Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bullies and Ticking time bombs Just two on a writer’s buffet of antagonistic assortments

I have said it before and I will say it again, writing can be a very therapeutic practice. Living in this world where every day we read or hear about instances where people reach their boiling point and – snap, it’s a very safe place to go. People should try it more often.

Creating characters from life has been a literal smorgasbord for me. All you have to do is look around you and make your selection from the vast varied of personalities, create a setting where they be their dastardly self and off you go. An antagonistic antagonist is just that – antagonistic. They are characters that are designed to infuriate, frustrate, and in general make the ‘good guy’s’ day miserable. Sometimes, everyone’s whole life, miserable.

Dealing with an antagonistic situation that feels hopeless will absolutely destroy a life. So why when life is full of these times in our lives do we write them into our fiction?
I guess it is the chick pecking out of the egg stamina that life needs to be seasoned with that causes us to do it. But sometimes, enough is enough, is enough already! And another question while I am at it, why do we remember these distasteful characters? Scrooge, Mommy Dearest, come to mind instantly. I think we put them into fiction because sometimes that is where we can control them for a change. In life, they seem to get a go free card. It isn’t fair. It never is. It never will be.

I hate bullies and mental bullies are my worst. I grew up with a mental bully. How he became one, I am not exactly sure, but become one, he did. See if you recognize this character. He/she sucks the air out of any room they walk into. They give spouses reason to retreat into romance novels and their children ulcers. You never know what or when something you say or do will set them off.

An older version of this character tended to come from a stanch English upbringing where children were to be seen and not heard. Where a child’s laughter meant they must be doing something wrong. Where disciplining a child meant having them stand at attention with arms at their sides, looking straight ahead giving complete and undivided attention to their discipliner. A more modern version is what is commonly called a control freak. This bloodthirsty character must be in control at ALL times. One slip of the tongue, one misplaced adjective, reference to or about their character without their permission can produce a verbal emotional gutting. Personal opinions of others are instantly critiqued with a sharp lacerating tongue by these perilous-self-imposed judge-and-jury freaks.

Characters that are ticking time bombs control a scene. Everyone knows they are there and can at any given moment send it into complete mental chaos. There are levels of awareness to this character being present. Those who only have hearsay about how explosive their venomous personality can be, upon seeing they are in the mix, simply become aware. Those who are closer to these menaces have a mental switch that instantly activates a filter that guards all conversation, action and conduct. And then there are those less fortunate who have up-close and personal experience because they have become a publicly gutted and disemboweled example in the literary world.

These poor souls have a sad persona about them. Where once there was a glint of joy in their eyes, now there is a weariness laced with dread. These understudies have an acquired capacity that no one should have to practice. They can walk on eggs, skate across thin ice and do it nearly every second of everyday while living in the lives of the antagonistic control freak; because you never know when that bomb will go off.  The simplest misstep, especially on the part of someone who knows better than to challenge this toxic personality, can engulf a scene with verbal pepper spray.  No one is safe. The air becomes thick with tension and everyone feels that backlash. But woe unto that one in particular who is the main target of the verbal and emotional lethal weapons posed to go off in their direction without warning.  

There has been a great deal in the news lately as the world is becoming less tolerant of bullies. Bullies come in every shape, size, and gender. What absolutely amazes me is how icons have been made of some types of bullies which the world seems to find humorous and entertaining. The one that comes to mind is probably going to give you a moment to reflect – Lucy in the cartoon strip, Peanuts.

Lucy is an iconic bully. She is a self-opinionated, fault finding, bubble bursting antagonist that always seems to delight in ripping Charlie Brown’s world out from under him, along with that stupid football.  So why did the creator of Charlie Brown make him such a wishy-washy target of Lucy’s brand of ridicule? In a documentary on Charles Schultz’ there are traces of his association with the shy somewhat melancholy ever-believing Charlie Brown.

