Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve at last! I hope the day finds you happy and well–enjoying the day, not in shopping, wrapping hell . . . 🙂

Two days ago the kids and I made gingerbread for the first time ever and we spent yesterday building houses and decorating little people. Since this is a writing blog, let me just say: not enough good things can be said about flat characters. Except for Ed . . . Well, he’s an all right guy except that he’s loses his head in the drink at every party.

Oh, Ed. Not again.

There was also an awkward moment when some girl my daughter knows showed up topless . . . However, I think it was more embarrassing for her than it was for us. Wrong party, Gingie-girl.

The cat was inordinately pleased with the day’s events and plans to use her powers of mind control to get us to slather icing and candy on everything every year.

Ahhhhh . . .

I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is, Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

In 2010, may you eat lots of cookies, have lots of laughs, be surrounded by people you love and who love you back, and despite any hard circumstances, experience peace and joy.

These are for you!

I leave you with a quote that really moved me, and I think it’s my wish and plan for the New Year.

If Christmas means anything, it should mean that, like shepherds of old, we catch a vision of the world as it ought to be and not as it is. This is the season where we should renew our determination to do what we can, each in our own way, to build a world founded on human brotherhood and concern for the needs of others.” ~ Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher who went on to later become the first leader of the federal New Democratic Party in Canada

Have a lovely Christmas. God bless.

~ Ev

The whether or not of writing weather . . .

The world seems not the same, though I know nothing has changed.
~ Opening line of “Pale” by Within Temptation

I woke up this morning to a world gone freshly white. I’ve lived here (in Terrace, British Columbia, Canada) most of my life, but the abruptness and totality of our seasonal changes never fails to awe me. My perception of the lay of the land is always changing. What I think I see or know is constantly called into question—especially when it snows.

There are jokes about Canadian literary writers’ obsession with weather, but I think that realism (in any story) demands those details. The weather in most parts of Canada is extreme. Extreme snow. Extreme deluges. Extreme dry. Extreme humidity. And much of life here, despite modernity’s best attempts to make us feel we’re somehow above the elements of nature, is dictated by weather. Canada is not alone in that, however.

Weather and its cousins, Physical Geography, Seasons, and Climate, represent hundreds of characters—benevolent and life-giving rulers, cruel and exacting tyrants, warm and sexy seductresses, cold nasty sonofabitches . . . They shape our daily activities, whether we’re conscious of it or not, dictate a lot of our choices, thwart plans, complicate simple goals, and exacerbate struggle—and not in imagined ways. In real, practical, everyday ways.

You might have a character who consciously muses about the changing weather for symbolism’s sake (better not be every character though! Most people bundle up and peel off layers without ever noticing that the wind, warm earlier, had grown chilly ;-)). You might use seasons as metaphors, blah, blah, blah (Oh, wait, I’ve done that and liked the effect a lot . . .) You should always have characters affected by weather and seasons.

When Ed peals out of the driveway in a rage, what time of year is it? If it’s October – March here, you can safely (heh) have that simple action escalate into a terrible accident. He hits black ice and just like that his car is out of control. He takes out the family’s mailbox. Or the dog. Or his five-year-old daughter who’s just trudging back from her snow fort next door.

When Kelly, new to the North, tells her eight-year-old that he can go play at the nearby park as long as he’s home before dark, then loses track of time unpacking, it’s 11:00 p.m. before she realizes it’s just starting to get dark and there’s no sign of her son.

Weather and terrain affect how people view the world and their place in it, and shape personality, however subtly. Someone who chops wood everyday and has to make sure someone’s home regularly to keep the woodstove topped up so the pipes don’t freeze has a different way of perceiving life than someone who doesn’t own a winter jacket and depends on repairman to regulate his complex’s thermostats.

At the very least, individual responses to weather and landscape give hints to personality. I imagine (or not :D) fairies in flowerbeds, see wood nymphs in the falling leaves, and know that the crystal white winter world I dwell in is somehow mystical.

A person using descriptions like mine would contrast dramatically with one who’d make an observation like a friend of mine recently did, after driving back from Prince Rupert: “Did you know that for a big part of the year here, life is literally black and white? It explains a lot about Northerners.”

