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Good To Know

Paganism Revealed

Pagans get a bum rap. They are Satan worshippers, or they are witches casting evil spells and making people into zombies by sticking pins into them. They dance at night in the trees and in the day they give you evil-eyed stares.


Let's right now understand what Pagans are not. They are not devil worshippers. They are not a religion. All religions have a form of devil worship. But in the case of Pagans, devils are just the bad things that happen as opposed to the good things.


Duality. That permeates most all of the ancient cultures composed of people who could be called Pagans. Yes, Paganism is the oldest form of 'religion' in the world, but it's not technically a religion at all.


The interesting thing about Paganism is that each person is free to develop their own beliefs based on their dreams, and no one would dare argue with another person's dream. Dreams were just another level of reality. No one who calls themselves Pagan would dare to tell you to believe as they do.


There are some beliefs in Paganism around the world that are pretty standard, however. Beliefs in ancient cultures had oral traditions, not written ones; we can usually only guess how people felt about their spirituality back then by observing the last of these cultures today, by looking at historical records of early encounters and by their own art left behind or found underground.


Overall, however, there was this belief in duality: good/evil, man/woman, night/day, hot/cold, up/down. The change of the seasons affected them directly, without air conditioning or temperature gauges. Sure, they had enclosed structures and fire. But they had to worry about the fire going out, in ways that we don't today.


They understood a lot more than we give them credit for. They understood that they were a minute part of a huge universe, they understood the use of plants, and they examined the biology of other creatures, even comparing them to themselves. They must have wondered why a lot of male animals had a penis bone while human males did not. Did they understand human consciousness? Probably, as it can be found reflected on in their art.


So Pagans can be simply defined as a spirituality devoted to nature and individualistic depending on dreams; not something to be argued. In other words, I'm a Pagan and recognize that without Mother Earth, we would be dead. And I am not obsessed with convincing you to see it my way, as you might be with converting me to your religion. Nor would I denigrate you to feel inferior to me, as Europeans did to the native Indian cultures in this country when they first arrived.


Here's an internet definition of Paganism.


Wikipedia: is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions—primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, it has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic folk/ethnic religion. The term pagan was historically used as one of several pejorative Christian counterparts to "gentile" as used in the Hebrew Bible—comparable to "infidel" or "heretic". Modern ethnologists often avoid this broad usage in favour of more specific and less potentially offensive terms such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism when referring to traditional or historical faiths. Since the 20th century, "Paganism" (or "Neopaganism") has become the identifier for a collection of new religious movements attempting to continue, revive, or reconstruct historical pre-Abrahamic religion. There are roughly 300 million pagans worldwide.


"Historical pre-Abrahamic (Judaism) religion." Yes, that would be the first organized religion that pulls its roots from Paganism. Orthodox Judaism is a spirituality that is practice a lot more on a daily basis, as were the early Pagans. Everything they did was with nature's gods in mind, both good and bad.


The book I'm working on is called "Creating Consciousness" and looks at the roots of all religions to find what it is that we created to deal with our fears of death. This is what sets us apart from the animals. All Paganism does is sees spirituality in everything, and that humans are all a part of nature. That's a good thing. That's a belief to be honored above all others, not demonized.

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Reflections: A comparison of two presidential campaigns

Jack Newfield's memoir of Bobby Kennedy is an intensely personal look inside the man before he decided to run for president; Newfield started following Bobby as a journalist in the autumn of 1966, and then covered that campaign through June 5, 1968. Apparently Newfield started out disliking him, noting that he'd picketed the Kennedy administration in 1963 at the Justice Department over the treatment of blacks to date. At that time Newfield was protesting black oppression, and saw Bobby come out. When someone yelled, "we haven't seen too many Negroes coming out of there," Bobby's only response was that they did not hire by the color of the skin, only by their ability. Bobby was booed for this. Two years later, Newfield found himself following Bobby as a journalist reporter.

 

So Newfield fills this book with intimate moments showing what Bobby was really like. He was a human being, and certainly flawed. He was not only complex, but contradictory. Newfield claimed he was a man at war with himself, especially in these early years after his brother was killed. This book made me understand Bobby more, and identify with him as a human being.

 

This is also a book that, in reading it today, shows how little politics has changed since then. I'll share some of those comparisons here in this summary of a book I highly recommend; it sells pretty cheaply used at Amazon.

 

Bobby is portrayed as a passionate, sensitive introvert, not naturally inclined to the political process but drawn to the nobleness of it. He could be moody, and he daydreamed. According to Newfield (54), he was "a nature sensualist. Clouds and rain depressed him. Sun, wind and the sea elated him. Mountains, rapids and animals exhilarated him."

His belief about the nobleness of the political process can be summed up in his own words (55): "…but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this? I'd like to feel that I'd done something to lessen that suffering."

 

In today's world so many people think all politicians are only crooked, no longer working to lessen anyone's suffering. But we have to believe that desire is still there in the people who want to run our country, or all hope is gone. Are we nothing more than dollar signs walking around?

 

Newfield (56) called this time between 1965 and 1968 "the most concentrated and violent change in American life since the 1930s." This book demonstrates that change as a reflection of the Vietnam War, just as our politics evolving today continue to reflect Bush's invasion of Iraq and growing terrorism that has resulted.

 

What's interesting about the 1968 political campaign year is that Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) became one of the first to decide not to seek re-election, which happened previously in 1884 with Cleveland. In Johnson's time, television was to the people what the internet is today, certainly a mover and driver of more information than people ever had access to before. They were showing Vietnam battles on nightly news, and that was unprecedented. I think there were some World War II scenes shown in movie houses, but nothing like this before. It's really not surprising that there would be an outgrowth of war protests with those kinds of visions. "Television, and the media in general, are now more powerful in determining politics than heredity is," noted the author (57).

 

People get upset over the idea of a "Clinton" dynasty, as some were over a "Bush" dynasty, but that's nothing new in American politics—the Adams, the Roosevelts, and here potentially the Kennedys. If one is suited to the task, with experience and education, the last name shouldn't be factor.

