My Heroes and Heroines

                 My heroes and heroines aren’t movie stars, TV personalities, athletes, or musicians—they’re moms and dads who are home caring for children with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or other special needs.  The heroic parents I’m talking about are there for their kids, day in and day out, loving them, providing for them, assuring them, teaching them, giving them warmth in a cold world. While movie stars are scratching desperately for peer approval, TV personalities are worrying about Neilson ratings, musicians are hoping for a gold or platinum record, and athletes are dedicating long hours to physical perfection, my heroes and heroines are putting aside personal needs and goals and are directing their energies toward helping the most helpless in their lives.

A New Attitude

        Unruly children no longer bother me. Why? I don’t have all the facts. I remember too well the stares and caustic comments from uninformed onlookers who had no idea that what they were criticizing was not a bad little boy, but a boy with autism who could not quite understand his place in the world. “…Can’t you control him?” “Well, no, not always, for you see he has autism.” Blank stares from those who had never heard the word and who wouldn’t have softened their indignation had they understood.

 A Visit to McDonalds

        My little guy blocked one of the tunnels because he didn’t know what to do. The concept of moving along was new to him. Impatient parents shouted scathing remarks to him and to me. I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. All they knew was that their children were delayed somewhat in their trips through the tunnels.
        “But he’s a good boy,” I said. “He doesn’t get it yet—but he will. He has autism. It was only a month ago that he answered his first question. Please be patient with him.”
         A big burly construction worker joined his wife and together they rejected my words. “You’re just making excuses for him. Get him out of here. He’s upsetting our kids.”
         “But…”
         “No buts, get him out and take him home.”
         “He loves it here.”
         “The playscape is for regular kids.”
         “He is a regular kid.”
         “No, he’s not.”
         “Well, he wants to be a regular kid.”

 Michael and His Wheelchair
         His little body was so twisted he couldn’t raise his head, so his teacher and classmates lifted his wheelchair and locked it in place on top of a large rectangular table with the other children seated around him looking up while he looked down. It was a grand arrangement. Michael was the center of attention and he knew it. And he could participate because he was now able to observe all that was going on without raising his head. My little guy with autism was thrilled for Michael. Michael was now happy. He wasn’t alone anymore, staring at the floor. And the other kids (typical and untypical) were delighted as well. They loved Michael.

Michael’s Mother and the Food Stamps

         Not long after the wheelchair incident, I ran into Michael and his mother at the supermarket. My boy with autism went immediately to stand by his friend. Neither said much, but it was clear they were delighted to be in each other’s company. I visited with Michael’s mom for a bit and she introduced me to her second child, a toddler showing unmistakable signs of autism—signs I knew only too well. When it came time for her to pay, she did so with a food stamp card. My heart sank—not because I have anything against food stamps. Many need them and in fact couldn’t survive without them. But I was overwhelmed by an inescapable truth. Michael’s mom not only had two special-needs children, but she was essentially broke. And yet as we parted, her smile was bright and her jaw was set in determination—determination to live her life for her children—no matter what their imperfections.

Heroes and Heroines

Not self-indulgent, self-absorbed celebrities, but steady, loving, uncomplaining moms and dads who concentrate on the needs of their handicapped kids, and who (late at night) remember their own dreams and hopes.

Sex

            Illicit sex
            Adultery
            “He fondled her alabaster globes…”

Okay, you say, now you’ve got our attention.  But how are you going to work those three items into your blog? 

“He fondled her alabaster globes…”  If you’re thinking this phrase is the classic send off for soft and medium-core porn in our novels, you are quite right.  Do I appreciate graphic sex in the books I write or read?  No, I don’t.  Lurid, pornographic sex bores me.  Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann bore me.  Maybe I feel this way because as a friend of mine said, “I don’t want to read about other people doing it.  I want to do it myself.”  But whatever my motivation, I don’t appreciate descriptive sex scenes.  In fact, I most often find they are used as substitutes for characterization, plotting, narrative, and action.  Am I advocating censorship?  Of course not.  I believe in writers writing freely and readers reading freely.  I’m speaking for myself only and for my taste. 