Her wording struck me. I was wowed. And she’s right. When the months are at their coldest and most snowy, the North is monochromatic—and much more seems black and white, than gray. That has to have some impact on those who live up here. The possible insight that comment might give into another individual’s approach to life was amazing to me!

Including sensory details about the landscape and what the elements are doing can be a powerful, visual way to give readers a sense of place, if not overdone, of course, but I challenge you (and myself!) to use the weather and geography in the best way—as they are in real life—as dynamic forces, slightly under the main action, supporting it and intensifying it.

Life imitates art—the editing part anyway . . .

I’ve commented before about how I see connections between almost everything in my life and writing. Caving? Well, that’s absolutely a metaphor for writing, of course. Scary movies in childhood? Obviously a lesson in recognizing and dealing with avoidance techniques that might be hurting your writing. Lazy and procrastinating? No, no, no—that’s feeding the muse.

And the latest case of life echoing writing work or vice-versa? Electrical upgrades done in your home (while you’re trying to live and work there) is just like editing a novel. It’s an electrifying truth. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I was not happy to hear that my older home needed to have its panel upgraded from 70-amp service to 200-amp service. (Yes, I’m just showing off newly acquired technical lingo.) My house was comfortable and warm. It had (has!) character. I liked it just fine as it was and it never gave any trouble. Current “code” regulations seem a little on the bizarre side: I’m living here, not operating a nuclear plant . . . but I digress. However unhappy I was to hear it, the needed reno wasn’t a surprise. We knew our house needed more power.

I was not happy to hear from my beloved and much trusted, much appreciated first readers that my latest WIP needed more work. Yes, not happy, but again, not surprised. I already knew I wanted to amp up the tension, rewire a few scenes to dim the focus on the killer, spotlight some red herrings . . .

I thought it would be lovely if the very competent electrician could figure out a way to fix the problems without bashing huge holes in my walls and cutting through lovely painted walls and moulding to get at what he needed to address. He, of course, all artistry aside, could not. Fixing the problem required getting at the guts of the house.

I thought, Hey, I’ve edited a lot of novels now. I’ll just cut in neatly, splice in a line of intrigue, throw a couple of exciting switches . . .

I trust you see where this analogy is going. My eight-inch-thick walls were dismembered and unstuffed. My ceiling is, well, missing in chunks . . . My scenes were (are!) just as mangled. So much for artistry.

But there’s good news. All the hard work, the gruelling work, the omigoodness-please-not-really-don’t-make-me-fix-that-too work pays off.

My house was built to last and the new fixtures, forced air electric heaters, and lovely high-powered service, breakers, fuses, etc. just make what was already there that much better—shine that much brighter.

I trust that I won’t have to resort to mudding and taping and painting my novel to get the same power upgrade in my story.

Looking Back to Move Forward

Euf, I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately—sorry. I wasn’t off in a corner sulking about the poor economy or worrying my ring around my finger, wondering if I was just deluding myself with the whole you-can-be-writer-if-you-don’t-give-up-thing. Or at least I wasn’t doing those things much.

I was prepping for the Surrey International Writers Conference, then I was attending it, then I stayed on in Vancouver visiting family and friends for a bit. Then, upon arriving home to a very sick husband, the fallout of a “surprise” electrical upgrade emergency for my home that I learned about just prior to flying out, plus playing life-catch-up, I just didn’t get here.

Anyway, while I was away, I discovered a deep well of affirmation/inspiration. Of all the great things Surrey has given to me over the years, this year’s gave me perhaps the most important: the knowledge that whatever the future carries, I write and will keep writing, not because of any dreams about what my writing might become financially or end up being to someone else, but because of what my writing is right now, what it has always been: My guts. My search for connection. My way of making sense of the world (or attempting to). Therapy (Thankfully, I’m a big fan of play therapy—it’s not all angst-ridden and dreary). My way of celebrating, appreciating and critiquing . . .

Past conferences have always motivated me in the business-side of writing—get an agent, get published, make $$$ so I can write more . . . This year, listening to all the solid advice from agents and editors and great inspirational wisdom from publishing writers, I decided that approaching creative writing as a business is bullshit (in a positive, warm, energizing, not negative way). Writing is about the writing. The other stuff is just other stuff.