Writers often give themselves away through their subject matter.  Writers are told to write what they know.  When we look at the other lineup of other characters, they all seem as benign as Charlie Brown in comparison to the superiority of Lucy. Supposedly, because Schultz had a hard time dealing with strong personalities, he probably felt there were others in the world as afflicted as he was.

To me Charlie Brown is the epitome of a bully’s target. Bullies seem to have some kind of special demonic radar that can seek out a Charlie Brown personality and rip them to shreds. Yet, as this harmless character takes his browbeating somewhere in most of us there is a voice screaming for Charlie Brown to stop being Charlie Brown! We want him to stand up to Lucy and tell her to SHUT UP! But why? Why is it that we want the Charlie Browns to change while leaving the Lucys intact with all their cruelty? And what about the cast of characters on the sidelines who watch the Lucys berate, belittle and embarrass the Charlie Browns?

Why are we made to be afraid of the Lucys? In letting them get away with their meanness aren’t we really just empowering them? No one touches Lucy. But when she flaunts off feeling all justified about herself, the rest of the Peanut characters, go into repair mode on Charlie Brown.

Everyone knows what Lucy just did. It becomes the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. But Charlie Brown has been wounded – again. And to leave him exposed and bleeding isn’t in the majority of the cast of character’s hearts. So that unspoken patch-up Band-Aid is applied, the residue of fall-out cleared from the air and life goes on.  
Everyone but Lucy seems to know what was done was wrong.  As she walks off with the ‘football’ prize being her unleashed characterization of Charlie Brown’s shortcomings she seems to be the winner. But is she? It isn’t Lucy that everyone’s heart goes out to, it’s Charlie Brown. More of us can associate with him than with the ‘Queen of Mean’.

Even though that antagonistic character seems to have whipped us into a frenzy of emotions, up from the ashes arises the real victor, the one we can associate with more times than not.  The one we want to associate with. God bless the Charlie Browns who won’t compromise their beliefs all for one kick of a football or yield to letting the superiority of an emotionally empty Lucy keep them from being the world’s real heroes.
I have a movie I watch when worldly adversaries seem to be winning. It’s a Few Good Men.
I have watched this many many times. And I have the same reaction every time. When Colonel Jessep is put on the stand and he is made to admit to what he has done, I want to march around and shout! The abuse of power! He thinks, because he has been allowed to think it, that he is above the law. That he somehow has the right to treat people any way he wants and that there are no consequences for his actions. Well, not so you antagonistic creep! Ah, that feels so good!

 In fiction when an antagonistic character can create that much emotional hatred it is called good writing, sadly in life its called heartbreaking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Smooth Stones Interview

 Writing takes a lot of solitary time. It is a one woman/man endeavor. I suppose if you received monetary rewards per word divided by the time spent writing those words you would get about $.00005. So writing has to be about something else. For me it just has to come out. I’ve loved writing since I was a child. A new spotless notebook was like emotional ambrosia to me. Something just had to be written there and I, of course, was elected to do it.

Loving to write fiction has both its joys and its frustrations.  I never tried any drugs in my former years, there was never a need. My drug of choice was to leave this world through writing. If you have never left this world that way you should try it some time.

You can go anywhere; become anything/anyone you want. There are no limitations. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.  I have found writing to be also very therapeutic. Strange as it sounds, journaling has never been one of my fortes. You would think it would be. Fiction on the other hand afforded me innumerable opportunities for mental travel.

Writing becomes addictive. When I start a new book (at the present I have 16 in files) I become attached to the characters. My very first book was January Sky. I slept, ate, and breathed those characters. I stayed up late and got up early just to get back to them.  When I finished the book I felt lost for days. I had spent so much time in the world I created for them that I felt I had lost friends when it was finished.

Unread fictional characters hiding in closets, dresser drawers, cabinets and attics are like the falsely accused screaming to be freed!  The publishing industry has banished many a good character to those lonely places.  When self-publishing became an option I think the doors of many a tortured fictional character slowly opened.

