A Blast from the Past

It’s April 2007 and I’m watching Night at the Museum. Mickey Rooney is in the cast. I’m experiencing a blast from the past, but one of those synchronous moments, a weird coincidence. I’ve recently lost my father. The connection — as tenuous as it can be between people and families at times — has been severed. When grief is fresh, it’s often difficult to invoke a good recollection and, depending on the relationship, sometimes those are scarce. Seeing the thespian conjures a welcome memory.

Many years ago, I booked tickets for Sugar Babies at the Savoy Theatre in London; the performance starred Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller. I don’t know why but at the last instant, I instructed the agent to add an extra ticket. I didn’t check with our friends whether they minded, or if my father were free. I took a spur of the moment chance. Our friends didn’t mind, and I told him to make sure he was available. I did not tell him where he was going except to see a show.

Sugar Babies is a musical revue, a tribute to the era of burlesque. Some might have thought it strange that our age group wanted to attend, but many of us had grown up watching musicals airing on a Sunday afternoon. The production was as nostalgic for us as for someone of my father’s generation.

A fabulous evening was had by all, though if you were to ask me now to note the songs sang, or the skits performed, I couldn’t. I can remember the moment Mickey came onto the stage too soon then had to stand pretending to be invisible until he could step in on cue, much to the entertainment of the other actors and the crowd. That Anne still had those fabulous shapely legs, which I rightly knew my father would enjoy viewing for real and not just on the television. That the saying not to work with children or animals, applies, at least when TV and stage is concerned: namely, a sketch where a woman had to stand covered in birds; the enactment went well except for the ‘little presents’ left on the floor, which created more laughter in a scene that should, and otherwise did, look beautiful.

We all had a wonderful night, but my father enjoyed himself most. He laughed his proverbial socks off and watching him laugh added to our amusement. I spent the evening sitting by his side while he chuckled, grinned, clapped and whistled. He did these things to the point of embarrassing, was the last one to stop, the last person to leave his seat — wonderful! Not only do I have this recollection, he took pleasure in a marvelous evening during a hard working, stressful and, at times, painful life. My impulsive decision gave him enjoyment. For a few hours, he was able to set everything else aside.

This reveals a routinely overlooked truth: entertainment serves more than one purpose. A good book, a film, a play, music… Such things are part of our lives to a greater extent than we realise. The books I read as a child, many of which I still own, are friends, much as the people who remain a constant presence, and are as priceless. Not only do these things entertain, sometimes providing us with a much-needed escape, the moments they create shape our future, present, and our past.

The format doesn’t matter. What makes us laugh, gasp, cry, jump or stare in wonder — all these are markers, our companions along the way, part of the journey from birth unto death, and they form the blasts from the past that help our loved ones recall those happy moments once we are gone.

I owe a thank you to the creators, organisers, and performers for a precious memory…and to the writers, without whom such shared experiences would never happen.

Blog Hop for Visibility, Awareness and Equality

I’m a multi-genre author who has written several gay (m/m) romances, and one lesbian story in a polyamory fantasy series. I never intended to — like many writers I followed the nagging muse. I never considered the idea would lead to more titles, or that I would need to speak on the subject, to stand on any type of soapbox. A writer’s opinion like anyone’s is his or her own business; I sometimes write contrary to my beliefs, sometimes in keeping. I usually adhere to the golden rule of never discuss sex, religion, or politics. There’s always the exception. When invited to write for the blog hop — like with that first story — I decided to let the words flow.

 

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Hop for Visibility, Awareness & Equality

Do follow the rest of the authors on the hop by clicking the link.

The gay people I’ve known have been much like anyone — wanting a home, a partner with whom to share their life, to have love. I believe one is born gay, that it’s not something someone chooses. I’m not sure I adhere to the Kinsey Scale (developed by Alfred Kinsey in 1948) as a way to describe sexual orientation. Sexuality can be complex. I’m unsure any ‘scale’ can suffice. I’ve known gay men who have had good relationships with women but felt something emotionally was missing. I’ve known gay men who find the thought abhorrent. For some, sex with the opposite sex is as impossible as is (for some) sex with the same sex. Objections often seem to stem from personal dislike and/or religious doctrine. Both state and church have changed its opinions throughout history. Once, these institutions condoned slavery. Now they know better. History documents scripture as edited and censored, scribes ordered to excise whole (blacked-out) passages. Language no longer has the same meaning leaving such teachings open to mistaken interpretation.


