Category Archives: women

Like Fire is a Medium Novel: Where I’ve Been

Asta_Kirbi_Fagan

It’s not like I quit writing or anything. I have spent the past two years, and most intensively, the last year, learning how to most-effectively use Medium. You can find me on Medium here. I am using it because of its ease of access to any and all readers on any device.

Why am I publishing the work I most believe in for free on Medium first?

Many reasons.

First, because everything published on Medium can be read on any device at any time. It also looks great on any device.

Second, because the recently-completed U.S. election has made it crystal clear that money is not the answer to anything.

And third, because we already know that many people are shut out of the careers, education or jobs they would like to do because of racism, gender bias and class bias. This book is what I most want to do, have most wanted to do, and believe in with 100% of my mind, body and soul.

It’s who I am, and it’s what I did. As I recently commented on Medium regarding a person’s unwarranted criticism of writing by a diverse author, “I don’t care if only one person reads my work here on Medium. It is what I believe in, it is what I want to do, and I know it is the right path for me.”

As recently as early 2015, I believed that if I just worked hard enough, I would have sufficient opportunity to pay my basic bills and earn a basic living as a writer. In the past, I have absolutely paid my basic bills and provided many things for my daughter through my writing. I believed that the self-publishing revolution was a good thing, and that it enabled people to reach an audience. I knew there were some problems; for example — I could see that self-publishing worked best for people who were writing a type of already-recognized or popular fiction. I saw that the “successes” were those associated with established fan or other types of internet communities.

If you think “Mainstream Media” is messed up and not working, reporting only what corporations or the wealthy .00001% want the rest of us to see and hear, the same is true of popular “Entertainment” from books to television to movies. And then some.

Up until this past year, I spent my entire life thinking if I just worked harder and “got good enough” I could be “successful” like other writers I knew who had $20,000 book contracts, or who had large empires “selling” instructional material, newsletters, e-book omnibus editions, and so-on. I had stopped believing the common wisdom that “getting good enough” was a matter of copying other writers’ work or known formulas years ago.

Is She Available HardcoverI built a whole publishing company and motivated others. Years ago, I agitated with my writing friends that we could combat the collapse of the midlist writer and other egregious problems in the publishing industry that seem quaint in hindsight, and was a co-founder of Book View Cafe (I am still the treasurer). I convinced Igor Goldkind that his poems were good and motivated him to get all of his friends, the best comic artists of their generation, and unbelievably gifted fine artists like Mario Torero together to make the beautiful, groundbreaking e-book Is She AvailableIgor and his friend Addie printed a fantastic hardcover version and had two big presentations at the San Diego ComicCon.

I did everything humanly possible to send Igor’s legitimately spectacular, groundbreaking book out to reviewers. Two major publications reviewed the e-book, both in Chicago. Igor got mentions from various others in the comic industry. Nobody reviewed the hardcover. The Washington Post was among many publications to sell the hardcover to used book dealers. Igor is a new poet, but the art is by Eisner-winning artists, one of the founding members of the Chicano movement in America, and the e-book had music by a British album of the year Jazz artist. It wasn’t an unprofessional “self published” book.

It was new, different, unusual, represented a man’s voice and journey that didn’t include war, death and destruction but love for family, heritage and history (and there is an anti-war, gorgeous comic panel in it).

So it was sold to used book dealers and not even looked at. I have two downloads of the e-book by reviewers and I know who each of them are. Joe Wikert featured us on his industry blog. Other than that? Jack Diddley. If you are reading this as a second-language speaker, this means “nothing” happened.

We do learn more from our failures because instead of my best work and Igor’s best work, and the best work of award-winning, influential artists who have made millions for their corporate masters, but whose own work of their heart is hidden in back of their studios or must be given away free –

We have this.

Kindle Worlds

The whole system is broken. Book sales were down by 4% during the recent U.S. election not because of the election directly, but because of this picture I show above. This type of repetitive, derivative, unoriginal material that purposely encourages UNORIGINALITY for a quick buck isn’t going to bring new customers through the door.

As I pointed out previously in articles read by no more than 1,000 people, and to audiences at writing events numbering no more than 500 people total, 20% of North Americans regularly buy and read books. 80% do not, yet 100% of people are literate, and can read, and DO consume written content on their mobile devices. Before you Corporate Media Troll me, everything I learned about that I did through independent market research, relying primarily on the Pew Center. People also discuss and interact with each other through, primarily the written word, on social media. There are more texts sent than voice or video calls.

It is about the content. It’s about what is provided.  Sales are down because the content doesn’t meet the needs of the people who currently buy and read books who are good with the corporate media slant: violence, certain types of sex, certain types of “addictive” content, and simply reinforcing the current status quo in any imaginable way.

The current publishing system cannot create books to meet the interests and needs of the 80% of people who don’t regularly buy and read books; it is increasingly failing the 20% who do.

I’m not telling you “I am the content provider.” As I said; I am happy if only one person reads what I have written for free on Medium and enjoys it.