Today a much appreciated door opened for me through what I call “site sharing”.  Linking is the appropriate term, but ‘sharing’ seems to express more thankfulness for me.  This is an interview done for me and posted with another self-publishing author.

This Blog

Some websites I lik
Sunday, December 18, 2011

My cousin Susan Todd is also a writer. She has both fiction and non-fiction published, and recently started a blog titled, No Rhyme or Reason. She and I have discussed writing for many years, and have read each other's writing. She recently served as a beta reader for me on my second novel, providing me with excellent character feedback in addition to proofreading. Among Sue's books is one titled Five Smooth Stones. It sounds like it would be a non-fiction work about a biblical theme, but let Sue tell you about it.

 AATTA: Give a short summary of what book is about.

ST: It’s about five women who start out thinking that they are each unique in their own way, and they are. But they soon learn through an unexpected prolonged stay at a Bed and Breakfast just how much they have in common and the commonalities bond them together.

AATTA: How did you choose the characters?

ST: The characters really chose themselves out of a rich abundance of human nature. Just looking around us at the variety of people we meet, friends and often times family, we probable know someone like these ladies.

AATTA: What was your intention is writing this book?

ST: It was an interesting challenge personally to interact with characters that I had to create with personalities that differed from my own. I started out, as I hope the reader will, having likes and dislikes in the beginning. After all, not everyone is our cup of tea. But the more I got into each quirk the more I began to shelve some of my own judgments. As I wrote I began to see a link between their differences. I began to write from the perspective that possible what one saw in the other, that they didn’t like, was either a similarity or something they lacked. Then I began to wish these charming characters could see what I was seeing. And so they did.

AATTA: What do you want the reader to take away from Five Smooth Stones?

ST: I hope that if they see themselves or someone they know acting like these five, and that they will take another look. . Because in the end we are not really all that different in the area of basic needs. There is something to be said about reconciliation. Everyone has some redeeming quality. I once worked with a very contrary lady that I thought that God had not given one good quality. Even though I could not find one on a personal note about her, I came to appreciate the fact that she knitted beautifully!

You can find Five Smooth Stones at CreateSpace, an Amazon company, and on Amazon as well.

Her other published books are:
God said, "Tell Them I Am"

Eternity's Portal

Whales in the Pond

 I hope you will visit his site and perhaps leave a comment.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let Christmas reset your hope, belief and gratitude levels

     It’s Christmas again. Another year has come and gone and for some nothing changed and for some everything changed; things got worse. If you are one of those people who lost so much of your basic living needs there is no way the rest of us can truly understand the backlash of our falling economy.

          I guess what is on my mind this morning is hope, belief and gratitude. There seems to be an explosion of it around this time of year. Maybe there is something in the snow if you live in the snow states or just in the rain in other places. But wherever it comes from, it seems to permeate people’s lives for a few days.

          I’d like to think about gratitude for a minute.  How thankful are we for the things that we still have that others lost or never had?  The phrase, “I’d give my eye teeth” to have this or that shows my age. It’s an older expression.  There is a great deal in our world today that most people would give their eye teeth just to have a small portion of.

          When I worked there were days I hated getting up and going.  Something that always ran through my mind at times like that was how I’d feel if I walked into my work place and was called into the main office and they fired me.  The threat of losing things makes looking at what you have a whole lot better. I told myself that I’d be dancing all the way to work that morning if I had been out of a job. That even less pay was better than no pay at all and that there was someone who would trade places with me in a heartbeat.  I was right to think that way.

          I am sure you have seen the Christmas movies where you see a shivering individual standing outside looking through a snowy window at all the festive celebrating of the fortunate folks inside all warm and happy around a crackling fire. What would people standing outside of your life see today? What would they give their eye teeth to change to be in your shoes? It makes me stop and think whenever I am tempted to complain. I don’t think gratitude is settling for less, but a positive expression of appreciation.

Living in such a materialistic world I wonder if we aren’t losing the truth of statements like, “at least you have your health”, or “at least you have a job”, or “your children are all safe and well”, and so many more. Pick just one and think it through for a minute.  See if something inside doesn’t begin to change.