 

One of the criticisms of Hillary Clinton has been that she changes her mind. But a trait of a good leader is the ability to reassess. Bobby Kennedy did so on Vietnam and in his Vietnam speeches between 1965 and 1968 he would often apologize for the role he and his brother played on getting them involved. George McGovern's break with Johnson in 1965 had a big impact on him (130). He later said that if McGovern had run in '68, he would not have. The author also quoted a columnist here who believed Bobby stayed quiet all through 1965 to avoid a fight with President Johnson. Later the author said he made his first aniti-war statement in 1965, but became more vocal in '66, when the Senate too had begun to turn against the war (134).

 

Immediately Bobby faced a backlash of criticism from many, including those who had been friends with John Kennedy. "The general impression was that Kennedy got the worst of the political exchange because of the subtleties of his own position, and the potency of the simplistic anti-Communist rhetoric of his opponents" (135). Sometimes the development of the strength of convictions takes time, and in-depth analysis of the mood and pitch of the country's people; a true leader can change with the times and the will of the people.

 

But the backlash meant that Bobby stopped talking about the war for the remainder of 1966 (136), even as his opinions grew. Newfield gives readers the impression that Bobby was not the natural politician that his brother had been. But he wanted to be president because there were so many people to help, and he didn't know how else to help. His passion made people begin to rally around him. He felt real.

 

He was back at it in 1967, and this time, he did not give up. Here's from his last speech in 1968: "Do we have that authority (to kill) tens and tens of thousands of people because we say we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people? But have they been consulted—in Hue, in Ben Tre, in other towns that have been destroyed? Do we have that authority? ... What we have been doing is not the answer, it is not suitable, and it is immoral, and intolerable to continue it."

 

Bobby was afraid to run up against Johnson. They never got along and for a while, Johnson's politics were favorable; also, his brother had chosen him (though Bobby told him not to) (202). No love was lost between them during JFK's presidency; Bobby was often treated (and acted) like second-in-command. For these reasons he was late to declare himself an anti-war president, and was considered a coward for a while. Eugene McCarthy got in before him and gained a lot of support from the college crowd. Johnson at first—following the JFK assassination—received as high as 80% approval, and 69% of his bills in 1965 were passed, a record number (189).

 

Politics at this time revolved around poverty, racism, bureaucracy, foreign policies and war. How little things change, sometimes, no matter how hard we try. But in 1967 the revolution began, and it wasn't started by Bobby or the Beatles. It appears it started with the anti-draft movement (195), probably related to the news reports showing what went on in war. By early 1967 the Democrats were looking to replace LBJ. One movement was to draft Bobby, but he wasn't ready (19 . In June of that year, he was clearly in turmoil over his inability to challenge Johnson. At that time he used glowing praise for the president that he later regretted (203-204).

 

He finally began to travel the country in mid-January of 1968, making anti-war speeches, and his closest friends felt that meant he was running. He openly admitted to disliking McCarthy, calling him pompous, petty and venal. He couldn't endorse him. "Gene just isn't a nice person" (211-213).

 

Yet it was the Tet offensive beginning January 31, 1968 (234) that got Bobby into the race and not LBJ's decision not to run again, as I had thought. With McCarthy already running he was receiving a lot of support from the campuses and the Jewish communities. A number of Bobby's closest advisers jumped up to encourage him, but his brother Teddy remained uncertain (235).

 

Finally on March 16th he made his candidacy official : "I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies … I made it clear to Senator McCarthy … that my candidacy would not be in opposition to his, but in harmony … my desire is not to divide the strength of those forces seeking a change, but to increase it" (257).

He worked hard to gain the trust of the college crowd, who saw McCarthy as the man with courage. At first Bobby's audience was made of those who hated hippies and happy that Bobby was running against Johnson. He talked up the college revolution scene, saying that we need to attack life with all our youthful vigor (262-263).

 

By the end of March, "Kennedy Besieged … there was almost a riot at the airport, the crowds were out of control, and there as a brief fistfight between a Kennedy enthusiast and a McCarthy heckler." There seems to be a distinction here—enthusiast versus heckler? It's a perspective issue, same as today. Or it really was a McCarthy fan sending jeering words at a Kennedy fan. "I want to find jobs for all our people," said Bobby into a bullhorn. I want to find jobs for the black people of Watts, and the white people of eastern Kentucky. I want a reconciliation of blacks and whites in the United States" (273-274).

 

Reconciliation? You see, blacks and whites didn't always not get along. They don't all not get along today. See the movie Free State of Jones playing now and you'll see what I mean. The more we live with each other, the more we can. That's why desegregation was so important in the 1960s, but still, we see so many places today where a white hasn't seen a black, except on TV.

 

Bobby was devastated by the death of Martin Luther King, and was tempted to withdraw. Shades of Dallas had to have run through his head. But he knew he had to speak out. "But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land" (281).

 

And later: "For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter" (283).

 

How far have we come, really? Shouldn't we be ashamed that many of these words can still be said today? Where is the hope of the 60's?

 

Kennedy began winning heavily with the black population, to the point of Ethel saying, "don't you wish everyone was black?" (299) When Kennedy didn't do as well as expected, Newfield intimated a double standard: "If Kennedy had the relationship that McCarthy has with Shana Alexander and Mary McGrory, it would be a scandal. But Gene can get away with it because no one accuses him of buying off the press. So he gets a free ride."

 

If Kennedy was like Sanders early in the race, he became like Hillary later. Bobby appealed to the blacks, as Hillary does, and both are accused of duplicitous methods. Was Bobby using his brother's name? Newfield believed the opposite was true (303). By invoking their mistakes and how wrong the war was, and ramping up on Civil Rights, Bobby was making a name for himself. Hillary, too, puts herself squarely with the liberals and women's and black rights, and the need for more gun regulation.

 

A man heckled Bobby at one of his stops, and the police arrested him. Bobby said to let him go, but they wouldn't. So Bobby promised to get him out of jail as soon as he was elected. That kind of peaceful rhetoric seems missing now, where this kind of heckling had been easier to tolerate.

