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Posts tagged ‘reading’

On reading and listening and books in general

It’s no secret that most, if not all, of the bloggers here at MGC believe that story is king when it comes to writing. We do our best to write stories that will pull our readers in and send them soaring to new places and times. We want our characters to be real people, not simply be there to fill out some artificial checklist someone in an ivory corporate tower said we had to follow. We aren’t anti-message by a long shot. We just think the message should be woven into the story and not be so blatant that it hits the reader of the head over and over and over again. We have encouraged you to try new genres and, I hope, we’ve introduced you to new authors over the years. Read more

Taking Responsibility – A Blast from the Past

(I am up to my eyebrows with editing but, worse, I am also up to my elbows with wet carpet and possible sprinkler repairs. So I have no brain. However, a conversation I had over the weekend got me thinking about how we, as parents or simply as adults, need to set the example for our kids when it comes to reading, especially books they are assigned in school. That, in turn, made me think about the following post. I original published it May 2016. Enjoy.)

MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.

In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.

Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.

However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?

Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.

With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.

Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.

The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.

Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.

What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.

Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.

Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.

I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.

So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.

Responsibility.

To read and think before condemning.

There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.

Responsibility.

To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.

Responsibility.

To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.

It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.

With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.

In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.

Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.

***

Now for a bit of promo. Nocturnal Rebellion, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, is available for pre-order.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.

You can find a snippet from Nocturnal Rebellion here.

I’m a Quitter

Hangs head, shuffles toe in the dirt.

So, um, yeah… About that.

I picked up the habit over thirty years ago. The deal is, once you start, you can’t stop. Not that anyone ever taught me that. They don’t say these things to your face. It’s just expected, you know? Once you crack one open, there’s no turning back. Later in life, especially my early adulthood, I’d have several going at a time. Because I couldn’t quit. Even if one was difficult to swallow, you just kept chugging until the end.

And I thought everyone was like that. I’ll tell you now, I was shocked the first time I learned that some people abstain. I mean, dang. Who could live like that? It had to be horrible. Like wandering parched in the middle of a river, unable to take a drink. What a barren lifestyle. And still, I couldn’t quit.

There were times I wanted to. Long, dusty, dry ones that seemed to have no end in sight. Weird ones that made no sense at all. Anachronistic ones I just wanted to hurl against a wall with force… But by gummy, if I started a book, I had to finish it. Them’s the rules, right?

It wasn’t until I was a young mother, and somehow found myself a volunteer Slush Reader, that I learned the dire necessity of quitting. Faced with an avalanche of reading material, a toddler, a nursing baby, and a budding small business to run, I had no choice. I read on the computer while the baby fed, but that time wasn’t unlimited, (days it felt like it was. She was a hungry kid, and now that she’s half a head taller than I and wearing a size twelve shoe, I know why)  so I learned to read three chapters in before quitting. Forcing myself to slog through to the end made reading a chore and painful. Far from being a trove of pleasures, I was learning the hard way that not all books can be read to the end, much less should.

What brought this on? Well,on Facebook Joshua Hocieniec, in a conversation about Neil Gaiman’s American God’s wrote: “I’m no quitter! Though I am feeling like I have a couple of better books that I could be reading instead.”

He’d been slogging though the book, hoping it got better, and finally asked online for some encouragement. I couldn’t offer him that – I’ve never read anything of Gaiman’s – but it made me think about quitting. I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading over the last week. Some of it was sheer escapism, after a grueling couple of months finishing up the degree. Some of it was the hope that if I prime the pump, my own stories will well up, and a little part of it was researching since I’ve been reading non-fiction and fiction. But as much as I am binge-reading, I’ve been quitting. I quit reading a series when it became badly edited, repetitious and mean-spirited (non-fiction set in a hospital ER). I quit reading a book when I was so bored I kept falling asleep on my tablet. I quit reading another book because it was so dated the cop procedures in it would only be useful if I were to write a historica.. coff, a book set in the mid-1970s.

In this day and age, with reading material so bountiful it’s almost unimaginable… Did you know you can find the whole Conan series for free on Amazon in one handy collection? Sherlock was free yesterday, too! Anyway, there’s no need to cling to whatever text is handy. Gone are the days you had to read the soap bottle (if you still must, I recommend Dr Bronner’s) or the cereal box. Now, I can prop my phone up next to the bowl (hm, I have a hankering for cheesy grits now) and access an unimaginable library to my ten-year old self. I’m living the science fiction future and it’s chock full of books!