Belief, is such a simple word and yet so difficult to do at times. Have you ever believed for something that never happened? Or hasn’t happened yet? What of the things in our lives that sailed on that boat that is never coming back? Where you turn and walk away knowing it’s over? We have all had something in our lives that fits that description.  No one is exempt.

But the thing I think about is what the other option is if I stop believing? You kill all possibilities then. Let’s say you get stranded on an island. Days go by and no one comes looking. And the more time that goes by the less chance of it happening gets greater. But you are alive and still have needs. You realize that you have around you natural elements to recreate shelter, food, even fire. So you get busy and pretty soon you have a lifestyle equivalent to the best the island can offer.

Everybody has to be somewhere, right? So on the island is where you now find yourself. Every day you believe you’ll be rescued, but every day comes and goes; no boat. Years go by. You ate, you swam, you learned to appreciate nature, and you had shelter from the sun, rain, even a storm or two. Then one day you realize that your life on the island is coming to an end.  You think about the night you were tossed around in the angry sea, nearly drowning, fighting franticly to crawl onto the beach and now all the days in between.

If you look back at all the days you believed you’d be rescued and wasn’t you have to look at what your option would have been. What if you had stopped believing? When we stop in the roads of our lives and think about turning back we all have to ask ourselves, “back to what?”

We know what is behind us; it’s what might still be ahead that we will always wonder about. Even if the boat doesn’t come, isn’t looking for it every day better than not?

Christmas should reset our hope, belief and gratitude levels. I lost my childlike hope at an early age. It took me years to get it back.  My dear mother used to say, “don’t get your hopes up.” I understood many years later why she said that. She wanted to protect me from being disappointed.  We had a conversation about it one day after she became a Christian and she realized then that Hope and Belief is the very thing that does need to be built upon each and every day of our lives. It is what keeps us going.

In all of your giving this Christmas, find places to restore hope, believe with someone, and let your expressions of gratitude be explosive.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Love Pie

                 Everybody has a weakness (or two), one of mine is pie. I absolutely love all kinds of pie. Envisioning that warm flaky buttery golden-brown crust filled with thick-fruity goodness sliding off the server onto a plate with my name on it sends shivers down my spine. 

     Over the years I have made and eaten my share of pie. I guess my all-time favorite would be pumpkin. When I was younger I’d think nothing of tackling a fairly large orange specimen after singing it a few songs and giving it a few affectionate pats of farewell; believe me, it makes the from-scratch pies even better.
     Now I’m afraid Marie Callender is my pie maker. Sitting with my morning coffee while looking out the sliding glass doors this morning I was filled with memories. When, not visions of sugarplums, but an old cookbook came waltzing into mind. “Where is that book?”
     When up from my chair I arose and ran, well waddled is more like it, to my closet. And what did I find, but a stack of plastic storage containers a mile high! I threw open the lids and raised such a clatter that I thought for a minute my neighbor might come knocking wondering what was the matter.

     With eyes darting swiftly through smudged bifocals, a Senior's sin, I viewed the clear cases for what looked like books therein. Ah ha! Just as I thought in the very bottom case I spied the small stack of books I’ve kept throughout my travels.
     What puffing and grunting did sing through the air as I tugged and pulled at the stack of books I found there. One by one I lifted them out until, “at last!” I did shout.
     Back to my chair, now settled, now pleased, I opened the cover with ease. The Pies and Pastries Cookbook, favorite recipes of Home Economics Teachers, began to draw me in. I noted its publishing date of 1984. This spiral bound treasure of mine is 27 years old. I am not certain where or when I acquired it, but I did and over the years while thinning out my books have managed to hold to it.
     Now to get down to business. Pastries, strudels, pies, ├ęclairs, creampuffs, dumplings, tartlets, turnovers, and PIE! Oh my! Pies like you have never known existed. Like, Apple marmalade, pineapple red-hot, apricot, avocado (?), why not? Banana done in all ways, chiffon, blackberry, black bottom, blueberry to cherry! Buttermilk, cantaloupe-orange, cheese, mincemeat, black forest, supreme and chocolate Bourbon pecan pie. 