 

Bobby also pursued gun control legislation, and he tested the ground against rifles and hunters in Oregon, known for being very volatile state over the issue. He lost Oregon, but he loved to challenge his audiences, not cater to them (307). This was before the California vote, and if he didn't get that, he wasn't sure he could keep going.

 

His speech in Oregon is worth noting: "Nobody is going to take your guns away. All we're talking about is that a person who's insane, or is seven years old, or is mentally defective, or has a criminal record, should be kept from purchasing a gun by money order."

 

After Johnson announced he wasn't running, Bobby took on Hubert Humphrey with the same vigor of being pro-war that Johnson was. "If the Vice President is nominated to oppose Richard Nixon (and Nixon was pretty much running in the primary unopposed), there will be no candidate who has opposed the course of escalation of the war in Vietnam" (313).

 

In Oregon, McCarthy had scored heavily against Bobby, but Bobby didn't counterattack, fearing to appear ruthless, and not wanting to alienate McCarthy's college voters. He wanted people to see him as running against Humphrey. McCarthy, on the other hand, went after Bobby's previous pro-war record with his brother. But Newfield noted that Bobby was on record as being anti-war even before McCarthy (315).

 

Bobby finally agreed to debate McCarthy before the California primary, and of course they each won it, depending on who you listened to. But when his staff asked why Bobby blew the closing remarks so badly, he said, "You won't believe it, but I was daydreaming. I thought the program was over and I was trying to decide … where to take Ethel for dinner" (321-322).

 

The last time the author talked with Bobby, it was about Bob Dylan. Bobby had just heard the song "Blowing in the Wind" and was very struck by it. He decided he wanted to meet Dylan. As they talked and Newfield wondered how Bobby could win the activist students, Bobby turned to brood out the window again (324).

 

Toward the end of California campaigning, those in Bobby's camp decided that Bobby and McCarthy were alike on so many issues, and the focus still needed to be against Humphrey. Yet on June 4th McCarthy claimed that Martin Luther King had endorsed him; that Bobby once had his phones tapped (330). Some feared Bobby wouldn't take New York later. Others feared this country was going to kill another Kennedy, "and then we won't have a country" (327).

 

We all know what happened. He was killed, just after winning California. We can hope and pray that never happens in this country again, even as the death toll from guns rises. Newfield ends the book without mentioning the killer's name, and just asking "Why?" 

 

As you think about the campaign in 2016, let Bobby's last words stay with you:

 

I ask you to recognize the hard and difficult road ahead to a better America –and I ask you tomorrow to vote for yourselves. The people must decide this election—and this must decide so that no leader in America has any doubt of what they want. For your sake, and for the sake of your children, vote for yourself tomorrow (327).

 

I don't want to share the author's final words because, quite frankly, I don't want to believe them. "And from this time forward, things would get worse; our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone."

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The Big Commercial Shoot

Nerves were racing double time on my way to my first big commercial shoot. By big I meant more money in two days than I've ever made before. What if I let them down? What if they're disappointed?

 

I pulled up to park on the street where I could see an RV and all kinds of camera setup action going on. One girl directing traffic came over to me. "Are you our talent?"

 

Gosh, I loved being called that. I responded, "I'm playing Alice." I think my gray hair gave me away. The only other gray-haired I met that day was the fellow who owned the RV and rented it for cast and crew to have a bathroom and a place to veg.

 

I waited in the car because I was early, and then decided I had to find Maya, who I was told to call when I got there. She helped me unload my costumes and then I drove to a more appropriate parking spot.

 

I noted on the call sheet that there was going to be a safety meeting, but I never got to attend so I guess that was just for the crew. We are, after all, filming during a pandemic.

 

We were shooting at a house with the owner's permission although that did not include bathroom privileges. I was there from 8 am until 7 pm and usually prefer to hold it when I'm on an airplane. But discomfort aside, and the RV handy, the cast was welcoming and all wore safety masks.  I bonded with the little girl playing my granddaughter, as we got our bikes to practice for the first big scene. A storm was coming up the Mississippi River so we did all the outdoor scenes first. I brought my own helmet, as she did, and we got these old bikes with no gears to ride, so we had to practice breaking without using our hands.

 

Then we were told to get into position as the camera crew and director tried to figure out the best way to film the biking scene. This was the most complicated, and I was so glad we got that out of the way first. (I was in a low budget movie once where they saved the big dialog scene for last and I was fired because I couldn't get the lines exactly as in the script.) Granddaughter was so very charming and perfect in the role. I hope we'll be seeing more of her. (I was asked a few times if she was my real granddaughter.)

 

The trick in this scene was that I had to follow the mobile camera so close as to nearly touching; they wanted me to walk the bike and then seamlessly start to pedal. I just didn't know there was a way to do that seamlessly. The director finally agreed after several attempts, so that I had to start biking behind them as they moved, still close but a little more off to the side so they could see her behind me, and start pedaling right away without hitting the camera crew.

 

Then came their first criticism, but one I always expected to get. "Now you're not on stage here. You don't have to amplify those emotions. Just play it soft and sincere, dial it down." (To jump ahead, later he told me to dial it up again.)

 

Once the bike scene was considered a wrap, I was in for the surprise of my life. The crew told me to get into a funny looking contraption. I stared at it. "You want me to fly now?"

 

"No, you get to be the camera. The camera is strapped to you and it follows your moves."

 

"Oh." Well, that sounded clever to me. When they made me the only brace for it, I used a lot of hip, knee and abdominal muscles to hold it up. Odd how they never asked me if I ever suffered from back or knee pain. That's when it occurred to me. I really AM the focus of this commercial. Me.

 

Next was my bush-cutting scene where granddaughter and son come to greet me and all I had to do was react with pleasure when I heard their voices. They took away most of my lines, though. That was disappointing. After that scene ended, they took it off but said I'll be wearing this for the rest of the scenes.

