Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of Year Observance from one Writer to Another

It’s time to reflect. The end of the year is a good time to do that; one’s birthday is even better. Nevertheless, I do a lot of introspection these days. My horoscope said 2011 would be a superb year in which I would have much success in many areas including, publishing, the arts (meaning to me – writing), journalism, job opportunities, increased wealth, love, etc., etc. In fact, I have had some success in those areas but not what I expected when I published my novel earlier this year.

Even though I may have accomplished some of my goals, I feel I've been less than successful in others.  But this is intended as a message of inspiration -- not of disappointment!

You see, one must look at things from a positive perspective. (My son Stephen says, you get more of what you focus on). So, let me recite instead the good things that have happened in my life recently.

I’ve expanded my writing community through the publication of my novel.

I’m averaging 20 or so hits a day on my blog. Not a lot, but growing.

Sales from my book got off to a pretty slow start earlier in the year, but are now picking up.

I was selected (without promoting myself) to become a featured novelist by 5-STAR books and their new website.

I’ve had a few good reviews that I didn’t have to pay for.

I have friends who are there when I need them and are very supportive.

I live in a nice house, and am not picking through trash cans to stay alive.

I’m robust and healthy and full of the “ol’ Nick,” as my husband likes to say.
I have a good man who helps me through the dark times.

My writing has been described as compelling, lucid, graceful, limpid, and thoughtful.

This is certainly progress and yet I want more. 

You see, I’ve been writing since I was twelve, seriously writing. I started when I received a five year diary and believed I would not live to finish it at seventeen. The diary turned into journals, essays, short stories, novels, plays and now blogs. 

I make myself remember the history behind Karl Marlantes’ novel, “Matterhorn, a novel of the Vietnam War.” I love his story because it reflects the victory of the human spirit over rejection upon rejection. Here is a veteran who came home from war in the early seventies, began writing a novel at that time, tried to get published, was rejected, tried again, put it in the drawer, dragged it out a year or so later, submitted again, and was still rejected. His novel was finally published by Atlantic Press in 2010. That’s something like 35 years, folks.

I decided not to wait that long and have gone the "Indie" route. But I believe in the tireless perseverance of people like Marlantes who have the faith in themselves and in their talent to keep at it -- those of you who are still trying to go through the agent-publisher-rejection routine.  I wish you nothing but  success and a good financial advisor.

As for me, I'm a hard woman to keep down.  I will never stop writing for long, and I, like many of you, have an agenda of projects that are as long as my arm.  In fact, just writing about it here and now, inspires me to sit down tomorrow and begin my next novel.  I have a spunky protagonist who wants to be heard and the conflict is as weird and whacky as I am and maybe a little complicated, too.  I like that.

For better or worse, we are writers who don't just talk about it.  We follow the voices wherever they may take us and we learn from them -- the sometimes weird, quirky characters that rise up out of our imaginations and clarify who we are. These people make sense out of a sometimes non-sensical existence.  They keep me sane even if they are in-sane.  I love them and I miss them and I can't live without them.

Because of that, I can never stop writing and neither can you.  That is the one thing we can never do. That would be anathema to everything we are.
So, here's wishing us all a very happy and busy new year, filled with writing, learning, good conversations with interesting people at the coffee shop or in our minds and in keeping our focus and our faith.   

Ciao for now, Sue McGhee

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hunt

It was the annual harvest ritual, replete with rites of initiation and blood sacrifice. They flew out from Florida every November except the year his mother died and stayed with Uncle Roy and Aunt Mathilda and their two sons in Longmont, Colorado. Usually there was snow, deep and feathery and difficult to walk in. Adrian and his cousins learned to lift their legs high out of the powder and chase one another, their knees pumping like pistons, and then fall back in the soft snow to flap their arms producing angels’ wings.

They learned to track, silently and respectfully, trying to think like the animal they hunted. After hours of shivering behind a blind of bark, they were cold and stiff but they also ached with excitement, waiting for the chosen one to appear. Adrian mostly remembered the hush, holy and mystical. It was as though the meadow were a sacred place, filled with green-tinted snow to commemorate a tradition of lush foliage. It shimmered like a fairy land and even the tiniest twig of the smallest bush twinkled its own special message from individual shrouds of ice: hush, hush, you raucous boys. You trespassers from an alien world.  The snow itself muffled their human sounds and softened their other-world intentions.