I’m telling you that I, who have written under the “old system” for a lifetime, who believed in it, who did everything “right” –

  • I have a BA in Literature from Scripps College, where I won the Claremont College writing prize not once, but twice, a blind-judged contest.
  • I was admitted to, but chose not to attend, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the UC Irvine MFA program.
  • For reasons of time, cost, and wanting to be a sci-fi writer, I applied to, was admitted to, and successfully completed the Clarion Sci Fi Writers Workshop in 1984.
  • I gave up writing as “impractical” about two years after that. I did not write for another eight years.
  • I returned to writing in 1996, and applied to and attended the nearest MFA program to my home (Chapman University in Orange, CA). I completed this program in 1999.
  • I published my first sci fi story professionally in 1996 (“Jonny Punkinhead, F & SF).
  • I did the usual drill with short science fiction and published my first novel in 2001.
  • I was also nominated for a Nebula Award that year.
  • Now – where I am today is related to my not going the route of $5,000 novel “advances” and selling 4,000 to 6,000 books and so-on.
  • I worked with Alan Rodgers as he established Alan Rodgers Books (and there wouldn’t be Chameleon Publishing if Alan hadn’t spent the last 10 years of his life doing that).
  • I worked with the others to set up Book View Cafe, the largest author publishing cooperative.
  • In between all the rest of that I am sure I’ve published well over 2 million words, about 75% of it nonfiction.

A troll on Twitter said, “anybody can publish a book these days.”

Until we can somehow reinvent the system of publishing as it stands, an unhealthy, struggling system, the books will be selected and published for that ever-dwindling 20% of readers and never, never will get beyond that. And above all, they won’t be written by people who are generally willing to say and do what I have:

I do not care if only one person ever reads what I’ve written. That is enough for me because I have done what I believed was right, what was right for me, and what is the best path for me and best work I can do.

That person has read what I have written. Others I am close to also have read it. I am okay. I know I have done my best.

It shouldn’t have to be that hard. People shouldn’t have to work for free for a lifetime just to express a story with emotional truth, of meaning and worth to at least one other person.

Storytelling is important to people at a level beyond money and more than momentary “entertainment.” It helps us imagine our world and future. It helps us to make choices about ourselves, and it helps us to understand people who are different from us.

Our society and economy has now made it so it is the province of a very limited group of people.

And — it’s creating things like this:

Kindle Worlds

I’m not saying there is not a place for commercial genre fiction, fan fiction or related work. Of course there is. Just not to the exclusion of there being something new, different, and individual or expressive of individual human creation and nature. The majority of what is out there right now is similar to these “Kindle Worlds,” not to things like Alice in WonderlandDavid Copperfield, or War & Peace. Of these three books, each author was male, each author was white — in Dickens’ case, he was a poor boy and self-made man. The other two: they had some money. Leo Tolstoy was Russian nobility.

Imagine what stories the young woman who did his laundry may have told.

This is what I’m saying and as I have in the past few months told others “I was at some time, the one who did the laundry.” And as she told her friends, so now I tell others.

You can start reading Like Fire for free here. (Medium Publication with additional information and links to all chapters – I will also be putting some short fiction suitable for kids and young adults by request).

Direct link to Chapter One is here.

If you like it you can join Medium and follow the publication. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, got me on that damn thing in the first place.

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You, but What You Can Do for Hillary”

I first heard of the way Hillary Clinton’s top female supporters were talking about young women who supported Bernie Sanders from my 23-year old daughter.

madeleine-albright-quoteA strong Bernie supporter, she was steamed that Gloria Steinem had said on Bill Maher’s show that young women were flocking to Bernie’s rallies because that was where the boys were. Steinem doubled-down by adding that women become more “activist,” (I believe that was the word used) as they grow older, because they “lose power.” There is no other way but to interpret that statement as “When you’re young and hot, like me, you’re powerful!” You’re where the boys are, honey. Burn your bra so they can see your titties better!

My biggest memory of Steinem was that she was a Playboy Bunny. I thought for real, but I was told no — she’d gone “undercover” to expose the dark underside of Hef’s Playboy palace of pulchritude. That’s some play-literation. When I’m not showing my titties and ass to old men in my dating age range (85-95, like Sumner Redstone) sometimes I like to play around with words. When I turn 54 next month, I’m anticipating I’ll be limited to dating gentlemen in the Willard Scott birthday age range (100+). And how lucky I’ll be! Why hardly any woman my age even goes out in public any more, much less has any “power.” Not Hillary-type-power, anyway. Not Gloria Steinem level muscle.

Then, out came the public information that at many of Hillary’s rallies, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was lecturing audiences that women, especially young women, should vote for Hillary because, and I quote, “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.”

She prefaced this by saying, “We can tell our story about how we climbed the ladder and young women — you think it’s been done — it’s not done.”

Here’s the thing, Ms. Albright — there’s not a young woman in the audience for Bernie or in my classrooms who thinks it’s “been done.” And, dear lady, even in my powerless age range — hardly any of us think it’s “been done,” either. If you, or your candidate, had taken even five minutes to listen (I do use my words carefully, – I usually do a bit of reading and writing before I wash my hair, put on my go-go boots, and go out and snag some of those older boys) to women under age 30 and especially under age 25, you would hear what is important to them. Listen. It takes time, energy and commitment to listen.