This poses a problem, though. I’ve gotten old enough to confront my own mortality and recognize that I have limitations in life. I’ll never be able to read All the Books. I may not even be able to read all the books physically in my house as I write this. Certainly not all the books on my eLibraries in various places. I’ll die with books unread, and confronting that makes me react in way that may seem a bit childish to some. Faced with the bitter reality, I’ve become a quitter. I want to eat my dessert first. To savor the Good Books, and scrape the equivalent to dog poo sandwiches into the trash bin, then click the empty trash button. Life is short. Too short to waste my precious time on bad books. So yes, I’m a quitter.

But enough about my habits. What books are you addic… Er, overly fond of? Let’s bring in the New Year with joy, escapism, and shenanigans between the pages!

Reading on a Budget

As we were working on the family budget last night, I looked at the line item for Kindle Unlimited, and pondered canceling it for a moment. I haven’t been reading since… August. Maybe even since late June. I just haven’t had much time. The First Reader shrugged when I asked him what he thought “I don’t use it.”

Actually, he does, he just doesn’t always realize it. The man reads whatever I put on the kindle account, if it catches his eye, he just doesn’t often ask me for specific titles. But it did get me thinking about a couple of things. First isn’t really related to books. Well, sort of.

Reading time is usually important for me. It’s how I retreat from the world, relax, and come back refreshed and ready to go again. I haven’t had much of that (up until very recently and more on that later) for months, which isn’t a good thing. The First Reader reads for much the same reasons, and his reading has been on lunch breaks, mostly. He also goes through kicks where he’s reading one author, and we mostly own those books in paper. Both of us are, normally, voracious readers, which is why Kindle Unlimited seemed to have been a good idea when I signed up for it a year or so ago. If you didn’t know, you can borrow up to ten titles at a time. Once you read a book, you can return it and immediately borrow another. In other words, unlimited reading material and yes, the author gets paid (although reviews per read are lower, please keep in mind reviews matter if you want to keep books coming from a favorite author).

Reading seasons, at least for us, fluctuate. I’ve not been reading much. The First Reader and I, talking a while back, discussed these dry spells where reading (and I should clarify that this pertains to fiction, I’ve been reading massive amounts of scientific papers and textbooks) is difficult. It feels weird to us, like we’re somehow ill and it’s unsettling to not be able to read. I discovered that my ‘dry spell’ was broken once we were moved into the new house, by a small thing that wasn’t possible at the old house. We have a proper bathtub. So I can sit and soak in the tub and read. I can’t indulge often – perhaps weekly – but I have confirmed something else by doing this.

My fiction creative well is somewhat linked to my reading. I’ve been getting flashes of stories since I was able to do this. Not much, yet, I don’t have the time to let it be more than the illumination of scenes in a flashbulb moment. But they are coming. I was beginning to wonder if I was broken.
But back to the kitchen table discussion. We try to sit down now at the first of the month and formally plan out what will be spent that month. With the kids here, and the move to the rented house (and the long-term plan of buying a home in a few years), we’re trying to be intentional about money. It also makes me think ahead, and realize that with school ending in less than two weeks, I’ll have reading time again. And writing time! And… actually, it’s a bit scary, the whole school-done thing. I need to ramp up the job search, but I also want to write like heck to get some income rolling in down the line.

I’m rambling. I think my point, lost somewhere in the weeds up there, is that I can’t be the only reader who has to justify their book habit in a budget meeting. I even have the advantage that as a writer, I can argue it’s necessary for business reasons. As that businesswoman, I am acutely aware that my readers won’t even look at my ebook if it’s 9.99 or more. Well, they might. If it’s available through their local library. So I scrutinize my pricing, and I put my work in the KU library, and as a result even though I haven’t put out a new novel in well over a year now, I have a steady trickle of people reading my stuff, and buying it. I imagine if I looked around at promo sites, and put some money in advertising, I could swell that trickle, but until I’m ready to push the next book, that’s not in the budget either.

So for me, Kindle Unlimited is worth the ten dollars a month. It’s a fairly large pool of reading material, and as with any book marketplace, Sturgeon’s Law applies. You will have to look to find the good stuff, although for me the alsobots help with that. And there are scammy books in KU, which offend me not just as a reader but a writer. The scam is that someone figured out Amazon calculates pages read not on each click of the page (good news to the privacy conscious) but on where in the book you are when you sync with wifi again. So the scammers put in TOC links, or other links, which when the reader clicks, take them to the back of the book. Voila! KU is tricked into paying out for hundreds or thousands of pages read. This kind of crap makes it harder for real authors, and in some ways is almost worse than the poorly-written crap that just makes people give up after a few pages. (hat tip to George Phillies for the article link).

