Much of the dialogue in When Life Gives You Lululemons is in block paragraphs.  I don’t speak in block paragraphs, and the people I know don’t speak in block paragraphs.  We keep things brief.  Maybe there really are people who speak in block paragraphs.  To show you what I mean, here’s a scene where Emily (who I think is some kind of consultant for celebrities) finds out in a phone call that somebody else’s client has dressed like a Nazi at a public event and needs immediate advice.  Here’s a quick sample of dialogue starting with Emily:

“Okay, then right now I want you to text your colleague and have him get Rizzo into the men’s room and out of that getup.  I don’t care if he’s wearing a gold lame’ banana hammock, it’s better than the Nazi thing.”

“I already did that.  He gave Riz his button-down and shoes, confiscated the armband, and let him keep the trousers, which apparently are bright red.  It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do, especially since I can’t reach Rizzo directly.  But someone will post something any second, I’m sure.”

“Agreed.  So listen up.  Here’s the plan.  You’re going to jump in a cab and head over to 1 OAK and forcibly remove him.  Bring a girl or two, it’ll look better, and then get him back to his apartment and don’t let him leave.  Sit in front of the damn door if you have to.  Do you have his passwords?  Actually, forget it-just take his phone.  Drop it in the toilet.  We need to buy ourselves time without some idiotic tweet from him.”

The entire dialogue is a lot longer than this (a lot longer) and could have easily been cut by a few pages.  Do people really talk in block paragraphs?  Block paragraph dialogue sounds unnatural to me, but it could be my own experience.  If the rest of the book is like this, it would be a tough read for me.  But maybe it’s not so tough for the actresses and actors who’ll be in the movie.

To fix block paragraph dialogue, all you have to do is get rid of a bunch of unnecessary stuff.  If details like the red pants play a part in the story later, keep those references, but I bet most of those details don’t matter later on, so you can probably get rid of them.  And you don’t have to say “idiotic tweet” because the “idiotic” is implied when you say “tweet.”  Anyway, here’s my quick fix:

“Okay, get Rizzo out of that get up right now.”

“Done, but someone will post something any second.”

“Agreed, so here’s the plan.  Get him out of there and back to his apartment.  Bring a girl or two, and don’t let him leave.  Take his phone.  We need to buy ourselves some time without him tweeting.”

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe people really do talk in block paragraphs, and I’ve just never noticed.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  After all, a few days ago I didn’t know what Lululemon was.

*****

What do you think?  Do people really talk in block paragraphs? Or are long block paragraphs of dialogue a necessary evil?  If you think this was bad dialogue, what would you do to fix it?

Summer Reading List Battle: Obama vs. Trump!

The summer reading list has always struck me as odd, unless it’s a school assigning books over the long break.  If you’re an adult and you give yourself a summer reading list, that means you’re planning out what you’ll read ahead of time.  I’ve never done that.  I improvise my summer reading.  I try to plan out everything else in my life (usually unsuccessfully), but my reading is spontaneous.

Last week, former President Obama released his summer reading list, and a few news outlets reported on it.  Even though Obama isn’t president, a lot of people wish he still were, so this kind of story probably gets views.  Our current president doesn’t really put out book lists, so news junkies who are into that have to go to other politicians.

Like me, President Trump doesn’t have a summer reading list, but that’s because he doesn’t read books.  A lot of people make fun of President Trump for not reading books.  They think it’s a sign of willful ignorance or stupidity.  Even though I write a lot and have a book blog, I disagree.  I’ve known a lot of people who don’t read books, and intelligence has nothing (or little) to do with it.  Just as we book readers don’t understand how somebody DOESN’T read books, non-book readers wonder why we’re wasting our time.  From their point of view, you’re not accomplishing anything worthwhile when you’re reading a book.  You could be fixing something, creating something, building relationships with other people (or destroying them).  Instead, we’re sitting in a quiet corner or room by ourselves reading.

It’s a different perspective.  At least Trump isn’t lying about the books he reads.  If anything, he might be lying about not reading books.  Maybe he reads lots of books but lies about it so that nobody can figure out his mindset by looking at his reading list.  It’s a stretch, but I’ve seen paranoids do a lot more to keep secrets.

Former President Obama isn’t just putting out a book list.  He’s also signed a huge deal with Netflix to produce some stuff, even though nobody in the general public knows what that stuff is yet.  Obama has claimed that education is a priority to him, but a study (that I wrote about last week ) shows that the use of Netflix and other streaming services is leading to a huge decline in reading.  Maybe that study was wrong.  Maybe that study was financed by BIG PUBLISHING to fit with their pro-reading agenda.  Those dirty SOBs!

Maybe Obama plans to turn his favorite recommended books into Netflix programming,  but some of the books that Obama has on his reading list might not make for the best binge watching.  Books like Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen or In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu sound like they would bore the average person.  That’s okay.  When he was president, Obama bored the average person too.  When he got off script, he rambled, said “Uuuh,” and cameras caught audience members falling asleep.  I think President Obama even fell asleep a couple times during his speeches.

At least nobody gets bored during a Trump speech.  People get mad.  People get high blood pressure.  People get into fights.  But people don’t fall asleep.  And the two(?) books on Trump’s reading list would be more interesting to the average person.  All Quiet on the Western Front  by Erich Maria Remarque is universally accepted as a great novel.  It’s thought of as the first anti-war novel, so Trump critics who think he’ll get us into a war can feel better about that (unless you think that selection is a feint, which it could be).  The Bible is kind of widely read as well.  Whenever I make a book list, I add The Bible, just to be on the safe side.  Maybe that’s what Trump is doing when he includes The Bible, negotiating for the afterlife.  That’s Trump for you, always negotiating.

If I had to choose between reading lists, I’d take Trump’s over Obama’s.  It’s not that I prefer him as a president.  It’s just that his reading list is much shorter, and it never changes.  Next summer, when Obama comes out with another collection of books, most of which won’t interest me, I can know that I’ve already read everything on Trump’s list and move on.  That’s what I like to do with most reading lists, ignore them.  I like to write about reading lists, but I don’t actually like to read the books on them.

*****

What do you think?  Do you ever get influenced by anyone else’s reading lists?  What recommended books have you enjoyed in the past?