It takes time, energy, caring and commitment to engage with the American people and listen to them, not just stand up in front of audiences and repeat the same sad, tired, retread talking points about abortion, raising the minimum wage, and free birth control pills over and over again. Most Americans have respect for the first two female Secretaries of State, no question; I certainly did, but it shrinks by the day. These most recent incidents point out something glaring in our entire culture. The people we often (not always) turn to as leaders, may not be deserving of those roles.

Based on the behavior of both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Albright in these recent events, and just looking at their demeanor at these rallies — at the vast gulf between their reality and the reality of most Americans (especially young women) — I sit here and say prayers of gratitude that we weren’t all incinerated while these women were the our country’s top diplomats.

Hillary and madeleine albright

I’m sure about 50 billion pundits will point out that if a conservative man introduced Donald Trump at a rally and hollered, “There’s a special place in HELL for men who don’t vote for Trump!” this would not only be SNL skit fodder for years, it might even surpass the “Dean Scream” moment for radio and TV replay.

Did these three women get this way because they are older? I was absolutely stunned to learn that Gloria Steinem is 81, Madeleine Albright is 78, and Mrs. Clinton, 68. I note that Mr. Sanders is 74 years old. Gloria Steinem is certainly too old for him; besides, everyone knows that powerful, rich guys like Bernie date women in their late 20s and early 30s. You know – like Sean Penn dates girls in high school.

Wait. Back to what occurred to me. See, Ms. Albright and Mrs. Clinton were both our top diplomats, serving several years each — and in fact, one of Mrs. Clinton’s top arguments against her opponent Mr. Sanders and all of the Republican opponents, is that she is the most-experienced foreign policy candidate by far.

That well may be, but it makes me feel cold and afraid, if she was the best and would still be, in representing our country among other nations, and in tense negotiations or circumstances where our troops or nation would be at-risk. Because she doesn’t seem able to even take 5 minutes out of her busy day to engage with actual young women and discern their concerns on even the most basic level. She can’t take another 2-3 minutes to determine why younger women would support Bernie Sanders.

I have now read approximately 12 interviews with Mrs. Clinton. Not once, in any of those interviews, did she use the words, “I listened,” or “I heard,” followed by a specific example of any American’s concern or interest. She certainly uses “I” a lot, but she never says, “I listened to __________________ and heard that ___________________.” She merely asserts her opinion as if it’s obvious. Just as did Madeleine Albright. I listened to what she said (ha ha ha ha ha – sorry). I can discern that she strongly believes the reason many younger women are supporting Bernie Sanders is that they think the “battles” she and Mrs. Clinton “fought” are no longer needed.

Unfortunately, neither of these two former top diplomats, nor Ms. Steinem, the Ms. Lady, seem like they are very good listeners. As I am 53, I don’t really remember any of them showing strong listening skills at any time. It isn’t for reasons of sexism, as asserted by TV performers like Lena Dunham, that many people are referring to Mrs. Clinton as “shrill.” She does raise her voice when she believes her message wasn’t heard.

I have, throughout my life, heard many people assert that their political opponents were “dumb” or “stupid,” and often “evil” when they had positions or opinions in opposition to them. Or, often – they were just their opponents, perhaps agreeing in most circumstances.

I only read part of The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and only watched a few episodes of the many Apprentice shows. But even Donald Trump emphasizes listening skills, and discerning the other person’s interests and motivations. And I’ve seen him demonstrate this and make assessments of his observations of the people trying out to be “The Apprentice.” I’ve watched his daughter Ivanka listen acutely and think about what she says before responding. Certainly, I see these behaviors in action every day in the classroom, in the business environment, and they were the primary determining factor between success or failure in the social service programs I used to work with, raise funds for, and manage.

Not once, would I ever make any decision without consulting others, nor would I ever make any announcement or pronouncement in any class, without ensuring I had listened to people and gotten the best understanding I could of their opinions, needs, desires and concerns.

I have no doubt, since I am 53 years old and have been around the block, including volunteering for Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign in 2010, as well as a number of local campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s –

I can’t believe I’m writing this, that it’s even a question. Does no one even question that their local mayor has better listening skills than Hillary Clinton or Madeleine Albright? This is way beyond “out of touch,” this is never in touch. Never, ever, never.

I just read an interview with Bernie Sanders where he was confronted with the problems caused by some of his male supporters with harassing women who don’t follow their “party line” about Bernie, using extreme sexist language and being jerks. So, Bernie said, and I quote, “We have heard about this.” He then expressed strongly that could not be a part of his campaign and that was not what they were about. I am sure his campaign will take steps to stop it.

So I guess there’s a special place in Hell for me. And how lucky our country is that these two top-notch listeners didn’t get us all killed by their assumptions and bullheaded forging straight ahead with whatever they want to say, just raising their voice when they experienced disagreement or others were not doing exactly what they wanted.

Leadership isn’t about yelling until people cave or just talking louder or saying the same thing over and over, or about “guessing” what people want because you find it impossible to take even a few moments to listen non-judgmentally. Really – it isn’t.

But what would I know? I’m 53. I have no power. Not like powerful people like sexy 81 year old women’s leader Gloria Steinem.

