Friday, May 04, 2012

Behind Bars

It has been 1 year since I self-published Among Women and I decided, in honor of that anniversary, to offer the book for free download this weekend. From today, Friday, May 4th, to midnight Sunday, May 6th, Pacific Time, Among Women is available on Amazon and Smashwords for free.

The book is about a young woman who finds herself homeless in New Orleans and, just as she has worked herself into a position where she can move back into the regular world, is arrested and thrown in jail on a bogus charge. The woman they're looking for had been committing her crimes for years and Pearl Caldwell has only been in New Orleans for 6 weeks. She is sure she will be out in a few days, once the mistake is cleared up, but finds herself stuck in jail without a lawyer or visitors or anyone who knows she is there. She has to make the best of a bad situation, and it doesn't get much worse than being locked in with more than 50 criminals. She has to find a way out, but first she has to survive.  There are worse things that living among criminals, like having someone trying to kill you.

The book is based on fact with a healthy dose of fiction. So far, the reviews have been favorable with 4/5 stars, and for that I am grateful, but no one can review or even read the book if they don't know it exists, and that is what this weekend's promotion is all about -- getting the news out.

As I watched the numbers change and books being "sold" in the UK and Denmark, I thought about all the women behind bars, the ones I got to know and the ones currently either behind bars or in an oppressive society that counts them as nothing.

The movies like to portray women behind bars as sex hungry animals ready to stick a shiv in someone's back or hump the nearest cellmate or amoral guard to get a few privileges. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mostly, being in jail is boring and regimented and without much in the way of joy, outside of playing cards or just surviving from day to day. The worst part is that our own representatives are currently on a witch hunt here in the United States to minimalize and marginalize women even further. We might as well be wearing bourkahs and veils as Congress and legislators look for ways to take away our rights and control over our own bodies.

From the beginning of human existence, there have been women helping women to abort an unwanted child and to take care of each other. It was a woman's world where few men ever ventured because it was none of their business. Wise women, medicine women, helped women prone to miscarriage and giving birth to stillborn children to keep from getting pregnant. It was steeped in magic because they didn't understand how children were created and born, but it was also steeped in care and love for each other.

As civilization came into being and people began living in towns and cities, and men took over ruling everything, they looked at women and decided women were evil and must be controlled. After all, what is a women good for if she doesn't cook and take care of the home and hearth, and if she is unable to bear children, preferably sons? Women found ways around the strictures by ministering to each other, by talking and sharing their knowledge, giving aid and comfort wherever possible. But we live in an enlightened age where spouses and partners go into the delivery room to see and participate in the birth of their children. Men couldn't possibly underrate women. And yet they do.

In China, women are allowed to have 1 child. If the child is a girl, she is either killed or sent to an orphanage. Male children are valued, except how many males would be born if there were no females?

Here in the United States, legislation has been talked about and is going through the process to become law so that life begins at conception. A woman who has an abortion will be branded a murderer and I'm not sure what the law will say about stillborn children. Who will be to blame for that? Women, probably.

Women will be forced to carry children they don't want to full term with the excuse that there are thousands of families who can't have children ready to adopt those unwanted children. Can you say, baby factory? Sounds like a new twist on an old Johnathan Swift screed, A Modest Proposal. Women's bodies have now become the property of state and federal legislators high on organized religion and certain of their inalienable rights to determine the fate of another human being -- a female human being. They would never do this to a man. Men are far more valuable than women, in spite of the fact that men cannot procreate by themselves or give birth. They need women for that and they haven't figured out how to make the Ixian Axlotl tanks work, which are basically brain dead females that nothing more than mindless wombs. Sometimes it feels like that is how some men feel, that we are mindless wombs.

When women speak, men muzzle them, as they do in the Middle East and other countries where sharia law and strict Islam is taught. It doesn't matter that beneath their shapeless black prisons women are dressed as flamboyantly and beautifully as any model on a high fashion couture runway. They are still imprisoned and throwing them crumbs is not a substitute for equality and the right to speak their minds without fear of retribution -- and prison.