He had loved the stillness but he had not loved the kill; the gutting of the still warm, quivering animal as the life force escaped in steam into the frigid air; the roping of the carcass across camper top and the driving home to grateful and admiring women undermined by the fury of his sister: it's murder she had said.  It's tradition, he answered. But he couldn't say more because he was unsure himself.

He hadn't liked the killing and his father had not insisted on his liking it, but he had made him go along to learn about it.  It wasn't just a sport, he father said. It was a necessary skill on the approach towards manhood. One must know how to survive the wilderness if one is to be a complete human being -- a man. But he was adamantly opposed to reckless killing and killing of the young. Hunting was a noble endeavor—a contest between man and beast in the animals’ own domain; it is man against nature—a ritual contest whose roots lay within man’s deepest racial memory.  Man should not be against Nature, his sister had countered, he should be a part of it. His father continued that when the odds become unbalanced, the integrity is diffused and it becomes an ego trip amounting to slaughter.

Adrian still remembered the late night camaraderie  around a wood fire and how he shivered close to his father absorbing the inevitable ghost stories, fishing tales and glorifications of the hunt until late hours. And finally, with the smoke from the campfire captured in his hair, he would stumble off to bed, snuggling inside his mummy bag, shivering naked within, until he and the bag became one huge mound of well-fed flesh, and he slept.  He had awakened to the sizzle and sound of bacon frying, the flames of the campfire whipping in the raw winds whistling down the mountains, and to the ubiquitous aroma of coffee boiling up into a thick, black liquid into which his father had ultimately dropped all of the egg shells, in order to clear it up and make it potable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pablo Neruda

Almost Christmastime! Merry Christmas to all.

While I was writing my novel, "When the Eagle Flies with the Condor, I had the opportunity to research Pablo Neruda, who was, more than likely, the favorite poet of Che Guevara, a real-life/fictional character in my book.

Neruda said:

"On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished.  That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordineary family of humanity."

I say, that without poetry, without literature, without any ot the arts, man is bereft of that special magic which makes him god-like.  Neruda and most poets, whether they are painters, musicians, actors or writers know that like bread, poetry--the arts--feeds us and thus we become remarkable.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ron Paul and Iowa Debate

My take:

I have a lot of regard for Ron Paul, more so after tonight's debate.  He agreed with Obama's policy on Iran (a dangerous thing to do in a Republican debate), and he even brought up JFK's wise use of diplomacy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course, it will hurt him in the Iowa Primary in January -- his numbers will begin to slip, but the point is, he's a reasonable man who deplores the trigger happy,  reflexive rush to war at every juncture, when diplomacy might work instead. 

His answer about the judiciary was the most reasonable as well.  I admire him.

Bachman had a strong performance tonight, though I don't agree with her on the issues (She would choose Clarence Thomas as one of her favorite justices? Please!)  She had to stand up to Newt's patronizing characterization of her as a less than serious candidate for getting her facts wrong.  She had to come out strong and put him in his place. As a woman I applaud her for doing just that.

Unfortunately, Huntsman did not have a strong night.  Perhaps New Hampshire is his best bet and perhaps he would be able to balance the ticket running as vice president to an extremely conservative president.  But I think it would be a mistake; Huntsman is presidential material and should not take a back seat to any of the others on that stage.  

The Twitter consensus is that Romney did well and Newt slipped a bit. So it looks like it's  "Newt Romney" to the finish. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Lincoln - Douglas Debate (I think)

Alas! I missed it and I was so looking forward to seeing Huntsman display his considerable foreign policy credentials. There was a live feed on-line and a promise to be re-broadcast on C-Span at 8pm EST.  I figured I could watch in on TV so never bothered with the on-line feed.

From the reviews I've read so far, it was a success, but less than a reak debate.  Most reviews  were positive for both participants and happy that they were allowed to voice their policy stances unencumbered by 1.5 minute time limits and the pesky "gotcha" questions from journalists.