 

 

Dear Individuals on the ASD Spectrum and Others: I am Sorry

I am sorry that my manner of expression indicated to you that I do not want to understand or respect what you experience and feel, and think that people who state they are “normal” should have accommodations rather than those who have lacked them for so long. I am sorry that what I said was interpreted to mean a very direct expression that the experience of those our society commonly identifies as “normal” or “non-disabled,” have the same experiences as people who experience the vast array of barriers, disrespectful situations, assumptions and general awful behavior experienced by those with any type of disability, self-identified, or identified by others.

I also did not say what I said to indicate that those with painful physical disabilities, chronic illness, and other barriers to pain-free lives are experiencing something “good” that should be encouraged and increased.

My thought process is different to others. I thought I indicated that but obviously I did a bad job. My manner of expression that is legitimately mine, may be and apparently is, misunderstood.

I DO understand that people on the ASD spectrum are as diverse in their thoughts and experiences as those who are NOT. They may well be moreso. I understand that those on the spectrum have deep feelings and are incredibly empathetic to others. I learned that people who state they have autism, have had similar experiences to me, possibly much stronger and more intense. I did not know this before, and now I do.

That said, what goes on with me does not mean I “understand” everything, including others’ thoughts and feelings at all times. It means I am frequently overwhelmed by the thoughts, feelings, desires and motivations of others. This can include strangers encountered while shopping, but of course much more so – close family and friends.

So, people interpreted the story I told about the young autistic man who asked me if there would someday be a cure for autism. I wrote in shorthand, because as I stated in the beginning of the article, I was going to do it differently: my way, the way I am learning for my self. Obviously since people who are formally identified to be like me are no more than 1% of the population …

There ya go. Nobody understands what the fuck I say so I usually don’t say anything. For years and years I made stuff up copied from what others thought and felt.

So the statements that made autistic people angry and made them think that I thought autistic people had no feelings or empathy: those were my thoughts in my circumstance at the time. I could tell how fearful he was and I sensed he feared I would not respect him or his perspective. My mind interpreted that as the statements I wrote in the article. I thought at the time, “He won’t care your baby had Down Syndrome.” The reality of the situation, I realized over time, was – he was afraid that I would not care about what he had to say and his situation. The best I could do at the time was, “God means for people to have autism.”

Now – what I genuinely believe, and what I think, has a chance of being for real, true – is that nature and humanity does have a purpose and need for those with autism and many other cognitive differences and physical differences and what are often termed “disabilities.” People in the past have been so twisted that they called some far on one side of ASD spectrum, combined with abilities that seem “miraculous” to many, “Idiots Savants.” These words alone show the level of respect others had for Blind Tom, described in An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. To this day, some who are called “savants” sometimes “perform” for others who exclaim how miraculous they are. I just don’t like this. I’m sorry. I do not like people being viewed as performing animals. I don’t think animals should be viewed as performing animals either – but you already knew I was C*R*A*Z*Y and making shit up, right?

And that’s the case for me. I’m not a “great empath” – though I have been at times, somewhat shrewd. It isn’t just that I don’t know what to make of 90 percent of what comes in this door. It’s that it overwhelms me. Overwhelms me to the point that for most of my life, I didn’t know who I was. Like many others, I reeled from situation to situation, job to job, project to project. I took on things that I should not only never have taken on, they were things I could not change nor improve. All I could do was hurt myself and expose others I cared about to potential harm as well. One person described today they had stuck with a sociopathic college friend who treated others horribly because they didn’t want the friend to be totally alone, to the point where they almost had to drop out themselves. Like that. This person’s experience has validity, right? Mine does not.

In terms of “unwanted perceptions” or feelings from others – one aspect that’s been identified in isolation is called hypercacusis or hyper-acute hearing. Two people I am very close to experience this. I only experience it if I’m very close to either of them, and then immediately go out and hang around with others. It is terrible.

As to all the rest, the statements that people who say they are “empathetic” aren’t, and there is no problem of this nature, everything I said is a lie, they are certain of this –

I have heard many similar things, for many years. I was told, when I was raped 11 days after my 21st birthday, “Just pull yourself together. It happens to a lot of women.” I am 53 years old. I am 10-10 on the ACE scale (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I was treated to a nice web page that asserted I had murdered my baby with Down Syndrome. It was as a result of Alan Rodgers’ decade-plus custody battle, nothing to do with me, really; our family and son just caught in the nasty crossfire. Anthony died in an accident at home. He died in my arms before the ambulance, which went to a wrong location, was able to come back the right way and try to help. When I disclosed that a well-known writer had slapped my face, groped my ass, and announced “With an ass like hers, you just know she loves to be spanked!” I was told I was lying and besides, there was no independent corroboration, I hadn’t pressed charges, it could only be found anonymously told on the internet (by me): I wasn’t even saying his name!

Doesn’t this sound crazy? Oh my god, how could someone have so much go on with them? What a liar, she just wants attention.

Please tell me I do not hear other people’s thoughts.