While I am not on board with feminism, except where it pertains to equal rights and equal pay, I do understand how being oppressed can make a woman mad enough to want to marginalize men as they have marginalized women for centuries -- for millennia. No one should be marginalized and no one should be forced into silence or imprisoned behind bars, no matter how comfortable and safe it seems.

And no one, man or woman, has to right to determine what a woman does with her own body, even if she decides to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. There is no way to save the unborn child without holding the unwilling mother hostage. It should be free will and free choice and yet the only ones exercising free will and free choice are determined to imprison those that stand against them, those that speak against them, those that choose a different path. 

Here I am, once again on my soapbox, off topic and into real world issues when all I wanted to do was let you know about a free book. A free ebook at least. A story of a woman imprisoned for something she had not done and forced to face herself and women she marginalized in her own mind because they were different, because they were criminals.

Pearl Caldwell was a prisoner of her upbringing made a prisoner by circumstance who found freedom in the company of criminals. That is the story behind Among Women and one I hope you will at least take a look at, read, and offer your comments and reviews. You can pick up a free copy of Among Women this weekend at for Kindle and Smashwords (use coupon CJ84D during checkout) for other e-readers. Find out what it's really like behind bars and meet Pearl Caldwell, a woman much stronger and more resilient that she knew.

You can also purchase print copies for $9.95.

Are We There Yet?

I had to take a break from reading A Dance With Dragons and pick up something else. In this case, it was Terry Pratchett's Pyramids. Yes, I'm still reading Pratchett since I recently discovered him. I'm now working my way through from the beginning, no matter how much I want to skip down the list and get to Going Postal. I've seen the movie, and it was good, but I want to read the book, too, which brings me back to George R. R. Martin.

I wasn't halfway through A Dance With Dragons when I began to notice I was leaning forward as though trying to make a slowing vehicle keep moving, preferably faster. It didn't work. I had to stop and pick up something else.

It isn't that I don't enjoy the different birds' eye views of what is happening in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea, but that the story should be further along. I also just want to slap Danaerys Targaryen (do Dothraki have last names?) because she has turned into a whiny, indecisive, and utterly boring character afraid of her own shadow and second guessing everything and everyone. She has become weak where before she was a force to be reckoned with. Now she is just puling.(Spoiler alert!)

Puling. Now that is an interesting word. It's another word for whining and whimpering. Okay, so one of the dragons has eaten a child so you lock the others up and keep them chained in the deepest dungeons. Is that fair? They didn't flame and eat a child. They stuck to sheep. There is no reason to believe that Drogon did it on purpose. Well, he had to do it on purpose since he ate the child, but not with malicious intent. For all you know, she was dressed in sheepskin and looked like a tasty sheep. Dragons have to eat, don't they? That's no reason to chain the others in the dungeon and stop visiting them. Dragons are intelligent. Train them and they will obey. You are the dragon mother after all. But I digress.

The whole point is that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons could have been combined in a much smaller book and the story advanced. The fourth book should have been the end of the story -- or at least getting closer to it than it is now. It's time to bring things to a head and close it down. If George wanted to write more, he could do anthologies of stories from Westeros with the characters he has introduced and even create some more, but this series should be done by now.

I'm a writer and I certainly don't like people telling me how to write or what to write (except for my editor, and I reserve the right to disagree on issues of plot and story lines, and the occasional comma, but never about grammar). The problem here is that a series should end at some point, but not like Peter Danielson did in his Child of the Lion series where he screwed with history and time just to keep the same players and their offspring playing in the same field instead of the hundreds of years that passed in real time. That's why I gave up the series. As much as I liked Shobai and his brother Hadad's children, and the whole children of Cain series, I couldn't get past the time thing. Danielson wrote 19 books in his Child of the Lion series; is George Martin aiming for the same number of books? If so, he's going to have to move the story forward faster. At least in Danielson's books, the story moved quickly and something happened in every book to advance the series. With Martin, not so much. It feels like treading water in a drying mud pit.