”The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example. –
Mark Twain

ebeb8a062aae92c9251db85582f64bc1Regarding the current disagreement concerning the use of toilets for transgender people, I can see both sides. I understand women living with the fear of mixed gender toilets. I am not going to belittle the fears of any woman who may have been violated. I equally appreciate parents feeling uncomfortable. These concerns are genuine, but they are also lacking, not considering the subject on a broad enough basis.

“The grocery store is the great equalizer where mankind comes to grips with the facts of life like toilet tissue.”– Joseph Goldberg

I imagine many LGBT people live with the same fear of attack as that being discussed by heterosexuals, may be as much, if not more, at risk. The feared situation already exists…for everyone. Sexual predators are already out there. A sign on the door isn’t necessarily going to keep such a person out, particularly if washrooms are isolated. Abusers bear no external markings. They wear no ‘badge of office’. They don’t don a certain uniform. A person likely to attack a child or a woman could be a next door neighbour, be married with numerous offspring. Just like the majority of heterosexuals aren’t offenders, LGBT people are not predatory. Predators come in all forms, genders, orientations, races, religions, economic levels, etc. Evil doesn’t differentiate, only people do.

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“It’s not hard to tell we was poor – when you saw the toilet paper dryin’ on the clothesline.” –George Lindsey

I’m speaking as someone who has a nephew with special needs. I don’t usually discuss my family, but my nephew was born with a brain tumour. He’s now an adult but will always need protecting. At all stages of his life, when his mother has been out minus an adult male companion she’s faced the unenviable decision of what to do if there is no available disabled toilet. Fortunately, there often is — these days more so than ever — but in some situations those cubicles are still separated: segregated within ‘male and female’ facilities. She has categorically not been allowed in most of the male toilets and when she has taken her son into the female toilets, even when he was younger and even though from his appearance it’s possible to deduce he has special needs, she’s faced aggressive abuse. And I do mean aggressive. I’m not arguing for or against. I’m specifying that the situation many fear has existed for years; many have simply been unaware of it.

“Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.” –Lewis Mumford

The only true solution would be individual cubicles. I don’t mean rooms containing banks of separate toilets, rather — as I recently experienced during a weekend away where I went to a spa — a bank of individual ‘rooms’ to be used by the abled and lesser-abled, by children and adults, by men and women, and all sexualities, where people could go in alone, or have a helper if necessary. These ‘rooms’ were not hidden away but situated where spa personnel could readily ascertain if they were being used inappropriately. Naturally, such a solution means money so it won’t happen any time soon, if at all.

“Like when I’m in the bathroom looking at my toilet paper, I’m like ‘Wow! That’s toilet paper?’ I don’t know if we appreciate how much we have.” — Peter Nivio Zarlenga

c4dd948a49cf74ddb2ed34aad759449dSome won’t like this idea either. People can be notoriously private about their toilet habits — a polite reserve I am sure must seem droll to many continental countries where I’ve seen an abundance of ‘squat’ toilets, restrooms that use different hygiene methods (with or without toilet paper), plumbing that cannot cope with any type of ‘wipe-clean’ material, where the cost varies. I was once handed a couple of sheets of paper by a woman in Yugoslavia for a few coins, the cost of which and meagre supply made me grateful I was only there to spend a proverbial penny. The French seldom have separate amenities. Open air public toilets usually designed only for men and definitely living up to the term ‘public’ is a fine and rather disgusting example of which I’ve seen in Bruges, but can be found in other parts of Europe. I heard even the UK city of Chester tested a form of these a couple of years ago. Attractive they were most certainly not.

“European toilet paper is made from the same material that Americans use for roofing, which is why Europeans tend to remain standing throughout soccer matches.” –Dave Barry

The subject of toilets can be comical, but safety is not a LGBT issue. Some will argue, but I can only speak from experience, and I see a sad fact in a sad world — personal safety is a problem we all share, equally.

Giveaway: Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of one of my LGBT related books. Winner’s choice.