There are far too many of these types of statements made about others who express many different truths about themselves. Each is saying “Please hear me, Please understand me.” That is 100% what I was saying. There are so, so many people whose go-to is to put somebody else down, blame them, or try to shame them for whatever cause.

My situation is that I had 10-10 on the ACE scale and that these unwanted and overwhelming perceptions of others’ thoughts and emotions  ran in my family on both sides, just as did many other things.

I teach from the book An Anthropologist on Mars by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks writes, in the introduction, of realizing that the human brain, including his own, as his right arm has been injured and is immobilized, forcing him to use his left hand and even foot, was so flexible and malleable. He writes, movingly, of observations by many neurologists that individuals with “disabilities” in fact, had strong abilities as well as the deficits they faced. Current neuroscience is now discovering that theoretical “disabilities” are in fact present among nearly all people in a variety of cognitive areas. If we valued the ability to listen to others and put one’s own self aside as much as our society values those who can economically, socially, and physically exploit others, we would have a different world. Yes, that is what I am saying.

I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in June 2007 as a final result of four precipitating causes. The death of my son in my arms, the death of my stepmother where I could not help or change the course, being raped and thinking he was going to strangle me to death, and the least, last cause: the false web page accusing me, my daughter, or Alan, of killing my son.

This paints me as a “victim.”

I am not. Concurrently, reeling, confused, all unknowing, I have written all these things I have and done my best at them. There are hundreds of formerly homeless families with decent homes and good jobs that I was able to raise funds to help. There are buildings built with funds I raised, and education and economic programs employing people and improving communities in places that otherwise, might not have accessed them. Hundreds of former students have had encouragement, education and above all, respect for who they are, their voices and their words.

There are many writers I have worked with and encouraged to excel and achieve. I do not wish to draw other friends into this because my purpose was and remains to help make things better economically for other writers – in particular those who are economically and socially marginalized.

I overtly stated that in my article, right up front, that I just couldn’t do what others expected any more. I stated as clearly as I could, “I can’t express myself like what others say and you are used to reading.” It’s part of figuring out who I am and what is important to me. My cognitive situation means that is very hard for me.

So, formally, I do not believe that individuals with self-identified disabilities or medically-diagnosed disabilities are the “same” as those who do not identify as disabled or present to others as “non disabled.” I do not understand a lot of terminology used but I try to speak in ways using terms that I do understand. My understanding of reading what others have said and listening to them is that some people are working to help others to understand that there are “invisible disabilities.” I have been a college teacher since 1998 and I know there are many students with learning disabilities: they do NOT want to be visible to other class members as “the learning disabled student.” I am not writing about that, but I can understand learning disability as well as other illnesses being categorized as “invisible disabilities.”

Because I do know what I have faced and what those I love also face: I do not care if you make fun of my stating I have empathic traits or telling me those are not disabilities. I would be interested to hear why PTSD is no problem. I need education on this because it was a big shock to me when I applied for new insurance and they not only stated it was a “pre-existing condition,” it was also regarded as a permanent disability.

Yeah, I think I will definitely state publically on the internet that I was diagnosed with PTSD. It’s so helpful in obtaining medical insurance or interviewing for executive jobs. Then to make things more positive, I’ll state publically on the internet that I have empathic perceptions and even sometimes hear what seem to be “others’ thoughts” they do not intend and I might not really understand. Nobody ever diagnosed anyone with a different mental illness and gave them things like lobotomies and shock treatment because they said they heard voices – especially ones that the supposed speakers vehemently denied. Nobody many generations ago EVER burned people at the stake or gave them the drowning test due to similar statements.

I could just copy what others say and do. Then I wouldn’t have any trouble.

Like Shane.


I came to understand while learning about Tourette’s Syndrome, that Alan Rodgers, whom I loved, who died, likely had a mild form of the Syndrome. He was not aware of this, nor was he diagnosed, as he soon had other illnesses that took precedence, for which he was treated for the last three years of his life. He was not only viciously mocked for the “Touretty” things he did and said (and some of them greatly upset me in terms of echolalia and similar behaviors), part of this was used in his nightmare custody battle.

The way I was treated growing up was designed to 1) make me into someone I wasn’t, including forming and guiding my statements, movements, posture and appearance; 2) enforce my speaking, when permitted, what others wanted to hear. Because of this, I am highly attuned to others’ expectations, while at the same time, my default is to assume no one wants to see me, hear me, or even could or would. That’s part of the ACES. No I was not saying “bad things” about the young autistic man and what was important to him. It was about me.

What do you think?

In Praise of What’s Real

I noticed this morning that the top story on Medium is basically a poor man’s version of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.” Thousands of people read this adaptation thinking it was a true story and a real person telling his thoughts as he acknowledged he was dying. It was just a 27 year old guy who may or may not have thought he was “being original” and who may or may not have realized he was paraphrasing a famous end of life message from a fully-realized person.

eastern sierras

So I went out yesterday on an adventure.

It was real.

Me, too.

amy january 2016 I’d rather have 5 people read my work for real than 500,000 read something I ripped off. I’d rather be me, than someone with tons of cosmetic surgery. If I am dying, I want to die at home with my family and friends.

If you are my friend, you are truly my friend. If you are my student, you are truly my student.