I still want an agent. I still want to share my stories—at which point, they’re not solely mine anymore, I realize. I still want a few regular dollars, so I can afford the hours I write without feeling like a burden on those I love. But in forty years, if I’m still writing with only the few odd acceptances here and there, I will still be writing.

This sense of “whatever” about publishing has freed me up in some way. It is time to start putting my stories out there in earnest, because it doesn’t matter how they’re received. I would prefer, kindly. But rejection won’t stop me. Anymore. And maybe that’s why I’ve been hesitant in the past. While writing, I’d remember what it’s all about, but I’d forget when faced with the idea of having my work “judged.” Now I don’t care. I like what I write. I write what I like.

Editors and agents have to think about marketing and bottom lines, blah. If someone ever likes my stories enough to take them on, I will think about those things too—and will work hard for them. But those elements will always be after-writing-concerns.

There is a lot of value in living and working with an eye on what you want to accomplish next (not to the exclusion of enjoying today, of course, but that’s another post), but if a writer writes because they love/need the writing itself, looking back—and being awed by how far you’ve come and how much your writing has done for you—will be a huge part of moving forward.

Sex, violence, morality, and other scintillating-somewhat-scary subjects . . .

I spent a lovely morning reading and contemplating various writing blogs. Kathy Chung (of Kathy – Rambling—a new blog I will now frequent) wrote about questions of morality that she’s been pondering because of one of her characters.

Joseph Grinton (Writing about modern romance), also newly frequented by me, had thought-provoking words in How To Write Sex Scenes.

I didn’t come across a blog post that opined on how much detail should be given in depicting violent acts, or discussed how to write violent scenes realistically, or tackled realism versus gratuity, but somehow (and not just because I think Sex, Violence and Morality makes a grabbing title) the three things seemed linked in my mind. Writing about them (and similar high-octane subjects) demands a certain bravery.

In the early days of my fiction, I realized that I was guilty of writing in the same manner that I watched scary movies as a kid. Scary music cues something Awful about to happen—swoop, blanket over my eyes. Smack, hands over my ears to tune out screaming and howling . . . I’d actually ask, “Is it over yet?” and wait for confirmation that the most horrible bits had passed before I’d peek again.

In writing that avoidance technique looked like this: Write a hook or some great invocative scene that foreshadows emotional or physical (or better, both at once) danger to character. Insert # # # to show that time has elapsed. New scene starts immediately after Event deemed too violent, too sexy, too something-scary to delve into comfortably. Often, since the reader needed to have some knowledge of the ordeal, I would do some sort of recounting, usually in the form of a conversation between the sufferer of the atrocity and his/her close friend.

“I can’t believe you went through that.”

“I can’t believe it either. I thought I would die when Joe pulled that knife on me and proceeded to—”

“It must’ve been even more terrifying because it probably triggered childhood memories of watching your own mom be killed in front of you . . . ”

“It did—but I managed to summon the will to fight, because I pictured my own daughter Macy’s little innocent face—I want her to grow up strong, to not feel like being a victim is inevitable the way I always did . . . ”

(Okay, please, please note, my writing was never really that bad—or Gah, I hope it wasn’t! But if a person avoids showing events as they happen, unnatural, stilted summary scenes become necessary—and if you’re even thinking, “My summary scenes aren’t stilted. They’re graceful and elegant,” go slap yourself and delete/rewrite the scene!)

I’m still working through what I feel is a good balance between portraying life as it is really experienced and what is too much—a completely subjective line, I realize. And I still battle with self-consciousness and worry. What will people think of me when they see the things that make up my head? What will people close to me say if my stories don’t line up with their ideas of morality? GAH—I write sex scenes and have children who read—awkward! I keep returning to the fact that to avoid writing something because it makes me (or someone else) uncomfortable is stupid and goes against the very reasons I write: to explore the world I live in, to figure out what I think, to yell into space: I am here, trying to figure things out . . . And in the end, if I offend or make someone close to me feel awkward? Well, they don’t have to read me.