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial (Yes, shameless promotion. I do get a little ad money if you sign up for the free trial through this link, in interest of full disclosure)

Oh, and I don’t read on my tablet in the bath, although I could (large Ziploc in case of splashes or sleepy author dropping), instead I’m working through some of my paper TBR pile. Having just moved, I can see all my books again. And it makes me aware of how deplorably disorganized they are… nope. Not touching that until after graduation. The list of to-do-while-I’m-supposed-to-be-writing is growing ever longer.

Of reading and buying and other things

This past week has been busy. I’ve been pounding away at the keyboard, adding a new opening section to Dagger of Elanna, one I think better serves the overall story arc. I’ve been looking over edits, not only for my own work but for someone else as well. I’ve had meetings and other “normal life” distractions. So, when it came time to blog this morning, I worried I might not find anything to write about. Wrong! The problem turned into narrowing it down.

Okay, let’s get the important part out of the way first. If Hell hasn’t frozen over, it is definitely experiencing a cold wave. After all, the Cubs AND the Indians are in the World Series. What other explanation can there be?

The first item to catch my attention this morning was yet another “study” — and I use that term loosely — supposedly confirming that boys don’t read as much and don’t comprehend as well as their female counterparts. This particular study was done by Keith Topping, a professor at the University of Dundee. What set my B-S meter off where this study is concerned was the method of collecting data.

The studies drew on data from a computer system used in schools across Britain to test the progress of pupils’ reading. First, a pupil reads a book either at school or at home. Next, the pupil takes a computerised quiz of five, 10 or 20 questions depending on the length of the book. Then the pupil and teacher receive immediate computerised feedback from the Accelerated Reader programme, with reports detailing the books read, the number of words read and the book’s reading level – along with the child’s level of comprehension, as indicated by the percentage of correct answers in the quiz.

Now, there is so much wrong here that I’m not sure where to begin. We don’t know if these books were assigned by the school or if they were books chosen by the students and approved of by the school, etc. My guess is they were books assigned by the school. Then there is the fact that this sounds like it is nothing more than standardized testing. My guess is these questions were multiple choice or true-false questions. I don’t know about you, but I did lousy on those sorts of tests. There are studies out there showing the problems with that sort of test. Add in that you aren’t giving the student a chance to explain their answer or expound upon it.

Studies like this are pet peeves of mine. I had to fight to get my son to read after his third grade teacher turned him — and other boys in his class, as well as a few girls — off of reading by using it as punishment. She purposely chose books for them to read that she knew they wouldn’t enjoy. Why? I have my guesses and they aren’t fit to print in this blog. But by her own words, she did it to punish them. Her reasoning? They had been reading things she hadn’t approved of.

As I said, it took me more than a year to get him interested in reading again. I’ve described the process here before. Basically, one of the youth librarians at our local library — a wonderful woman who also worked at one of the local schools — turned him on to manga after asking him what he enjoyed. Imagine that. She wanted to know what interested him. Now he is an avid reader. He reads fast, retains what he reads and he enjoys it. But, like me, give him a multiple choice test over what he read and he will freeze. It isn’t because he didn’t read and digest what was in the book. It’s because his brain doesn’t work that way.

Instead of taking shortcuts and using second and third-hand data, the researcher would have a better chance of proving his point if he had conducted the tests himself. If he had used a mix of computerized and discussion questions. But no. It was easier to do it this way. I suspect it also fit his narrative better but that’s just me. Oh, and it might help to ask the boys what they want to read instead of handing them a “classic” or something similar.

The next piece that caught my attention centers on Barnes & Noble. Leonard Riggio is once again in charge of the bookseller. In an article published by the New Yorker, Riggio makes several comments that left me shaking my head. According to the article, Riggio wanted to scale back the size of the stores years ago. But, because things were going well then, it didn’t happen. Now, the company is left with these huge stores at a time when smaller, much smaller, locally owned bookstores are returning to the marketplace.

Then there is his comment about what the real difference is between the smaller stores and B&N. According to the New Yorker, “The only thing that he believes distinguishes new-generation independent bookstores from Barnes & Noble is better food and drink, which is something he hopes to capture in the new concept stores. Those stores will have Scandinavian-looking cafés with fully licensed bars, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

What?