25 May 2016: And my winner is Chris McHart as chosen by Random.org. I’ll be in touch.

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Error in Judgement

Just the other week I blogged about someone who contacted a writer suggesting she work for free. I noted how common this is. These proclamations are often met with disbelief. Fortunately, I stumbled across a news item that illustrates my claims.
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The ad provoked outrage with posters taking to social media. Artist Conor Collins stated the supermarket should deduct funds from its CEOs so “‘starving artist’ wouldn’t have to be a thing”. People asked if they could claim a free food shop, and often referenced the company’s multi-billion turnover, lambasting them with the facts of less than 10k yearly salaries for artists.

The supermarket  apologised and declared the advert as an ‘error of judgement’, but I see it reports they describe it as having occurred following a discussion considering ways to improve the canteen and ‘offer an opportunity to the local community’. Being asked to work for free is an ‘opportunity’ writers and artists are sick of. Yet despite the backlash, I’ve seen some posters stating they saw nothing wrong with this.

In plain English, it is the equivalent of someone saying toil in our office doing the filing for a month without pay and we’ll say thanks, pat you on the back, and send you out into the world with that on your resume. That may sound a reasonable deal if you’re a school leaver, if there’s a chance of a good reference, maybe even a job at the end of those four weeks.

The catch comes when they can get another school leaver in for the following month and the one after that, and perpetually have their filing done for free.

The catch comes when no one cares what you have on your resume and even views the free work as meaningless — after all, if you were any good, someone would have been willing to pay you, wouldn’t they?

The catch comes when you’re no longer eighteen, but ten years have passed, or twenty, and companies are still offering you the same ‘opportunities’ for exposure rather than pay.

This is feeding into all creative areas. Artists, writers, musicians, photographers… Wait, photographers? Yes. It’s an endless list. Watch those news items where the newscasters ask members of the public to send in photographs? Those photos are worth money! A friend of mine is a professional photographer, has worked for local newspapers for years. The highest paid photo earned £200, but that is far from the norm, and the chances are that amount would not be offered now because the paper could put out a call for anyone who had taken a photo on their phone to send it in for free. This friend has had work and payment for remaining employment halved, and most times no longer gets expenses. By the time the cheque has cashed, it hardly covers the cost of petrol to go out and take the shot. All the viewers sending in free photos to newspapers and news channels are making photographers unemployed.

Somehow, it’s become the ‘norm’ to ask for something for nothing. The creative arts is suddenly unimportant, regarded as ‘play’, not real work, despite many in these enterprises working longer hours than the average office-worker for far less pay. Paintings, books, photos, music…these things are deemed as for leisure and in some bizarre twist have become meaningless. My solution to that is we’ll take them away. Imagine the world without these things. Imagine *gasp* no TV, because someone has to ‘write’ the story. Someone has to design the sets. Someone has to paint the backdrop.

If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If you think it’s okay to ask anyone to work for free, you are the problem.

Sainsbury’s have had many slogans, one being ‘Live Well For Less’. I guess that’s a typo and they really meant ‘Live On Less’. In 2005, apparently its slogan was ‘Making Life Taste Better’. Sorry, Sainsbury’s. You’ve left an appalling taste.

Don’t call yourself a fan. Don’t you dare!

This week I’m passing on this excellent post by Rosalie Stanton.

Read. Seriously. Read this. To anyone who thinks the subject of asking a writer to produce work for free is okay I’ve news. Anyone complaining about the cost of books needs to reconsider why they’re protesting.

Let’s compare creating a book with going to the movies. Some people go often, some occasionally. Some think nothing of the cost of a couple of hours of entertainment. Others complain about the charge for the tickets and the food, but most still add popcorn and a drink to the price of entry.

Some of these patrons are aware that the cinema most often makes its money on ‘concessions’ — that’s the food and drinks. All that popcorn is often the only reason a cinema manages to stay open, and it’s why the price is so high even though popcorn costs almost nothing to manufacture.

The ticket price mostly goes to the movie producers and we all know that movie-making, especially the big action blockbusters, is expensive. Look at the credits — that long list of people employed, all of whom ask for salaries. Some films now even list the number of jobs the project created.

Movie-making is an entertainment ‘industry’. In other words, a BUSINESS.

Making books is also a BUSINESS.

I don’t care if the writer writes for leisure, or hopes to make this a vocation, to the publisher it’s BUSINESS, and books often provide several hours, sometimes a lifetime, of pleasure.