So how about you? Are there topics you “don’t go”? What scenes are (were) your Kryptonite? Have you found ways to overcome your inhibitions? Should writers even try to overcome a shyness? Maybe some boundaries are good things . . .

Writing time never magically appears

My children are back in school, my husband has settled back into his regular routine at work, and I run my own Writing Services business from home. I should have hours and hours to write uninterrupted, right? Uh huh.

Some days it’s a struggle just to fit in all my clients’ work and take care of the phone calls and e-mails that are involved in the kind of work I do. Balancing work, my family’s wants and needs (and mine–I don’t want to sacrifice the most important things in my life!), the volunteer things I do, the alone time I need, and my personal reading and writing feels like a tight rope walking adventure. But I like the dizzying rush. I’m not scared to look down. I’d be more worried if I never climbed up and started to inch foot over foot . . .

People often tell me they’d like to write someday. That they’re going to write one day. That they’d write now, but they don’t have time. I have a standard reply: It really is never too late to start, but time doesn’t carve itself. We won’t wake up one day and find that our work calendar has magically cleared, our bank accounts have filled themselves, and our family and friends no longer have emergencies or just want to visit (or I hope the latter doesn’t happen!). We have to make time now. We might even have to forgo something that brings pleasure.

My aunt is up visiting right now and it’s wonderful. We’re good friends and close. I would love nothing better than to just hang out and gab all day, so it was hard to tell her that despite how glad I am to have her, I have to work. But tell her I did, and she’s been great about it. “Oh, Ev, you’re so good. So disciplined.” Uh . . . not really. Not at all, in fact. I just know what I want to do, and I know that next week, next month, next year won’t be any freer time-wise, so I write now.

You can’t try to do things; you simply must do them. ~ Ray Bradbury

While I was away . . .

I’m still in the process of Organizing My Office (note the capital letters, please). It’s a convoluted task. While I was away this summer, messmaker elves (a breed similar to the shoemaker’s elves in the old fairy tale, but nowhere near as helpful or benign) were hard at work. Or at least I’m pretty sure they were involved–I have no idea who else would’ve left stacks of notes jotted on crumpled scraps of paper, piles of mail (opened, but not dealt with), and mountains of miscallanea across the region called (in fond remembrance) my desk.

While other writers are in full fall mode and have already written inspiring posts about new energy to pursue goals and freshly scrutinized, revamped plans, I’m pulling out another trash bin. However, there’s been some progress. My keyboard is cleared (I do have my priorities), my year-at-a-glance calendar is updated (yes, I consider September the first month in a new year), and I’ve pulled down my corkboard (not sure that was a good decision) to replace with two new ones . . .

Before digging into my day’s work though (editing and writing a column, then organizing if I get to it ;-)), I wanted to share two exciting things that happened while I was away (no elves are involved this time): (1) I had a story accepted by AlienSkin Magazine. “Red Bird” will appear in their December 2009/January 2010 issue. (2) I got an e-mail about how well Cleavage – Breakaway Fiction For Real Girls is doing. It’s gone into a second printing and is listed in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009, as well as in Resource Links Best of 2008 for Grades 7 – 12. The editors Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley continue to promote it and the book now has a trailer. I know my story is just one small part of the anthology, but I’m very excited about how the whole book has been received!

Autumn is re-energizing, but even more inspiring than new post-it-notes, colour-keyed schedules, and the like, is the fact that bit-by-bit I’m starting to amass a body of fiction. I’ve published non-fiction for awhile, but I’m eager to share my stories. Slowly, slowly it’s happening. It’s happening! And I don’t want to rush my year, but I’m already wondering what nice surprises I’ll look back at next September.

Pen caving . . .

I’m sorry there was such a long time between my last post and this one. I was off gallivanting for much of July and all of August, but don’t worry, I kept busy, doing NO WRITING AT ALL. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t write. *Anything. Perhaps that seems a weird admission from a writer who calls her blog, “Write here, write now,” and uses most posts to thump the drum: write daily, write regularly, don’t get out of practice, write, write, write . . .