Sorry, but no. The real difference between the smaller stores and B&N comes down to two things. First, stock. The smaller stores are BOOK stores. The customer knows the moment they walk into a smaller, locally owned store or chain that the emphasis is going to be books and magazine. You know, stuff you can read. They don’t have to wade through displays and aisles filled with knick-knacks and toys and puzzles and who knows what else before they get to the books. The second difference is the staff. In the smaller stores, the staff usually knows the stock better, they have a passion for books and — gasp — they will order something for the customer if it isn’t in stock. I finally gave up trying to order anything from B&N because I got tired of having to educate them that there are books out there that weren’t on their shelves.

As for the cafe and being able to buy a drink — or three — as well as full meals? Sorry, while it is nice to grab a cup of coffee while shopping, I don’t go there to eat. From a merchant’s point of view, there are going to have to be safeguards put up to make sure those who buy liquor don’t go wandering the store. Those same safeguards have to be in place to make sure the liquor doesn’t go outside the shop. The easiest way to do that will be to make sure nothing leaves the cafe and that sort of defeats the purpose. How often do you see someone at B&N buy their coffee or tea and then go wandering through the rest of the store?

The New Yorker hits the proverbial nail on the head with this, “Riggio may be missing the bigger lesson of independent bookstores and the intangible experience of shopping there. The independent bookstores that have proved successful are uniquely suited to the community they’re in.” Unless and until B&N recognizes this, it will continue to struggle. As long as it continues to use a system where what sells in major markets determines what is on the shelves and for how long in other markets across the nation, he fails to get the “uniquely suited for the community they’re in” aspect.

Finally, there was this:

“The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are,” he said. “It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.” His target market is the same as other book retailers: young, educated customers, and women with small children.

First, not only no, but NO. Price is often the defining determination on where a customer will buy a book. Indie bookstores have come to understand that they have to do something to get customers through the door. They do this in a number of ways. Part of it is location. Foot traffic is important. Part is ambiance. Part is staff. A lot of it comes down to this — once the customer is in the door, they make him feel important and welcome.

As for the target market, what? What about those who are older and have disposable income and time to read? Those customers are the ones more likely to buy a physical book than an e-book. They have more time to go to the bookstore and browse and, duh, make impulse buys than a mother with kids in tow.

And folks wonder why I have little faith that B&N will survive long term.

What are your thoughts?

And now for the mandatory promo bit.

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) is now available for purchase.

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Witchfire Burning is the start of a new series. However, it takes place in the same town as Slay Bells Ring and some of the same characters are present in both. Both have a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance. Witchfire adds in an urban fantasy note as well. While it wasn’t a book I had planned when I sat down at the beginning of they year to figure out my publication schedule, it’s one that decided it needed to be written and I had a blast doing it. I hope you guys all enjoy reading about Quinn and company as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Also, for those who prefer print versions, it should be available in approximately two weeks. I’ll make an announcement when that version is ready.

Also, Skeletons in the Closet, a novella in the same series as Witchfire, will go live on Amazon later today, fingers crossed.

Taking responsibility

MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.

In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.

Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.

However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?

Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.

With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.

Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.

The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.

Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.

What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.

Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.

Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.

I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.

So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.

Responsibility.

To read and think before condemning.

There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.

Responsibility.

To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.

Responsibility.

To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.

It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.

With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.

In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.

Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.

Walking the tightrope

There’s a tightrope every author walks these days, whether they admit it or not. It’s not new. It is probably as old as that first storyteller sitting around the fire entertaining the family or tribe. It is that line between entertainment and message and how much of one spoils the other. It is an issue that has taken on a life of its own of late as some people tell us we have to have a checklist of characters in our work so that everyone who might read it feels included. Others tell us that if you aren’t of the same sex/race/gender identification/whatever as your main characters, you can’t write the story. Then some tell us we shouldn’t read an entire group of authors — for a year or forever — because they are male or for some other reason.

But, as I said, that’s nothing new. It has just taken on a life of its own in this day of instant communication. The internet has given us all a voice and some are more circumspect about what they say, where they say it and how it might impact not only those they are attacking but others as well.

The result of this is that the balance pole writers used to have as they crossed the crevice on the tightrope has been removed. We are being forced to do our best Wallenda Family imitation and, I’ll tell you here and now, it isn’t easy and there are times when you ask yourself if it is worth it. Fortunately, for myself at least, when I get to that point, someone shows up with a PM on Facebook or through email to ask when my next book is coming out because they enjoy my work.

And yet the uncertainty lingers.