I wish for everyone to know who they really are, to be grateful for the immense gifts we are given each and every day of genuine life, of this beautiful world we live in, and of our true friends and those we love, and who love us.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900

How Did I Get 14 Science Fiction Stories About Women in One Book?

I wrote them!

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues. Or you can read stories about the future of women…

Fourteen sci fi and fantasy stories all about women by FEMALE SCIENCE FICTION WRITER author Amy Sterling Casil. This collection contains the Nebula Award-nominated story “To Kiss the Star.”

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind.

In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimers patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her.

Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose?

The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan, wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city.

Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.”

And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

Available directly from Book View Café Publishing Cooperative (EPUB and Mobi), as well as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple and GooglePlay.

“Amy writes like Ray Bradbury on real sci-fi …” Tom Easton, Analog Magazine

“‘To Kiss the Star’ was up for the Nebula Award, but didn’t win. I haven’t read the work that did win yet, but, again, it must have been absolutely unbelievably fabulous to beat out “To Kiss the Star.” This is a beautiful, poignant, moving story of a soaring mind trapped in a damaged body. Read it.” – Hugo, Campbell and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, author of Flashforward and other bestsellers

This is my own personal website so I may answer this question: What did win? It was about teenage boys. One critic said about “To Kiss the Star,” — “It’s like a Lifetime movie.” Why YES – YES IT IS.

The Instrumentality of Women
First eBook Edition Book View Café 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99
Trade Paperback Chameleon Publishing 2016
356 pages
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
$15.99

Don’t Mistake What I Am Saying About Women …

First off, I just finished doing some work I really do not have a lot of extra time to do, but I did it anyway. Second, I doubt too many male writers would share my experience of having to slack off to go get some items for dinner. It’s cooking right now. Of course there are some: single dads and others.

So hell I sit around and way more often than I should, I feel sorry for myself. I just counted up all the Nebula Award nominated stories and authors since this award began in 1966. I wanted to make the case that “who the story is about” is more important than “who wrote the story.” I discovered that my betters, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Vonda McIntyre, Nina Kiriki Hoffmann, Carol Emshwiller, Lisa Tuttle (who has ethics – she did not want her award, the only person to so-decline to date), Esther Friesner, Ursula Le Guin, and Jane Yolen – had all written stories with female protagonists who received the award.

I only dealt with the short story category. It would drive me insane to deal with all the other categories. And then there’s the Hugos, with which there is some, not a lot, of overlap.

So here’s who these babies are about – by year:

1966 The Harlequin and the Ticktockman
1967 Geology assistant/WWII Vet (“The Secret Place”) and “dead boy’s sister”
1968 Neutered Spacers (Chip Delany)
1969 Dr. Darin (male), monkeys, mentally deficient boy (Kate Wilhelm)
1970 A man (“Passengers” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1971 – no award –
1972 A man (“Good News from the Vatican” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1973 Janet Evason – this story is “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ about an all-female planet
1974 Moggadeet – an alien who is eaten by his female mate (by “James Tiptree, Jr.” – “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”)
1975 Laia Asieo Odo, an elderly woman (aka Odo, in male form, in “The Dispossessed” – by Ursula Le Guin)
1976 Dolf, a man running out of time, who must catch that Zeppelin
1977 A man (“A Crowd of Shadows” by Charles L. Grant – first person narrative)
1978 Jeffty – he’s five. He is always five.
1979 Rob (a guy, a musician)
1980 “An old scientist” and “young female reporter” and giant ants.
1981 Boyd, a male archaologist who discovers his acquaintance Luis is an immortal
1982 An unnamed woman (Lisa Tuttle “The Bone Flute” the only author to refuse the award, due to problems with another author campaigning)
1983 A girl and her dog (Connie Willis)
1984 A young boy who survives a global flood
1985 An old man and a young boy (Williams and John)
1986 Sally Gourley, a truck stop waitress of indeterminate age (by Nancy Kress!)
1987 Pal Tremont, a Korean boy
1988 Gordon Sills (male), Avery Roda (male), love object “Anna” (female)
1989 Sheila, a prostitute rescued from the Biblical Flood, and mother
1990 Male physicist who discovers time travel
1991 Guy who observes that bears have discovered fire
1992 Vietnam guy, Charlie
1993 Three women discuss menstruation (Connie Willis!)
1994 Vietnam guy, first-person narrative
1995 Anli (female) and Derren (male) (Martha Soukup)
1996 The Librarian and Death (Esther Friesner!)
1997 A woman who has the day off for her virtual child’s birthday (Esther Friesner!)
1998 Sister Emily (Jane Yolen!)
1999 Vietnam guy (my dear friend Bruce Holland Rogers – but this theme is starting to look like “Never go full-retard” as stated by fake black guy Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder)
2000 Professional (female) victim (Leslie What)
2001 Investigator of Victim Rights Closure Statements (anti-death penalty story by Terry Bisson)
2002 Maria, African albino women
2003 Mother with a creature for a child (Carol Emshwiller who is better than all)
2004 Female narrator hunting gorillas (Karen Joy Fowler “What I Didn’t See”)
2005 Daughter coming to terms with elderly dying father
2006 A succubus-type of indeterminate gender who lives with a typical middle-aged working woman
2007 An abandoned mistress
2008 17 year old, formerly youngest female resident of Always
2009 Alanna and Ylva (by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann)
2010 “Nameless female survivor” of spacewreck
2011 A man who creates a tiny man
2012 A little boy with a paper tiger
2013 Quy an “older sister”
2014 A narrator of indeterminate gender
2015 Grandma, Eva, a Jackalope wife

Now, nerds and dweebs and geeks – this is who I am. The majority of these winners are either my friends or friendly acquaintances. Some of them have been my teachers and mentors.