I wasn’t just being a slacker, however. And it wasn’t that I kept meaning to write, but got too busy and didn’t get around to it. My four-week hiatus was intentional. Once a year or so, I take some time off from writing (this year’s 4-weeks was a bit extreme, and I don’t think I’ll ever go that long again). I find the break beneficial for a number of reasons, the biggest being that not being allowed to write makes me want to nothing but write. By the time I let myself back to it, I’m a bit crazy in my eagerness and the words flow and flow–which brings me to a weird phenomenon.

Sometimes in the middle of feeling, thinking, observing and ruminating “face-to-face” with an event, person, or moment, I find myself slightly removed, watching with my psychic pen in hand, wondering even as I experience something how I will write about it.

It’s not a bad thing. It might even intensify living in the moment, forcing me to really note the small details and nuances, similar to how going for a walk with a camera in tow makes you focus on the millions of tiny details that make up the “big picture.” The view you have and even think you appreciate in a cursory glance suddenly becomes deeply intricate and profound.

This slightly strange, constantly penning side of my brain grew louder and louder the longer I denied it a paper outlet, and I was fascinated by a growing awareness of parallels between various adventures I was having and my writing life.

At no time was this kinship more dramatic or clear than when I was caving in Horne Lake. Yes, caving. As in burrowing deep into the earth via rocky tunnels and winding, blacker-than-black channels into surprisingly wide caverns and the like.

My obsession with caves (and writing) started when I was young; I blame Mark Twain. While I loved Tom Sawyer (of course) and could never understand his passion for insipid Becky Thatcher, I adored Huck Finn. And the descriptions of the caves he got to explore (where Injun Joe lived for a long while) always threw me into paroxysms of jealousy. Why couldn’t I live in a cave? Why couldn’t I at least live near caves? Second only to sunken treasure, caves were the top of my romantic-things list.

Fast forward to holiday planning 2009. As I investigated interesting things we could if we got tired of Rathtrevor Beach or jumping off small cliffs into Englishman River (which would never happen, but it was nice fun to see all the things the Island offers), I came across ads promoting Horne Lake caves. Real caves. Twisty, freaky, creepy, awesome ones.

We knew we were leaving the surface before we even entered the cave; the change in temperature is immediate and complete, even just at the mouth. Squeezing through crevices that put off the claustrophobic, we ended up in strange room after strange room (there were even, I swear, platformed layers in various nooks and crannies that would’ve made perfect sleeping quarters!). I was almost giddy with the knowledge of how much there was to explore (so much that I suspect no one could ever get through all of it). It didn’t matter that other people were doing the same thing, sometimes in the same area–caves are unique through each person’s eyes, imagination, fears, and purpose. I felt completely alone and cut off–in a delicious, adventuresome way at times. In a slightly awed, fearful way at others–what have I got myself into? Can I get myself out?

The light from our headlamps (and from any others in the caves, though for the most part my son and I were alone and even went our own separate ways a few times) shone in single narrow beams, the inside of the earth being so dark, so void of light that it seemed to devour the rays we tried to cast. I could see only as far ahead as I could shine the light directly. But it was enough. For fun (???), we turned off our lights and tried to figure out where to go next, how to get out of a particular spot, by feel. Worms of panic squirmed occasionally–what would we do if our lamps went out? Or if we turned them off and they wouldn’t turn back on? The answer was simple and obvious: we would get out the same way we came in. Step by step, hand-over-hand. We’d close our eyes, so the dark would feel like a choice, and move by thoughtful gut, prodding the air ahead with hand and foot, making sure a steady hold waited for us. Eventually we’d make it through.

The terrain of the caves was captivating and varied: by turns rough and jagged, alternatively smooth and rounded, like mounds of mud rolled down in layers. Deceptively soft looking. Bone dry in parts, sweating beads of moisture in others–and in still others, crystal clear pools glimmered with reflections when your light happened to touch upon them. Often, but no less delightful for the frequency, the glow from my headlamp would bounce against seemingly black, dense stone only to have it light up and sparkle like it was dusted in stars. The phenomena, I think it’s actually called “cave glitter,” brought to mind those writing sessions where you go in feeling blah, sure that your project is a full flop, only to get ten minutes into working and realize that you have idea after idea.