I ran into this tightrope without knowing it when I wrote Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I found some of those who read the book, a very small minority, had issues with it because the main character. Not because Ashlyn Shaw was a Marine. Not even because she was female but because she was a female Marine in battle. These readers’ concerns would have had merit if the book was set today and on this planet. But the novel is set far away from Earth and at a time in the distant future. Powered battle armor assists every Marine, as do implants that enhance the Marines. But all they saw was a woman in combat and they instantly thought I was trying to signal some sort of message.

I wasn’t. Far from it, in fact. I was simply writing the story that had come to me. Fortunately, when I spoke with those who had the issue about the differences between combat now and in the book, most admitted they had not thought about the differences between combat now and combat in the future. With that in mind, they reconsidered their objections to the book.

This isn’t the fault of readers. At least not as far as I’m concerned. It is the fault of certain publishers and authors who have decided it is their job to educate the reading public by hitting them over the head with message instead of subtly weaving their message into the story. As an author, we shouldn’t have to worry about successfully completing the checklist of characters and issues covered in our books for those books to be considered readable. Yes, we can do all that and make certain people in our industry happy but, if the book doesn’t entertain, what’s the point? A boring book, a book that makes readers feel they are being lectured to, won’t sell. As an indie author, that is the curse of death. As a traditionally published author, it might take a bit longer but, sooner or later, the publisher will cut you loose because you aren’t making them money.

The fallout is that now readers flinch at the first sign of what might be a message, whether it is or not. That is a shame because they see what looks like a signal from the author and quit reading right there. How many good books are missed as a result?

Is such a response reasonable? I don’t know. I know I’ve been guilty of it and have realized it only after others I respect and who share a similar taste in reading to me have said I really needed to give a book a second chance. When I have, I’ve realized I did the author a disservice by not reading further to see if what I thought was a trigger was merely a plot device or, in one particular case, a red herring.

In another, I initially put the book down because I did think it was pushing a Feminist agenda. Then others I know read it and started talking about it in ways that made me wonder if I had misjudged. So I went back day before yesterday and started reading it again. When I did, I fully expected to react exactly as I had the first time. To my surprise, I didn’t. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I was in a different head space than I had been the first time I tried. Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the middle of trying to write a book. Whatever it was, as I read, I knew I had been wrong.

The book wasn’t promoting some Feminist agenda. It wasn’t a “sisters, we must unite against the evil men” sort of book. It was, in fact, a Regency in space.

Oh, I can see how some people could think differently because, at first glance, I did as well. But all this book actually did was take the same basic plot elements we have seen time and time again — and there is nothing wrong with that because there are no new plots. What is new is how the author deals with those point — and switched the sexes out. It isn’t the first time it has been done, nor will it be the last.

If the book at been about the male spacer who had been estranged from his family for years being called home by the dowager mother to do his duty and rescue the ditzy younger sister who had wound up getting herself kidnapped, I wouldn’t have blinked twice the first time I tried to read the book. After all, I’ve read that sort of plot time and time and time again. But this time, it was the daughter who was the spacer and estranged from her family. Her proud father — is he sexist? Probably, but he read more as someone used to being in control and now isn’t and he is reacting badly to his new situation. — calls her home and has to admit, much to his chagrin, that her brother is not only a fool but has managed to get himself kidnapped and now daddy dearest needs the renegade daughter to do her duty to her family and try to rescue her brother.

Same plot, just different genders.

And, again, not new.

It is just that, in this day and age when we are being hit over the head with message fiction and being told we need it so we will learn to be better people, a lot of readers are gun shy. They see something that might not be there simply because they have been hit in the head too many times. As I said, I’ve been guilty of it. Now I need to remember what that feels like as a writer and try to give the author a chance, especially if that author is being published by a house I trust.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal the last 24 hours or so. How do we avoid this pitfall some in traditional publishing have put in our path? I’m not sure. All I do know is I have to remember that it is a tightrope but there is solid land on the other side of crevice and I can and will make it there. So, too, will I as a reader. I just have to step carefully, keep my eyes and ears open and remember not to close my mind.

And hope a great big gust of wind doesn’t come along and blow me off.

To help anchor against that wind, I will keep writing and, sigh, keep promoting my work. Yes, sigh. I suck at the self-promotion bit. But Sarah and the others tell me I have to do it so, here it is.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. Publication date is April 18th.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

 Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4).

The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.

If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.

What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.

For a change of pace, if you enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check it outSlay Bells Ring.

Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.

Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.

Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.