 

And I sure did. They had one scene where I was supposed to be spray-painting the bike, but they felt my face was too close to the bike to pull that off, so they had to change it to just painting with a brush. The premise was that I was painting bikes as a hobby, and used to love riding bikes but was getting out of shape. In the scene where I was pushing granddaughter Lucy off on one of these bikes, I'm supposed to react to my smart watch signaling high blood pressure. But I thought they needed more there and gave them a chest clutching, hot breath pant as though I was going to pass out. Someone said, oh my goodness, help her, she's having a heart attack. That's not what they wanted. So I had to dial that back, too, and give them just a frown at the watch.

 

We got to do the bike painting scenes, Lucy and I, and they told us to have a little fun with it. So she got to paint my shirt, not just once, but several times, so I gave her 'that look.' That was the only other compliment I received, and they didn't use in the commercial.

 

Lucy was done by lunchtime. In the afternoon I had to film opening and shutting the garage door, supposedly with different expressions each time (before and after therapy), the in-house phone call to hear insurance reassurance, and the painting scenes that I did alone. I had to come back the next day to film just in the morning at another location. Those were the scenes where I was getting checked, and working out with exercises.

 

But it seemed like every time we changed to another scene, strapping me in again to that camera, I had to stand there for what felt like hours, with the camera strapped to me, my knees starting to give out. They had to have discussions of what they wanted, shoot several times, then get on video chat with the advertisers to make sure it was what they wanted before we could move on to another scene.

 

At the end, when we all called it's a wrap!, as I got ready to leave, I turned to the director and said, most politely, I hope you weren't disappointed.

 

He did not respond.

 

That was six months ago and I've not had another commercial since. All my subsequent auditions have failed. I guess this was a fluke, as I was maybe the only "oldster" still riding a bike, and I emphasized riding safely in my audition. Well, that's show biz.

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Rejection is Inevitable

It's happening again. The day before 2021 and I still get nothing but rejections.

 

I've been writing and submitting for over 30 years now. My first was in 1979 to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, and it was all single spaced. I got a better rejection then than I did from that same market just a few years back. Since then, the writing world has changed -- a lot.

 

I've turned down bad contracts, and put up with bad agents. I've won bad awards. I know there's potential in my work and I love listening to comments and suggestions.  One novel I changed a lot after listening to all the advice—get rid of the alien storyline, rework the past life musings, minimize the personal first person chitchat.  

 

One publisher, Divertir, asked me to remove the backstory from the beginning and weave it into the rest of the story. Divertir was the first publisher I chatted with over the phone, and because I couldn't comply with ALL his requests, he no longer considers anything I write. It's shame that I didn't understand that one change I couldn't do at the time, because I've since done that. It was published by a lesser publisher in 2016, whose contract I allow to lapse after the three years were up.

 

Now as a series with a new title, I can't find another publisher. I have the second in the series being read by Story Plant. I don't know if they're any good either, but he did reject Dinner at Marshall Fields because he thought the lead was too boring. I'm doing another intense edit to fix that. He said he couldn't read the one that had been published but might consider putting it out again if the series itself is good. Still waiting for a response, but I think I can trust him. 

 

The rejection just this morning was on a short story from my Grimm's anthology, where he wanted anthropomorphic animals. Now that I know he doesn't need it to be under 1,000, I could try another one I have.

 

Do we just sit and wait to be rejected? Of course not. Until I have a contract, I keep circulating. You do yourself an injustice if you just sit around and wait. I know a gal who was also published by ATTMP (my publisher of my other two novels in 2016 and 2017) and she waited for over a year for them to accept her second novel. I told her that's too long to wait, so she contacted them and was told they rejected it six months before. Lesson learned.

 

I canceled their contracts because they were just that bad. Even if the contract looks good, it doesn't mean they are. But I only reject contracts that look bad, and hope for the best. There has to be some good small presses out there. Right?

 

Here's the funny thing. The guy at Divertir said that because of my unwillingness to listen to him, he didn't plan to offer comments to authors anymore.  At first I felt guilty about that, but you know what?  If a publisher doesn't want to listen to an author's reasons why such a thing is as it is, then maybe they should just go with things that feel perfect to them right off, and not bother with anyone else. But yes, I do feel bad. I appreciated his help and told him so. I wish we had been able to communicate. But don't work with someone who talks sideways at you. 

 

I've had publishers who tell me within two days of receiving something that they'll publish it. That's a warning bell, too. ATTMP did that. You need to ask them what they liked about it. You need to ask if they thought the ending was strong enough. You need to wonder what would make them accept it so quickly. Are they that hard up for a book that appears to have proper punctuation?

 

Rejection hurts. We all know that. And for someone writing as long as I have, it feels like a piece of me goes missing with every one. But if I can continue to learn from them, then maybe someday I'll stop getting so many.

 

Learn from rejection, from publisher comments, and from your own inner sense of when something needs another edit. Because in this climate of anyone can get anything published, we still need to strive to rise about the hash and spam of so many people thinking they're writers to provide those novels and stories that make reading a worthwhile event.

 

Learn from comments given. But if a publisher wants you to change everything, is it really the right publisher for you?

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The Grimm Journey

Ever since I was a little girl and found out my grandmother's maiden name was Grimm, I fancied myself a storyteller.  I even had an anthology  published by All Things That Matter Press called "Grimms American Macabre," but it didn't do that well, and the publisher canceled the contract when I forced them to stop selling "Saving Boone." Both will likely be slatted for self-publishing, somewhere down the line.

 

But this anthology will be named "Grimms' American Fairy Tales," and will have more of a direct connection to the German Grimm, as Germany has been calling me lately. I found a delightful comment about "German rings" in an Sioux's autobiography, and am going to see "News of the World" soon, in part because I'm interested in old journalism (ie Territorial Enterprise) and because the little girl he helps to find her family is German.

 

I've also planning Germany as my next big trip ever since getting back from Crete.

 

I want to learn more about my Grimms background and here's what I got so far.  Jacob and Dora Grimm settled in Grimms, Wisconsin – not named after them – in 1911.  Dora was a Zarnett, of the Zarnetts with psychic abilities.  Jacob's dad was from Zurich, Switzerland, which in some time previous had been pretty Germanic.  Anyway, his dad's name was Conrad and he either lived in or was caretaker for a castle in that area, town of Windlawk.