Yes, my writing life is like exploring caves in every way. Exhilarating. Intimidating. Sometimes fear-invoking. Challenging. Revealing. Often I can see no further in a story than to the end of a line. I know I have to accept the necessity of feeling my way around in the dark. I am continually amazed by the depths and diversity I discover. And just like I can’t wait to do more spelunking, I’m excited to be back in the cavern of my office, climbing through the gnarl of passageways, dead ends, and mysterious spaces that make up my writing. And my head. 😉

I hope you had a great summer–and whether you took a conscious break to “fill the well” as Julia Cameron calls it, or wrote ferociously, making the most of longer days, I hope you’re feeling inspired and itchy to do some keyboard caving of your own.

I’d love to hear about the types of non-writing activities you feel work as analogies for your writing life.

~ Ev

*Okay, with two exceptions. (1) My family and I have a camping journal that we take on trips and leave randomly about the campsite, cabin, or hotel room. Throughout our vacation, we take turns jotting down memorable moments/thoughts. But this year, I reined myself in even there and wrote entries in keeping with everyone else’s, so two. Under a page each. (2) I did work required to keep my business afloat, of course. For me, limiting myself to those few things is not writing. 🙂

About the three-author reading . . .

I had the privilege of taking part in a three-author reading event at UNBC (Terrace campus) this past Thursday (July 9th), along with poet Simon Thompson (watch for his poetry collection, coming September 2009 from New Star Books) and Si Transken, an inspiring wild woman who, amidst her hectic life of teaching as a tenured PhD at UNBC and working with street women and in shelters in Prince George, writes wickedly funny, painfully challenging poems about the people she meets—docu-poems.

The way I prepared this time was particularly beneficial and non-crazy-making (bonus!), and evening was totally fun and inspiring night—I went home so fired up that I wrote ‘til 3:00 a.m.

Once Simon began to speak, I forgot my nerves. He made interesting commentary on writing in general, and the poems he shared, full of sharp, vivid images, pulled me in entirely. His poetry is like a camera’s click—each scene is captured with precision, right down to the changes in light and shadow. I especially love how he makes no references to mood or emotion, yet each poem is powerfully felt because of the details he chooses to elaborate on. An excellent take-home point for every writer!

Si was shocking and fantastic—soft-spoken, smiley, constantly joking as a presenter. Her poems? Her words? They flashed and slashed like a pulled knife. She is all about social activism and change and vocal about what’s wrong in the world what needs to be righted and so high energy you wonder if she breathes when she talks and you’re ashamed/challenged—your words your thoughts your art should DO something.

The audience was great—very engaged, laughing and interactive. Yay! Afterward, most hung around to chat a bit. I especially enjoyed talking with Noreen Spence, a wonderful painter, about some of the parallels between painting and writing (maybe between all arts—my sister’s a classical singer and we notice similarities in our processes all the time too).

This morning I received an e-mail from Noreen that said in part: “I was listening to the three of you last night and thinking about what enormous courage it took to do what you did. Another way that writing is similar to painting. All this solitary activity and invested energy and then one day there you are, having to be exposed and suddenly gregarious. What a wild ride. Only crazy people would willingly climb on for this insane roller coaster. Thank heavens for the crazy people!”

Yes, thank heavens. 🙂

Writing is a solitary, intimate endeavour, and while I love that about it, it also makes mingling with people who do what I do (or want to do) and who love and obsess about the same things I do (in different forms or modes) that much more important, special, out of the ordinary, nourishing.

If you can, get thee to a reading soon!

Being True to Characters, Being Politically Correct, Censorship—a bit of a rant.

In the Question-of-the-Week thread on a writing forum that I moderate, someone brought up political correctness and asked for thoughts about what to do if you’re “told that it’s ‘politically incorrect’ to say you’re crazy or mad or out of your mind, things like that, because you are offending mentally ill people . . . Having [my MC] tear her hair and say “Oh, I must be mentally ill” isn’t gonna cut it but I don’t want to go out of my way to be offensive either.”

The asker inadvertently stumbled on one of my instant hot buttons.