That is not to say that I don't enjoy all the points of view or the story (what there is of it) but that I want the story and characters to actually move forward. The White Walkers haven't been mentioned in ages and haven't made an assault on the Wall. It is as if the White Walkers have stopped being a threat, what with all the resettling of the wildlings and such. George seems to have lost the thread and is wandering around trying to tell too many stories without advancing the plot, which brings up the question of when is a book done? 

I've asked that question with every book and story I've written -- or began to write. When does it end? When is the story done?

The answer in one case was never since I had no middle, only a beginning and an end. I had fleshed out the characters and got caught up in the relationship of the characters without having any idea what the middle of the story that took me to the end (girl gets boy) really was. I shelved the book, and rightly so. I didn't have a clue what the story was about, just an idea and something I wanted to say. I knew I'd lost the thread after about the 5th or 6th chapter and decided it was enough. Time to shelve the book. I had some great scenes and wonderful characterizations going, but no story. It was time to shut it down.

It feels like Martin has the same problem. He's become mesmerized with telling so many points of view that he has lost the thread of the story and the initial impetus to get going. That doesn't mean he doesn't tell a great story -- or at least he usually does -- but that he needs to get back on track, focus, and get moving on the main event, which is the coming of winter and the White Walkers and bringing Dany to Westeros with her dragons ready to fight and take back the iron throne from the Lannisters -- or rather from Cersei Lannister, if she gets to live now that she is in peril of her life from her actions. (I haven't finished Dragons yet, so I don't know whether she will call on ser Gregor Clegane from the pit or if Jaime will at last be able to fight with his left hand and win the day for his sister, lover, whatever.)

It is so easy to get caught up in telling so many different stories in a series that you lose focus and the point of the main story, which is to make good on the promise of the first book, the very first words. If a writer cannot maintain that focus and keep moving forward, it is far too easy to get lost. Don't want to kill all those wonderful darlings, and yet the writer must if he is to keep his audience and not coast on his laurels.

With series books, and even with trilogies, there is at least a year wait between books and, while this seems not to be a big deal, for those who began reading when the series began, to have to wait for so many years is asking a bit much, especially when there is an 8-year gap between the first 3 books and the 4th. I don't think I want to wait around another 8 years for the next book, and I doubt the 4th book would be out if HBO had not decided to make Game of Thrones. George wants to see the whole story told on the screen, and so do the fans, but what if the series doesn't pan out? What if it becomes too costly to continue making the series? Will HBO cancel it before we get to the part where the dragons reach Westeros and battle with the White Walkers and winter is joined? Will George ever finish the series?

Too many questions with no answers as yet. So far, we have season 2 of Game of Thrones and season 3 has been promised, and is likely now getting ready to film, but that's no guarantee of season 4 or the finish of the story.

A word to the wise. When a story begins to pall and you're treading drying mud, it's time to reassess what you have. If it's a story where the middle can be found and put in (not possible with my aviatrix and her lost aviator love in enemy hands) or the main thread can be found and followed to its inevitable conclusion (whatever that will be), then get busy and get on with it. If not, it's time to consign the story to the shelf. It's time may come, or it may not, but at least there are more stories to tell.

So, if I had any advice to give George (and who does not?), I'd say get back on track and save all these little stories for an anthology of stories from Westeros -- it would sell millions -- but get back on track and finish the story you began in A Game of Thrones. It's time to kill those darlings (or save them for an anthology) and move along or a lot more people are going to be puling, "Are we there yet?" And that's no good for anyone.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Go phish

I like having easy access to my money and being able to shop online. I don't have to pay high card fees because I have a debit card, even if it means that I often cannot buy or subscribe where I want because the vendor refuses to accept a debit card. Small problems really.