     Coconut, oatmeal, coffee, cranberry Bavarian, French current walnut, Fig, grape pie, grapefruit pie, Jeff Davis pies, maple, peach, peanut butter, pear, …. I am rolling with glee in my chair!
     Pistachio, plum, prune with rum, pumpkin, raisin, raspberry, rhubarb, shoofly pie, strawberry, sweet potato, tangerine, tutti-frutti, walnut, watermelon and silky clouds of fluffy cream piled wide and sky-high!
     I have to keep reminding myself to breathe as I turn the pages, especially with pictures. If I could, I’d climb through the veil of pretend with my fork in hand and taste and wallow in every pie plate leaving a trail of pie crust crumbs, berry stains and smears of chocolate everywhere.
                                     Did I mention… I love pie!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And so it begins…

      I suppose that once you start a blog it is essential to maintain some continuity in order to keep the million or so (give or take a few) followers one hopes to entice. We live in a hurried whirlwind of a world. Gone are the lazy days of summer, so to speak. Hoping to lure a few leisurely souls is my first target. What with Christmas nipping at our noses, it might take to mid March to entice those millions I am after.
     I am reminded of the young girl who thought her life was passing her by and lacked the inner fortitude to finish the things she started -­­ ending up cooking through Julia Childs' Cookbook and became not only famous for it, but ended up with a book, movie and who knows what else.
     Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. Do I feel that there are millions who hunger for some of the same internal longings that I do? There has to be, the world is too big for there not to be other frazzled souls who have so many words racing through their minds seeking some link to birth them into expression.
     Words will be THE big star here on this blog; Words, lots and lots and lots and lots or words. The No Reason being, is that writing them down and hoping someone will read them is second to my heart, my son holds first place.
     The love of writing is maddening. So why does one do it? Only those who love it as well can answer that. But I am not even sure that if you combined all the suggestions as to why writers love to write you would have a sane reason. I often wondered why at an early age I coveted white paper, clean smooth notebooks, sharpened pencils and even the smell of crayons. (To this day I can’t walk past the stationary department and not want to bring home piles and plies of notebook paper. I was so enamored by it as a child, that my mother had to hide my school supplies from me or I would have them all written on before the first bell rang.
     OH! The glory of being handed those supplies! I can still remember the feeling of complete joy. Starting school was only anticipated because of the on going romance with learning and writing all that I learned on paper.
     Being raised rather lower than middle-class, school starting, Easter, one’s Birthday, and Christmas brought immense pleasures that were few and far between. I am glad that I still have those feelings in my heart. I am very thankful for them. That the simplicity of crayons and a coloring book were not lost on my child heart or the joy those simple gifts were a part of making me who I still am today.
     I have a hard time understanding this manic electrical device era. It has robbed our minds of thinking or expressing our imaginations. Why bother? Simply a key stroke away is a bedazzling digital, 3-D, bigger than big world with every already imagined character you could ever want. I am not so sure but that this has caused the current medical diagnoses of Attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA). But that is another post on a day that I am on my soapbox.
     Today is about me and why I am starting this blog. How living with this desire to write has elated, energized, saddened and been the schoolmaster that at times sends me screaming into the night.
     So today I decided that if it remains a party of three ( me, myself and I) that laughs, cries, ponders over and otherwise loves what gets written here, than so be it. It has to come out! I can no longer wait for the world to beat a path to my door. I am flinging open the door and welcoming in whomever… within reason. (That is the one reason that will have limits.)
     So, I guess it is time to get on with the building of the site, the postings, referencing my books and hopefully linking up with other afflicted souls. Because misery loves company, we know who we are. Writing is a self- imposed passion that with the writing of each word brings about the need for the next and the next and the next and the……