People who critique characters and/or dialogue according to whether or not said characters/quotes are politically correct are IDIOTS!!! (Heh, heh, how’s that for potentially offensive?) Authors have a responsibility to show life as it is really experienced and to create people who are real—a story should never be a tool for propaganda (even if the PC view is actually a valuable or “correct” view).

Besides, in my experience, most would be PC police are completely obtuse, focusing on random words that they find personally offensive (which, very interestingly to me, usually have nothing to do with them personally), ignoring context and theme. I.E. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird is still frequently banned (ARGH about book banning, period!), not by racist groups hoping to subvert her message, but by no-mind white people who object to her use of the word “nigger.” As if using it in the story somehow promotes its use rather than confronts it.

Back to the original question, almost no one questioning his/her sanity would contemplate whether they were experiencing mental illness, and ones who would couch it that way and speak of “disordered thinking,” etc., would be very specific characters. One of my MCs is a psychologist, for example, and she, understandably, uses shoptalk as she analyzes herself. However, even she reverts to the type of shorthand people really use when they’re afraid: insane, crazy, mad—though she would never use such talk with clients, and—something I find interesting about her—never even thinks in those terms for most clients, only herself. Writing is always about being true to the character(s).

Does a character feel like he’s losing his marbles? Is she going insane, or going mental? Is he worried about going postal, or is he just a few bricks short of a load? Is he afraid he’s losing it, or is he totally f*cked up? (Insert about a bazillion other ways people really refer to questions of mental illness. Every individual would think of and express that fear in a way unique to him/herself.

We need to write honest stories and should only listen to criticism that says, “Hmm, this doesn’t ring true to me somehow,” NEVER to comments like, “Well, that’s offensive.”

People who struggle with mental health issues (or any other “issues”—racism, abuse, etc) aren’t offended by honest portrayals of a character going through the same. Likewise, showing the awful treatment people endure may be painful, even disturbing, but it shouldn’t offend us—it should challenge us.

If anything, it’s the opposite of what the PC crowd says: books that deal with life as it is really experienced open doors for thought and conversations that might actually have the power to bring about the changes that supposedly the PC-obsessed want to see. Emotionally true stories make us sympathetic, make us ask questions, make us consider what we believe and why we believe it.

Why can’t more people understand:

Stories that use the F-word aren’t about swearing being cool.

Stories that depict racism as it actually exists are not racist.

Stories that show violence as it all to often occurs are not promoting violence.

Stories that explore sexuality in all its weird, wonderful (and yes, sometimes horrific and unhealthy) are not porn.

Stories are written to help make sense of the world and the things that exist in it; avoiding the portrayal of something doesn’t make it cease to be.

And IF the stories _are_ actually endorsing things that are offensive, awful, “sinful,” etc . . . they still need to be out there. We learn as much (or more!) from what we hate as we do from what we agree with. Are there books/topics that I wish didn’t exist? Absolutely. Would I fight for their right to stay on shelves? Without exception. Mein Kampf encourages absolutely revolting, illogical, repugnant opinions; it also incites people to realize that even “quiet” forms of racism should be confronted.

That last point is crucial: we are allowed to, in fact, we must challenge ideas put forth, question attitudes displayed, point out what we see as flawed, harmful, hateful . . . Everyone has a right to publish; not everything is right. Not the latter by any means. I deplore the content/philosophy/pov some insist on putting out there (and attack it vehemently). I loathe gratuitous sex and violence in books or “art,” and I’m not silent when people are portrayed as commodities to be used for slaking lust. That’s why we have voices: to use them. We can’t take away someone else’s without saying it would be fine to have ours stolen too.

It may seem that I’ve leaped from worrying about the “small” thing of political correctness to addressing the larger issue of censorship, but I don’t think it’s a leap at all. The former is just the latter with a good makeover.

I think the voices of what’s appropriate/proper, etc. assail all writers to some degree or another. What are your thoughts on the topic? I assume you have places you “don’t go” as an author, but do you believe that there are places no one should be allowed to go?

The author who contributed the question that sparked the fire of all this thought offered a glass of wine and chocolate to those who responded—perhaps I should offer the same to you who read my rant. Virtual wine and chocolate for us all!