Adultery.  Does what I’ve just written mean that I don’t like illicit sex or adultery in novels?  No.  It doesn’t mean that at all.  Sex and adultery are powerful themes and belong in our books.  They’ve always been there, and they’ll always be there.  ANNA KARENINA is saturated with adultery.  Anna and Count Vronsky spend most of the book energetically engaging in adultery.  But Tolstoy doesn’t devote large portions of his work to describing entangled arms and legs or fondled alabaster globes.  Adultery and illicit sex are central to ANNA KARENINA but pornographic sex is non-existent.
MADAME BOVARY is similar.  Flaubert has made Emma’s serial adultery a compelling central theme, but no “alabaster globes” here either—merely a solid story featuring well-drawn, imperfect beings.
And the story of King David and Bathsheba in the Bible is another example of adultery as a major legitimate theme.  We have been captivated by their story for three thousand years.

Do I appreciate pornographic sex scenes?  No.  Do I look for fondled alabaster globes? No. Do I search new books for lurid, titillating scenes that I wouldn’t allow my kids to read? No.

Do I appreciate sex in the novels I read and write?  You bet I do.

Blog About Blogs

I particularly enjoy blogs that help other writers increase their sales and income. And I can usually tell (though not always) when the bloggers are genuinely interested in helping others, and when they are hustling for their own books. Not that I mind them doing this, but it becomes obvious when that's their primary purpose. There must be the proper balance.

I'm also partial to blogs that talk about the writing process itself. We are never so far along in the game that we don't need reminders about how to write clearly, effectively, and accurately.

Two of my favorite types of blogs--one designed to help fellow writers make money, the other designed to help fellow writers improve their product.  And when the two appear together, it's the best of both worlds.

A Book Club Puzzle

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away (in a different incarnation), I sold a book to one of the big six NY publishers.  My advance was not large, but not bad.  It took a year to come out (groan), and then sold about 4700 copies from a 5000 print run—mostly to libraries.  At that point one of the TV networks bought a movie option (never exercised), but still, the extra money was nice.  As most novels do, the book died on the vine, and the NY publisher was irritated that I didn’t want to buy the 300 remainders at a highly discounted price.  I’m vain, but not that vain.  300 copies of my own book in my car trunk or on my shelves didn’t do a thing for me. OK, now the reason for this blog.  I then got a letter from my publisher telling me that a book club (now defunct) had bought my story for one of their editions.  Terrific.  The payment was not great, but every little bit helps—except I never received the money.  In the meantime, my new book had been rejected by my publisher, and my relationship with the firm continued to spiral downward.  (It’s amazing how fast you fall out of favor when your publisher has 300 remainders on their hands.)  Anyway, I forgot all about the book club deal—assuming, I think, that since I hadn’t heard anything, the deal had fallen through, or the club had backed out. Over the years the whole experience became a distant memory.  Imagine my surprise the other day when I found a copy of the book club edition for sale in a used bookstore. Somebody owes me money—or maybe not. Maybe they counted it against my original advance which was never fully covered, or maybe my agent kept the money (which would be ok with me because I loved her and if she needed the dough, she was welcomed to it).  She’s gone now, so that door’s closed.  But even if she were still around, I wouldn’t open the door.  She loved my writing and encouraged me with every bone in her body.  That’s enough.  I suppose I could write to the publisher and tell them what I discovered; but why bother?  Indie publishing's more fun, and no one's trying to get you to buy your own remainders.
I’ll just let the book club mystery remain.

Stories

We writers live and die by stories. Perhaps everyone does. We understand life by the tales we live and tell. It’s always been that way. Shakespeare, Jesus, Mark Twain (I’ll bet that’s the first time those three have ever been mentioned in the same sentence), all presented their life’s principles in the stories they told. Now don’t get upset. I don’t mean to equate Jesus with Shakespeare and Twain. I know that each belongs on his proper level. But when it comes to storytelling, they have a lot in common. Each shows his ideas through his characters—their relationships, strengths, weaknesses, treacheries, and heroics.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say, “I only read non-fiction.” That makes me sad because I believe that those who don’t read fiction miss out—they miss the joy of storytelling, of example, of parables, of imagination.