 

I plan to go to Germany as soon as I can swing it, which, due to my tax season job returning, I hope to be in fall of 2021.  I also want to research my Great-Uncle Henry Bertrand who was from southwestern Germany.  He supposedly went AWOL from the army in Wurtemberg to some to this country in 1862.   I plan to follow any Grimm tracks I can find, through the Black Forest, and wherever time allows.

 

If anyone has any tips about researching in Germany, please contact me. And if you've always wanted to go, but not alone, and know some German, maybe you can come along!

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A Violent Society

Revisiting a blog I wrote in 2012

 

Guns seem to be everywhere lately and though innocent people, people who don't carry guns, have been dying, no one wants to do anything about it.

 

But violence has a long history in this country and many believe that to have freedom we have to accept risk.  But does it have to be at the point of a gun?

 

They say there have been 700 anti-Muslim attacks since 9/11.  But we can look farther than that to see images of intolerance in this country.  The real problem seems to be people that are lunatics can get guns.  These are smart lunatics, too, for I'm told they can outwit the psychological evaluation questionnaire they are supposed to complete before getting a weapon.  Maybe they're just smarter than whoever evaluates the questionnaire.

 

Smart.  Like Mark David Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon by shooting him five times in the back.  In the back.  I don't know a more horrifying act than killing peaceful people, like the Sikh recently in Wisconsin.  But we understand, at least, the anti-Muslim sentiment and how a whacko can make a turban-esque mistake.  

 

Be different in America at your own risk, right?

 

No, shooting innocent people because you're mad at a few radicals is never an answer.  And yet it seems the chosen outlet in this country, one that no one is trying to do anything about.

 

What was Lennon's crime?  It's hard to imagine that this happened to him, even today, 40 years later.  World-class peacemaker who wanted everyone to live together, completely accepting each other.  But Chapman, whose name I wish I could forget, was a born-again Christian who took offense to Lennon's utopian sentiment in Imagine.  

 

Chapman was a Beatle fan until Lennon's innocent comment about Beatlemania being too big in 1966.  Many Christians took offense—at 13, I was one, and that allowed the emergence of the Monkees who recaptured that innocence that the Beatles outgrew.

 

I had to mature into John Lennon myself. As I rediscovered him with Imagine, I learned that most of my favorite Beatle songs were Lennon songs.  One of my wedding songs was his, but I didn't know he sang it when I picked "Love is Real."

 

But it's interesting, now that I think about it.  It seems Lennon's "anti-Christian" comment was a defining moment in time in many ways.  It allowed John to reach out beyond the Beatles.  But it also made early Beatle music my favorite, and I never could figure out why my husband, who is older than me, preferred late Beatle music.  It's because he became a fan after that comment, when he wasn't before.

 

Chapman, on the other hand, turned away from the Beatles and never looked back.  He became Christian.  He allowed the song Imagine, and the man, eat away at his soul.  He wanted to make a name for himself and he thought Lennon was bad for the world.

 

Did he take a psychological evolaution to get a gun?  Doubtful.  How about Oswald or Ray or Sirhan?  Why was violence seemingly born in the 60s?  Because the hippie movement that blossomed also gave birth to its opposition.

Unless we realize we have a real problem in this country with racism and religious intolerance, this violence will continue.  Who will be next?  You?  Me?

 

I'd like to see guns completely purged from the U.S.  Barring that, the FBI profilers need to sit down and create a fool-proof questionnaire … problem is, can we really deny someone a gun because he answers questions wrong?

But then what can we do?  Just keep putting up with the freedom to be killed by a lunatic?  What terrible new event awaits us?

 

They like to say guns don't kill people.  People kill people.  But how will they kill if you take that gun away?  Bombs?  Maybe.  Knives?  Doubtful.  You won't kill too many in a theater with knives.  

 

Guns are easy.  Too easy.  Just ask Yoko Ono.

 

Update: I post this as Trump's Proud Boys are roaming the streets with guns, looking to create the violence that could start another  Civil War. Because do not doubt that Trump's only way to save his own skin is to at least have a part of the country he could still be president of. Fortunately, for all his blow-hard words, so far, are all empty. DO NOT give them something to shoot at. We only have a little more than a month before we have a new president.

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Taking No For an Answer

Writers write what they know.  Editors reject what they don't know.  How do the two manage to find compatible ground?  The answer might be in figuring out when they're not rejecting you, but testing your response to criticism.  Maybe sometimes their 'no' is checking your passion.

 

I used to accept rejection. I'm sure I don't know anyone who's been rejected more than I have.  I once thought that if someone said no to one of my novels or queries, that's the end of it.  They said no and there's no bargaining anywhere.

 

They would say things like "not for us," and I'd say, "Hey, but I studied the market and I'm sure you take this kind of stuff so what gives?"  And then I started to think that they were only saying nice things so that I didn't shoot back one of my dreaded "you're an idiot" emails -- you know, the one frustrated writers can't resist sending, especially after the coffee pot breaks and the computer eats their latest Pulitzer worthy article.

 

Yeah, I used to send angry email responses. But I have evolved into a more compliant being --just shed a few tears, file the rejection and move on.

 

And along the way I've learned to notice the potential "yes" embedded inside the "no."

 

Sometimes editors write nice things.  Sometimes they mean the nice things they write. It's up to us writers to become confident in our work as professionals so that we can see the difference.

 

Here's my suggestion: Find encouragement in every kind word used in a rejection, and follow up with a nice thank you specially worded to give them a chance to reconsider, even if you don't believe there's a chance they will reconsider.

 

Because there's a chance they might.

 

Recently I got a rejection on a novel that ended with how they liked my writing but didn't feel they could do the marketing that would guarantee its success.  I immediately responded with "Tell you what -- publish the book and I'll do all the marketing."

 

This brought them back, encouraged by my passion, to request the novel. They were confused by the genre, or the way I had positioned it, and with their response I realized I may have been marketing the novel wrong all along.  

Of course, I still want help marketing.  More on that in a minute.