I started feeling unholy sorry for myself. Some of my friends, acquaintances, teachers and mentors have unbelievable Publishers Weekly reviews for their work. They have loving retrospectives, and in-depth reviews, story-by-story, of collections of their work. And I saw book after book, whether single, standalone story or collection, with one, two, or three reviews on Amazon. I saw the same b.s. (maybe not the same “quality” as me – but I am “special”) on their work — two star reviews, etc. Judging by Amazon, my dreadful crap has even outsold some of their outstanding work.

So, what I wrote about was this:

To Kiss the Star
Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight
The Renascence of Memory
Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor
This Monster
Grendel’s Dam – ageless
Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair
Jenny Julian – 35 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery
The Color of Time
Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31
Smiley the Robot
Miss Gia – 85
Everything I Have is Yours
Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter
Heart of Jade
The Lady – 30 – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan
Shakespeare in Hell
Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets
The Ruined Gods
Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73
The Gods That Men Don’t See
Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist
Digger Lady
Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist
Incandescent
Paperwhite – a newborn
Her Name is Jacqueline
Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney

The thing is, I might not write very well. I might be crude and maybe not very talented.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900But I think I am honest. And I listen. So.

Disabled people really will go to the stars, once it is time. Women will continue to use extreme cosmetic surgery to get what they want, although it doesn’t work. There will be a sub-cellular level treatment for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases – even a reversal of the aging process. People will come to understand that time and space are artifacts of our sensory perceptions. Some day, a robot will fall in love with and care for an old lady, because he knows no better. A woman will one day win the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award as a film director. Some day, a woman will write better than Shakespeare. A woman likely did co-found today’s Mayan community. Some day a woman who lives only a short time will travel faster than the speed of light and save many lives. There probably were early humans here in North America 100,000 years ago. The Mayan howler monkey god is real. Gender reassignment will become much more common and complete. People will so seriously clone for companionship and then – some – the scummy few – will use for organ donation.

There is a hot trade in Altoid mints, intergalactically-speaking.

“Don’t write about your little life,” said Toni Morrison. Open your ears, open your eyes, open your heart –

FREE YOUR MIND

I didn’t know this advice over the years. I know it now, and I’m glad I took it, instinctively. As I say to students, why should we become so upset about abortion, when medical science can and will solve this? Why should we become so angry about the death penalty, when the crimes to which it is the penalty will cease due to evolution?

You think I am wrong? I am an optimist; I am a listener.

Are you?

Introduction 2015: The Instrumentality of Women

My perspective has broadened a bit since 2014.

Introduction

When I was 13, one of the most popular songs was “At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian. I had a record player. There was no such thing as an iPod. If you played a vinyl record enough times it got a grayish tinge and started to crackle and pop. After a few months, I could hardly play Janis’ album any longer and it was gray as hell. I not only idolized Janis — her “look,” her fashion, her voice, her poetry – I related to this song just like every other teen girl. It turned out, later, that the song really was about Janis at age 13, my exact age.

I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired …

I had no sense I was “beautiful,” and as far as future career path, I pictured being the secretary to a wealthy and powerful man. I wanted to marry a handsome, strong man. My ideal wedding dress was an “empire” dress — but I didn’t know what it was called back then. I wanted two children: a boy and a girl. Sure, I wrote storylike objects and I painted pictures and I made things. I “whittled” and woodcarved and banged stuff together with old nails. I foraged and hunted and hiked and explored with my dog. I shoveled the manure out of my pony’s stall —

It had been nigh upon three years since I’d gotten a copy of A Wrinkle in Time from my aunt Donna.

The summer I was 13, as I listened to “At Seventeen” over and over, I read Lord of the Rings front to back four or five times. I got the “pancake tan” (didn’t want to turn over so brown in front, white in back). I read Dune. I read Warm Worlds and Otherwise, stories by James Tiptree, Jr. I read through all of Ray Bradbury. I read England Swings edited by Judith Merril. I read Dangerous Visions, and Again, Dangerous Visions. Those were edited by Harlan Ellison. He looked like a handsome guy, judging by his picture. But I wouldn’t have said anything like that to anyone. Admitting I was reading this stuff was beyond weird and nerdy.

Nobody told me I couldn’t be a sci-fi writer. Somewhere in the back of my head this idea took root. I liked to imagine things. I couldn’t help it. I imagined things whether I wanted to or not. These things: they were stories. Not about me. About people I didn’t know, lots of the time. Places, sometimes very far away in space and time, from where I was.