Huntsman had much to gain, but Gingrich was apparently generous; they were both firm yet civil and added some humor;  it was a good forum, most reviewers said (with one expection: Molly Ball from The Atlantic who called it "the debate that wasn't," or something like that.)

I was hoping the meeting might bring Huntsman out of obscurity and up in the polls, especially in New Hampshire where he apparently has good numbers anyway.  Some commentators believe his success in New Hampshire could hurt Romney and that would be good for Gingrich as well.

My question is:  what happened to the C-Span re-broadcast? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The GOP's Only Reasonable Choice.

Jon Huntsman was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria this morning on CNN and I was very impressed.

This seems to me to be the only reasonable choice for a presidential nominee in the entire GOP stable of candidates outside of Ron Paul. If I were a Republican (which i’m not) i’d be supporting either Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul for the nomination for president, but since Paul is outside the mainstream, even though he appeals to a lot of us independents, i would have to favor Huntsman for nominee.

Dr. Paul certainly has his following though. I don’t agree with all of his philosophy, but I admire his consistency, his passion and his impatience with the greed in our government. He’s against sticking our noses in other countries and fighting wars we don’t belong in.

Mitt Romney is a little too oily for me and too eager to please whatever audience he’s in front of, even though I’m sure he’s a fine family man and loving father. But the voters are wary of him.

Newt Gingrich is by far too unpredictable and arrogant for my taste; sure he’s been in government for decades, but he’s a slippery ol' gas bag.  And he will lose in any debate with President Obama because of his off the cuff carelessness. Not only that, but imagine the two of them together on stage:  Obama’s cool, svelte demeanor next to Newt’s over the belt paunchiness. It may not be fair, but appearance made the difference in the Kennedy - Nixon debate in 1960. 

I admire Michelle Bachman, not for what she professes but for her incredible audacity. I like her gutsiness and her fortitude in holding her own, debate after debate, against all that testosterone on stage. Still, not a chance at the nomination.

Rick Perry has embarrassed himself to the point where I’m beginning to feel sorry for him. His support is dwindling.

Ah yes, and then there’s Rick Santorum about whom I have really nothing to say.

So if the Republicans want a chance at the Whitehouse in 2012 they had better start looking for a viable candidate. Jon Huntsman is their best bet to win.

Huntsman is an intelligent man, a former governor, a statesman, having served as ambassador to China and Singapore. He is moderate and broad-minded, which appears to be his problem with the tea party people – far too reasonable, too well spoken, much too intelligent.  He's in favor of term limits and believes in the science behind environmental issues and he's doing well in New Hampshire.

Above all, Jon Huntsman handles himself well, does not pander, did not sign Grover Norquist’s demeaning and humiliating tax pledge and refuses to kiss the ring on Donald Trump’s hand by attending the two-person debate at Trump’s request.

It will be interesting to see how he and Newt fare on the stage Monday night in what has been described as the first Lincoln-Douglas debate of the season.

I will be watching.  Will you?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Slices of Life

In the New Mexico desert, the ruins sprawled as they had for centuries, loose and broken like carelessly discarded baubles in the sand, ancient products from the sweat of skilled masons who had produced them a millennia before.  The people -- they were called the Anasazi -- had wandered off somewhere between the tenth and twelfth centuries to integrate with other Pueblo cultures of the southwest, but their ancestors remained here, buried in the red earth and ancient volcanic eruptions.  The Anasazi: the ancient ones.

They entered the canyon northeast of Pueblo Bonito but he was moving very quickly, making it difficult for her to keep up. He walked west, his eyes focused on something ahead, something she could not see.  The hot winds blew down the mountains in an inverted arc while the sun toasted them as brown as the forgotten race who lived there.  She followed him, chattering now and then, wanting attention but getting none.  She ran ahead, climbing the walls as he passed by, poking her head through windows and doorways, then jumping down in front of him.  She clowned from the stone tops and occasionally he'd smile indulgently but then continued on his pilgrimage, his face stern and opaque.  He trudged off towards Bonito, glancing around now and then to see that she was following.