 

Does this mean you should follow up on every "no"?  I wouldn't.  A lot of rejections come in the form of form letters, and that means the submission had nothing for them.  

 

Once I asked one of these if they could share a reason for the no.  One publisher happily responded with:  "I don't like your writing."

 

We know writing is a subjective business.  But there is always the possibility that some rejections that are nicely worded came really close to being acceptances.  I had another publisher request a series of six changes to my novel, and five of them I agreed with.  He rejected it again because I didn't agree with the sixth. That's okay, too. There's only so far we can go when changing our vision to match someone else's, after all.

 

Another publisher that responded to my "passion" may ask for changes. They may still reject it.  I had a rejection recently that "the main character was boring." Okay, fine. I told them maybe I should make her a reflection of  me, and I offered him my vampire series. He's now looking at that. As writers we have to be open to change, to realizing that we are sometimes too close to our work to see its flaws. That boring character is getting some shots of adrenaline.

 

But we also have to be sure enough in what we've written to know when a suggestion crosses the line.  

Once I got a contract for a novel that said that I was going to allow them to make so many changes that the book's copyright could be taken from me.  I had another contract that said that if I backed out for any reason (i.e. didn't like the cover), they would expect me to pay them $1,000 for their trouble. Both contracts were rejected.

 

Once I signed with a publisher for my second novel with them and they proceeded to put out a badly covered novel -- one guaranteed to keep its readers away. I didn't criticize the cover of my first book with them enough. Now both books are unpublished.  

 

A contract I signed for a nonfiction had a clause guaranteed I'd have an editor in six months. Then he said he couldn't find an editor for such a large task. So yeah, that got cancelled, too. 

 

All kinds of things can go wrong with a yes, but getting that yes and finding out if you can work with them is 3/4ths of the submission battle.  Maybe this new publisher for my vampire series won't do any marketing.  But maybe they do.  I'll never know until I get a yes and see a contract. And I'll never get anywhere, in my mind, if I'm just a self-published author.

 

Taking "no" for an answer keeps a lot of fledgling writers away from traditional markets.  Most self-published authors I know could not bear up under repeated rejection, and did not recognize the slightest encouragement.  One did not realize that they could have been testing her when they told her not to set her novel in Brownsville because it wouldn't attract a big enough readership.  Had she responded with all the reasons it was the perfect location, she might have ended up with the contract.  She could have said: "But I wanted to write what I know and love passionately.  And Brownsville, so close to Mexico, really is an exotic location."  She could have made her readers love Brownsville, but first she needed to make an editor love it.

 

I'm going to be making that big change in my 3rd vampire book. It'll be set, not in a fictional town outside of Madison, but in Sauk City. It'll bring a lot more realism to an already realistic vampire.

 

Be realistic.  Following up on a query like this might help, and it might not. If it doesn't, just cross them off your list and move on. There is not harm or foul in the follow-up, if done with respect and care. You can sense if it was the wrong market. Don't pester, because someday they could be the right market.

 

Publishers like to see if we're going to be an author they can work with. They test our passion.  Rejections can be part of that test. So if there is any kind of personal note in the rejection, more than just a form letter, respond.  You have nothing more to lose.  

 

Your goal as an author should be to find someone who believes in you.  Take every rejection seriously, and be proud of yourself for putting your work out there.  

 

The end result is a better book.

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Driving Tips of the Distracted

We know texting during driving is dangerous because you have to look down a lot.  It's similar to reading a Kindle while driving.  Who does these things?

 

But distractions while driving has a long history.  Back when we were still riding horses, falling off and being dragged with a foot caught in the stirrup was the number cause of cowboy deaths.  These were good riders and probably felt infallible.  Were they distracted? Sure! Swimmers only drown because they know how to swim. People who don't know how to swim don't take chances.

 

Let's face it. We're human beings.  If we can't handle one horse power, how are we supposed to cope with 40-hp or more?  Human beings don't belong behind a big metal machine on wheels that allow us to travel 80 miles an hour or more.  Because we're human and incapable of focusing on any one task for more than ten minutes without becoming distracted.

 

It doesn't matter if it's texting or staring off into space thinking about what you're going to do when you get home. Did you ever have a day driving the same old route where you couldn't remember having gotten from one road to the next?  You do it so often that it becomes automatic. That's distracted driving.

 

That doesn't mean we should approve of things like texting.  Absolutely not.  There are some things that we humans have to do while driving -- texting is not one of them.  I don't think peeing into a Coke bottle is necessary either, because one should be able to hold it until the next rest stop.  Nor do I think we should have a coffee cup in one hand and a Danish in the other.  Use the cup holder at least, to always have one hand on the wheel.

 

Some say they have to text while driving to let someone know they're going to be late, or to get directions because they can't find the place. Really? So be late. Or pull over. Logic should not be that hard to come by.

 

Some things are related to driving and should be allowed, lest we get too carried away and remove all activity behind the wheel except our brains.  Drinking coffee.  Okay.  Many people get up too early in the morning and need that extra jolt on the way to work.  Smoking.  Sure.  Look, we've already taken nearly every other place away from smokers, and I for one don't want a lot of angry jittery drivers on the road.  But for heaven's sake, put out the cigarette before tossing it into a drought-ridden corn field.  Phone calls.  Now I know there's no way to regulate this, but responsible people limit them to the necessities.  I'll be late for dinner because I'm stuck in traffic.  Did you say to turn right or left at Lombardi? Call instead of text. Newer cars make this easy. But phone calls should not be used as a way to kill time.  (Guilt as charged, officer!) GPSing.  I am a big breaker of this one—our GPS says do not use while driving.  I do.  But I find it to be a legitimate driving excuse.  You can tell when drivers who don't know where they are.  They make sudden lane changes, lunge onto the off ramp at the last second and drive too fast because they got lost and were late.  Yes, I do set the directions before I leave most of the time.  But there are some odd times when where I was headed wasn't where it said it was; I'm always aware of the traffic around me if I have to set it while driving. Or I pull over. The nice thing about phone GPS, as opposed to my old Garmin one, is that I can tell it where to take me, rather than having to enter the address by hand. Handy!