Of course, there are self-published writers but it’s still a business. They are going it alone and so every step falls to them. Chances are works from a publishing company or ‘good’ self-published books have undergone a process. This process involves writing the story — the hours spent by the person creating, researching, plotting, putting the words down on a blank page — and editing rounds. Edits should be undertaken by an author before the work is ever submitted. The finished manuscript is often considered by a committee. Even accepted, the story is far from complete. Next stop is for the work to land in the hands of an editor. There are copy and line editors, proofreaders, and cover artists…all requiring payment. If there’s a marketing department that costs, too. With help or not the author faces fours spent marketing their product. Yes, product. Let’s call the book what it really is for the remainder of this blog.

If the PRODUCT goes to print, there are printing charges. If it’s an ebook someone has to create the files and try to make sure all formats work. Sometimes both these costs apply. The publisher takes their cut. The writer gets his or hers. If there’s an agent to pay that’s another share right there, and last but never least taxes.

It’s business. Profit needs to be made.

With ebooks, those who read and return or file share are nothing more than thieves. True, people lend print products but it’s a greyer area than many realise. It’s ‘allowed’ only because no one likes the idea of printed products being destroyed, because many are sold through charity shops so further good comes of passing products on, and the circulation of some products can gain an author more readers, but in all these instances the purchaser of the PRODUCT gives up their original copy and in the case of a loan risks losing it.

People who share or duplicate work in a criminal act deserve nothing better than a hefty fine if not jail time. What that person is NOT is any friend or fan.

To add to this already insulting state of affairs, Rosalie’s post focuses on a writer asked by a ‘fan’ to work for free. Her response and mine is not author meltdown. This is authors telling you like it is. It’s the
equivalent of…you. Yes, YOU, the one reading this — it’s YOU going into the office, factory, shop, hospital…wherever you work, for free, and then trying to heat your home and put food on your table.

Since when did writing become a joke? Since when did it become a game?

How stupid does someone need to be not to understand writing is a JOB. The majority of writers already work for well below minimum wage. In what universe did a reader think it okay to contact a writer to ask that person to WORK for free? In many cultures, that would be called slavery.

Incidentally, where do you think the story came from so that a movie can be made?

I’ll leave Harlan here to speak for writers everywhere.

Decisions, decisions…

This is an edited re-post of an older blog, but the contents remain relevant.

All writers get moments when they feel like giving up. Hard to say why this is. A long wait for a response, a snarky comment at the worst possible moment, the longest winter that a person can remember… Bad news can make other areas of life seem unworthy and for the writer sometimes their work takes the brunt. I doubt I will ever give up writing but I am aware I do need to attend to more than just one genre — I love to write as I read, meaning anything and everything, and getting to join the Space, 1889 steampunk project was a proverbial deep breath of crisp air. It was also exhausting. One title had to be turned over at very short notice, was the second story I worked on and my first ever co-authored book. The first piece I wrote came out a few months later and required a good deal of research. Anyone reading would probably be amazed to see the list of study material. No doubt, it’s not immediately obvious, and no reason should it be — the whole point is the reader shouldn’t necessarily know it’s there.

I’m straying a little, though. The project reminded me of how I like many styles and genres, and that we all need a rest. At the time, I was with three publishers who take romance, two of which specialised in erotica, and one who was a multi-genre publisher. I had considered approaching a fourth, but at the fear of spreading myself too thin, I never did. I’m still with three, though one closed to be replaced with another, and I only recently published with one of them and may only continue with two. Any good writer or publisher will say it’s best not to have even the most delicious eggs (even chocolate ones) laid by one hen in one tiny basket.

Publishers go under. Writing is like any business. Sometimes people fall out, there are differences of opinion. Any number of reasons exist as to why a writer may one day wish to part ways with a publisher or vice versa. It’s good to have somewhere to go. Being with various publishers also extends an author’s presence and readership. And let’s not forget, different publishers are open to contrasting products. The best ‘business’ decision is choosing the right story and the correct publisher, matching a suitable pair, and deciding whether to spread the work or take on extra. Writing isn’t all about the storyit’s about seemingly straightforward decisions having consequences. Even the writer can be so immersed in the story to forget that.