They wandered through the multi-dwelling structures and could almost smell the dung-fueled fires whose smudges were captured in the petrified remains.  They examined the low-slung passage ways, the cooking hearths, kivas and sleeping stations, all in a remarkable state of preservation, efficiently designed by the strongly matrilineal society with an eye towards function.  He ran to a pile of rocks and scrambled to the top, searching the plains, his hand shading his eyes from the final blast of a dying sun, a gesture reminding her of those who had come before.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I can feel it."

"Feel what?"

"Like a. . .voice. . .like a message. . ."

"That's not funny," she said.  "Please come down."

She looked up and waited.  There was no laughter, no crooked grin.  The winds blew and still she waited for the insult, the irreverent epithet.  But he stood on this rock, face flushed, the muscled rib cage marking cadence with his breath, looking west towards the hills.  She was sorry now that they had come.  She felt as abandoned as the ruins surrounding them.  

Finally he slid down, his face red from the heat, and caked with clay.  He was tired now and they both smelled of sweat.  "Come on," he said and took her hand and they walked to the lee side of one of the dwellings.  They lay down in the shade, sharing a single can of Coke between them, listening to the voices of generations: ancestors, progenitors, the mothers of races.

From "Voices" Copyright (c) 2011 by Sue McGhee

Friday, December 2, 2011

Newt's Approach to Solving Poverty

Most people who know me, know that Newt Gingrich is my least favorite of the current stable of GOP candidates, but for a multitude of reasons that are not associated with the flap over his recent statement about putting poor children to work.

I think he's right on this issue,  but his solution applies to all of us, not just the destitute and therefore, could have been worded a bit more artfully.

He's right because all children should have a model, parental or otherwise, of an adult who works to earn a living or is looking for work,  or otherwise contributes by working at something that helps family and community.  I know about the jobless rate and how hard it is to get a job.  I'm sure it's easy to become inured to not working for months and months, becoming disillusioned and essentially giving up.

That's why his idea is a good one!  Allow children of non-working families--of all families--to learn what it's like to earn a dollar by their own labor and enjoy that heady sense of empowerment that comes from feeling truly worthy (worth-y).

Sure, these kids could assist in the school library as he said. That would teach them not just responsibility but would instill in them a love for books and reading, yes even perhaps a thirst for knowledge (and therefore lead to higher degrees of learning). That's not such an outlandish idea, is it?   Helping out in the school cafeteria, even cleaning toilets isn't out of the question either. 

This is not a class issue;  it's about a whole attitude that is claiming the work ethic with which many of us were raised.  I baby sat, delivered local papers, worked in a drug store after school -- I did many things in order to have my own money.  But that was because I was encouraged to do so by my parents.

When people have children, their responsibility is to teach them responsibility. And the most effective way of teaching is through example.  I think what he's saying is that if they don't always have that example to learn from, give them another way out. 

I think his idea could solve several inter-related problems that appear to be unsolvable:  if more of our teens worked at menial jobs (busing tables, washing dishes, delivering papers, caddying for golfers, waiting on tables as I did) even working in the fields during summer vacation as my husband did, there would be fewer illegals filling those roles.

I could never agree that our child labor laws are  "truly stupid" as Newt said.  They were put in place for good reason -- to prevent children from working in the fields instead of going to school, and we don't want that.  Obviously, we want our kids educated and that is why his idea appeals to me. It could become an adjunct to public education whose main benefit accrues to the kids, teaching them self-reliance, independence, the work ethic, social interaction, putting a few dollars in their pockets, reducing petty theft, dealing drugs and perhaps making a small dent in the economy.

I'm not talking about putting nine-year olds to work as he was. I'm saying that kids of all ages could learn from a tiered (graduated)  program promoted by the schools that would allow school children of all ages to benefit.  I see it as comparable to the allowances our parents gave us for taking care of a pet and cleaning our rooms and mowing the lawn.  Think about it. 

Is it possible that the "idea man" from those days as house "whip" has actually come up with a decent idea!
(See my rant "Where's the Sacrifice?" way back on May 16 in which I vent my spleen on related issues).