 

What to do if human beings get distracted?  Say you want to talk to the passenger in the seat next to you.  Or sing a song with the radio.  Or even just think about … something. These are human activities that are impossible to control while driving. We have to find ways to stay alert to the road. I find singing helps. But listening to news on the radio is distracting. Having someone in the passenger seat to talk to helps. It's a second set of eyes. But talking on the phone doesn't help, unless you are also sharing road patterns with them so they know where your eyes and mind really are.

 

Very few new drivers can afford the distractions.  Once people get used to driving they get cocky and think they can drive no-handed.  But driving always requires a certain amount of attention.  One hand always on the wheel, both is better.  A good distance between you and the car ahead of you for better response time. NO TAILGATING! You need breaking distance to pull yourself out of that distracted mind.

 

And always know where you're going. Always be aware of how many cars are around you.  

 

Distracted drivers don't notice people trying to merge onto the highway.  Remember the MERGING rule -- if the merging car is ahead of you, slow up a bit and let them in, or be aware if you can move into the faster lane. You can only do that safely if you know what the traffic pattern is around you.  Is there a semi next to you in the fast lane?  Then you can't move over.  If the car is behind you while merging then they have to fall behind you. The driver in the right lane is the one that likely has cruise control on and should maintain their speed, letting the merger adjust. We don't read minds, people!  If you're merging, it's up to you to adjust. Sometimes they expect you to move over, and sometimes they try to force you to. But they will be at fault if they hit you, and they know it.

 

Being distracted is being human.  Give everyone room to drive safely.  You know what causes rush hour traffic? People who drive bumper to bumper. That's right -- tail-gaters. Traffic slows up because there are those in the left lanes who need to exit and no one in the right lane wants to let them in. Rush hour is like a construction zone. Tail-gaters are selfish drivers.

 

Listen, we have enough problems this holiday season. Staying safe is the main one. Don't crowd, don't speed, don't text, don't drink and drive, but telling us not to be distracted?  We're not robots. Keep that safety area around you at all times when you drive, and hopefully you'll be human a little while longer.

 

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Yeah Yeah Yeah: Rights to Song Lyrics


(new edit of a 2013 blog - as I'm doing a final edit on Dinner at Marshall Fields)


I entered the world of usage of song lyrics in a novel as a babe in the musical woods. Could they object to a line or two? Or even a whole stanza? I couldn't imagine why, and in fact really didn't give it a thought when I started writing Dinner at Marshall Fields.


As a historical writer who put together a huge nonfiction book complete with quotes and photos, many of which need permission or at least complete footnoting, I'm not sure why this would escape my attention. Songs are still an artist's creation, even if the artist doesn't always retain their own copyright. But since I lift quotes from other works, with proper recognition, why couldn't I do that to songs? Well, for one thing, if you use more than a small percentage of an author's work, they could come after you for payment. So okay, what about just a line? And who do I ask?


That's the rub. I didn't have to ask John Lennon's widow for right to quote a few of his lyrics in my book. I had to ask Sony/ATV Music, who owns the Michael Jackson estate. My publisher, Arline Chase of Write Words, Inc., told me of an author who talked to John Denver personally, who said he'd be honored to have her refer to his song, and so she did, only to find out he didn't own the rights.


I find this process to be quite arbitrary. For one thing, I am not playing the song without permission on a radio statio, and making money. Or recording the song and claiming it as my own. Do DJs who play at weddings have to get permission for every song they play? Why not? They're making money. I'm going to ask next chance I get, unless someone here knows the answer and can fill me in. I am merely quoting a few lines of lyrics, by far not the whole song, and giving proper credit. What is the problem?


The problem is someone wants money. And it's often not the person who created the piece at all. We're not paying for the literary endeavor, but yes, in a round-about way we are, because they had to sell their rights and did so, we might expect, willingly for some monetary need.


But these creative artists feel they should get something off my work, if it includes a clever reference to theirs. They might make money off my reference if it gains them another fan through that reference -- someone who finds a quoted lyric intriguing, or likes the way I used it. But aren't the lyrics you find online owned by someone who paid to own them, not the one who wrote them? Same difference. No matter who owns the rights, they stand to make money on them through my reference, even if just a digitized copy sells.


How does Amazon do it? I could pay for a music subscription and get to listen to all kinds of music, most of which I'm sure I wouldn't like. Do they buy a blanket approach?


Odd business, music.


I don't know all the details as to why the Beatles would have sold their copyrights to Michael Jackson in the first place. Were they not making enough money from the songs anymore? And I'm just talking about the use of a few lyrics, not the whole song. You can find complete lyrics online to just about any song you want. That enables you to sing the song out loud, and you can do that karaoke without paying a fee, as long as you don't make money doing it. Or don't get caught making money on it.


Why would I begrudge these copyright owners a use fee for these lyrics? Few writers, unless they're of the Stephen King category (and I bet even he wouldn't attempt to write a novel that involves the evolution of music from the '40s to the '60s) can afford to pay an exorbitant licensing fee.


Even with my nonfiction, I only paid for a few photos I felt it had to have. Otherwise, I sought out the free use ones, and got permission wherever I could. In a few instances, I couldn't find the permission holder and published them anyway. You have to take a chance in this business sometimes.


So my first stop is to find out how much a few lines of lyrics will cost me, and then let the publisher decide if they think they are worth being used in the book. Because I do not want to self-publish anymore (I'll save that for my death bed). I figured this kind of research should be up to me, because it might be hard to find a publisher if I haven't done this research. They might be leery of any book that relies on music lyrics to help tell its tale.


And that could be the problem I've had with submissions. So finally I cut the lyrics down to just the title. Which is a shame, because some will not be aware of how well that song fit the situation. In "Legend of a Kiowa Son" I used Shakespeare quotes. That's fun, and no copyright to worry about! But it wouldn't fit here, because Holly Day was a singer in the 40s, while the story is set in '68. In some places I used made-up lyrics for her. (See cover and blurb for novel somewhere on my website.)