But when I have to wait nearly a week to get a new card because the old card was phished, something must be said.

To the bank: There is no reason why you could not have sent my card by priority or next day mail. I did offer to pay the extra charges -- with my own money. I don't care what your protocol is. I have one credit card and use it for all my purchasing needs. You are refusing to allow me access to my money when I am the one putting it in and keeping a substantial amount in savings. You have been wonderful in this past, but on this issue, you need to rethink your policy.

To the phisher:  This is the second time you have tried to use my money and failed. Most of my money rests in savings and I get instant email and text alerts anytime money is added or removed from my account. I am not a drunk or a drug addict and have perfect recall of everything I spend, so when you decide that one or two charges will pass unnoticed you're wrong. I did notice and shut down my account. It was a hassle for me, but I will not share my money with you. You certainly have not shared your money with me so that tells me you either don't have any because you don't have a job or because you spend everything you earn and have decided that I am your backup savings fund.

For the first, get a job and earn your own money instead of living off the proceeds of someone who does give up their free time to earn it.

For the second, consider psychiatric treatment and voluntary in-house treatment in a locked psychiatric ward because there is never going to be a time when I will be your backup savings fund. I earn my money the hard way by working for it and the only people I am willing to help out financially are people I know who have had a rough time, either because of health or accident. Since you fall into neither category, I would suggest the voluntary (or involuntary if you haven't the gumption to commit yourself) commitment to a psychiatric ward.

I am not angry at the phisher. I am a little peeved at the bank, but all is well. I have my new card and have decided to be less free where I save that information online. Yes, it is a hassle to input the information every time I use the card, but I am a fast typist and can readily remember my information because I input it so many times. My brain still functions well enough for that despite having passed 50 on the age scale. Mostly, I was inconvenienced, but not so badly that I could not deal with it.

Okay, a good friend failed to get her birthday gift, but that turned out to be a good thing since her family bought her the same thing. I had to figure out another option and came up with a good one, so no harm done. And I saved a considerable amount of money while I waited for the new card inasmuch as I was unable to access my account for the purposes of emptying it slowly and with feeling. No harm done.

There are good and bad aspects to being phished, but I have great safeguards in place and I am likely to lose very little. I stopped worrying about my credit rating a long time ago since I don't plan to buy or build a house until I can afford to do so in cash. I have simple needs and very few wants that I cannot fulfill at my leisure and, as Gram always told me, my wants won't hurt me.

Delayed gratification is a good thing and it reminds me that there have been times when I had no rent to pay because I had nowhere to live. I had no utilities or phone bills every month because I had nowhere to live. I didn't need to worry about cleaning house or whether or not the refrigerator and stove worked because I had no groceries to buy; I lived on fast food and the wide assortment of fresh food found at delis and markets, buying only what I could eat in a day or two. I got more exercise because I didn't have a car and used public transportation when I could afford it.

My life now is comfortable and I don't stint on the necessities or momentary whims. I had a few days of minor discomfort, but all is well now. I have purchased my belated birthday gift and spent an enjoyable few minutes talking with my friend when I called to wish her happy birthday and explain the delay. Sometimes a Facebook post is not enough.

While I wouldn't go back to being homeless and destitute living on the edge without knowing where tomorrow's meals and housing will come from, there are times when I long for the simple life -- as long as there is money for laundry and a place to shower every day. It was often a hard scrabble life, but I got lots of material to write about and I lived. I didn't simply exist. And I worked for everything I had then and have now, as should the phisher, who should work as hard to get his own money as he did trying to steal mine.

I'm watching and waiting and I will cut off every phisher who attempts to steal what I have worked so hard to obtain. You can be sure that if I find the person, I will make sure they have 3 meals a deal and a place to sleep with a whole lot of other people just as cavalier with other people's money and intent on destroying themselves and they will never have to worry again about housing, food, or freedom. Beware.