I have purchased rights in the past. I paid $200 for a map that's in my Pensaukee environmental nonfiction, now making the circuits. Another $200 for one I used in the Civil War book. I became the only authorized Bonanza novelist by gaining permission to publish two novels direct from creator and producer of the series, David Dortort—permission that some people to this day believe I never got. I didn't pay anything up front, but Bonanza Ventures gets 20% of my net royalties—only 10% until I decided to use the official licensed map on the cover. (It hiked up higher in my 2nd and 3rd editions recently published.)


A major goal for this new novel ws getting the rights to the Beatles song, "In My Life." With an online search and a phone call, I learned that Sony/ATV held the rights. I found an email and they responded promptly with a form to return with the contextual pages of the book where the lyrics would appear.


The form wanted me to name the publisher.


It would appear that this is a job most publishers undertake, but undaunted, I told them I didn't have one but might have to re-do the work if the cost was prohibitive. While waiting for a response, I went through a movie script I'd written and noted that I was using lines from other movies. So in this draft, I removed them, thinking it could be stopping the script from getting noticed. I thought the same could be true for this novel.


Sony/ATV responded later that day, though I wasn't sure they would. They said it would cost me $300. That's not bad, I reasoned. Until I saw the next part. For 500 copies. I thought maybe they missed a couple of zeroes. Okay, so this means they think I'm going to self-publish. And while 60 cents a copy doesn't seem so bad, really, it's only for one song. What if the book needs 20 songs? It can become exorbitant.


In my major nonfiction, back in 2013, I got a publisher and then set out to get all the rights to the photos, before the publisher asked me to because he didn't even read the book before accepting it. In that process I found there were some photos I could do without, many that could be replaced with something that was free, and then the ones I needed to pay for I got the prices so that the publisher could decide if they were worth buying. But I cancelled the contract from lack of work on his part, because I felt he didn't have a clue what to do with all these photos and maps.


I wrote back to Sony/ATV asking for a third option, because the only options they gave was either to pay the amount or remove the lyrics. I told them I just wanted an idea of cost, and that I will keep this form and have a publisher decide if I need the lyrics. Then I went through the book and removed whatever lines weren't needed to tell the story. "Yeah yeah sigh." Well, there's at least one potential lyric problem I solved.


Just mentioning the song title by name, which is legal, had to be enough.


The nice thing is that with lyrics, as with photos, you can say that all attempts were made to find out about licensing, and if they don't ever respond, you can go ahead and use the lyrics.


But keep a paper trail, just in case.


The good thing about working with Sony/ATV is how prompt and reliable they are. She also told me that they approve the context use of the lyrics in my novel, but I still have to pay the licensing fee. At least now I know, and will be careful not to be frivolous with lyrics in a novel that depends a lot on how music changes from the 40s to the 60s.

 

But something will be lost in the transition, and that's too bad.

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An Anti-Gun Post from 2012

I wrote this in 2012, and it's disturbing because we see the forces that elected Trump emerging.

 

A VIOLENT SOCIETY

Guns seem to be everywhere lately and though innocent people, people who don't carry guns, have been dying, no one wants to do anything about it.

But violence has a long history in this country and many believe that to have freedom we have to accept risk.  But does it have to be at the point of a gun?

They say there have been 700 anti-Muslim attacks since 9/11.  But we can look farther than that to see images of intolerance in this country.  The real problem seems to be people that are lunatics can get guns.  These are smart lunatics, too, for I'm told they can outwit the psychological evaluation questionnaire they are supposed to complete before getting a weapon.  Maybe they're just smarter than whoever evaluates the questionnaire.

Smart.  Like Mark David Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon by shooting him five times in the back.  In the back.  I don't know a more horrifying act that killing peaceful people, like the Sikh recently in Wisconsin.  But we understand, at least, the anti-Muslim sentiment and how a whacko can make a turban-esque mistake.  

Be different in America at your own risk, right?

No, shooting innocent people because you're mad at a few radicals is never an answer.  And yet it seems the chosen outlet in this country, one that no one is trying to do anything about.

What was Lennon's crime?  It's hard to imagine that this happened to him, even today.  World-class peacemaker who wanted everyone to live together, completely accepting each other.  But Chapman, whose name I wish I could forget, was a born-again Christian who took offense to Lennon's utopian sentiment in Imagine.  

Chapman was a Beatle fan until Lennon's innocent comment about Beatlemania being too big in 1966.  Many Christians took offense—at 13, I was one, and that allowed the emergence of the Monkees who recaptured that innocence that the Beatles outgrew.

I had to mature into John Lennon myself.  Many fans had to.  As I rediscovered him with Imagine, I learned that most of my favorite Beatle songs were Lennon songs.  One of my wedding songs was his, but I didn't know that when I picked it.

But it's interesting, now that I think about it.  It seems Lennon's "anti-Christian" comment was a defining moment in time in many ways.  It allowed John to reach out beyond the Beatles.  But it also made early Beatle music my favorite, and I never could figure out why my husband, who is older than me, preferred late Beatle music.  It's because he became a fan after that comment, when he wasn't before.

Chapman, on the other hand, turned away from the Beatles and never looked back.  He became Christian.  He allowed the song Imagine, and the man, eat away at his soul.  He wanted to make a name for himself and he thought Lennon was bad for the world.

Did he take a psychological evolaution to get a gun?  Doubtful.  How about Oswald or Ray or Sirhan?  Why was violence seemingly born in the 60s?  Because the hippie movement that blossomed also gave birth to its opposition.

Unless we realize we have a real problem in this country with racism and religious intolerance, this violence will continue.  Who will be next?  You?  Me?

I'd like to see guns completely purged from the U.S.  Barring that, the FBI profilers need to sit down and create a fool-proof questionnaire … problem is, can we really deny someone a gun because he answers questions wrong?

But then what can we do?  Just keep putting up with the freedom to be killed by a lunatic?  What terrible new event awaits us?

They like to say guns don't kill people.  People kill people.  But how will they kill if you take that gun away?  Bombs?  Maybe.  Knives?  Doubtful.  You won't kill too many in a theater with knives.  

Guns are easy.  Too easy.  Just ask Yoko Ono.

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