Then my grandfather died and my grandmother didn’t talk to me for a year, and then I moved away to Hollywood and then I came back to Redlands.

I was a different person; I’d lost a year. The normality of my life before was gone. I no longer imagined I’d marry a wealthy, powerful man, although that seemed like a pretty good plan if it ever did happen. I just wanted to survive from day to day.

And so it goes.

This is my third collection of short fiction. Three stories are fantasy; eleven are science fiction. All are about women. Although the fantasy stories are told with male viewpoint characters, their linchpins are the women.

The degree of prior professional publication and recognition on these stories is directly graphable by age. The younger the protagonist, the easier the sale — in fact, “To Kiss the Star,” the first story, was a cover story of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and nominated for a Nebula Award. Its protagonist, Mel, is seventeen, just like Janis Ian’s song. And I realize now what song I heard when Mel looked in the mirror after the ISA “cowboy” doctor gave her sight. In stories I have written, the older the female protagonist, the less likely the story would be to appear in a top publication. At best, these appeared in small press or anthologies edited by friends.

Now, these stories about women age 30 and over are in a book that is published in e-book form by Book View Cafe, the first, largest and most-successful author publishing cooperative, and in trade paperback, by Chameleon Publishing, the publishing company I founded.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900Here are the stories and who they are about:

To Kiss the Star

Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight

The Renascence of Memory

Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor

This Monster

Grendel’s Dam – ageless

Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair

Jenny Julian – 28 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery

The Color of Time

Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31

Smiley the Robot

Miss Gia – 85

Everything I Have is Yours

Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter

Heart of Jade

The Lady – 30-ish and thought barren – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan

Shakespeare in Hell

Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets

The Ruined Gods

Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73

The Gods That Men Don’t See

Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist, unmarried

Digger Lady

Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist, never married

Incandescent

Paperwhite – a newborn Vogue girl

Her Name is Jacqueline

Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney, married, male genes, female nature

For many years, I did not know that nobody wanted to read a story about a woman over age 30, or a story with a female character over age 25 who wasn’t a “black widow,” a canny elderly detective or nosy old lady next door.

Of course I know that now.

Of course I know there should be romance stories for women, men and transgendered people. There should be stories about crises of conscience for men. How stupid is it, for example, for there to be a story about Helene Bacon, the first female film director to receive an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award? There’s some sci-fi for you. Imagine that this successful, powerful director never had time to get married, but she did have a daughter, Sarah — a daughter very much like her. And right when she has achieved the height of her recognition and power, Helene learns she’s dying of lung cancer. Only a total lung transplant will save her. And Sarah’s not just her daughter: she is her clone. Oh, what to do? God, what a ridiculous, idiotic story. Its mate (architect dying of cancer learns that only his cloned son can save him) was a Writers of the Future winning story. When people questioned that a man would consider using his son that way — what about a mother? — the story was born.

“Digger Lady” has not so much been rejected, but rather – lost, three times, by three different editors of two major sci-fi/fantasy magazines. It is inspired by a lady I got to know at age 17 — some coincidence? — Ruth “Dee” Simpson, the archaeologist at the San Bernardino County Museum. That was my first real job — the “intern” at the museum. The character inspired by “Dee,” Vi Elliott, is explicitly said to be 73 in the story. She is being forced into retirement. There are few women who can claim to have discovered Early Man in the Southern California desert along with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Ruth “Dee” Simpson is one of them. Nobody wants to read about someone like that.

I think they’d rather read about a naive 3-day old genetically manipulated prostitute who is bound to save the world from an alien plague, all the while being beaten to a pulp by a vicious, burned-out case who learns at the end, the value of what he valued so-little. I did write that story and it is in this book; I will not continue to write dozens of them.

It makes me sad when I think of the stories I was given to read while in school (this includes college and graduate school). “The Yellow Wallpaper” – a classic by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The husband’s name is John; the young female narrator has no name. This story was written well over a hundred years ago.

My life, oddly enough, was not over when I turned 25, nor 30, nor even the dreaded 40 and unholy, impossible, “no man will ever want you!” 50. Such adventures I have had – and still have.

The best stories are those which tell themselves. It isn’t “who writes the stories” that is so important; it is the stories themselves.

These are the stories that came to me, as they came to me. For a long while, I didn’t realize that I was, as far as getting paid or getting anybody to read the work, literally wasting my time even attempting to write stories outside the conventional genres (romance, mystery) and genre conventions (like Ellie Sattler in the Jurassic Park movies – she retires, is married, has children and becomes a children’s book writer) about women. Now I do understand that.

I’m writing them anyway. I’m publishing them anyway.

At 13, at 17, at 53, it was and is my job to listen.

Amy Sterling Casil

Aliso Viejo, CA

December 2015

 

maui high school robotics room

Grief, Joy and Pride, all Mixed Together-Like

Gee whiz, shouldn’t that headline be “12 Ways Irving, TX High School Failed Ahmed Mohamed”?

Or, “Texas School Officials Apply Racial Profiling to Young Inventor.”

So, here is the Stillwater High robotics room in Minnesota.

stillwater hs robotics room

With all the boxes, circuit boards, backpacks, power sources and without a doubt, beeping stuff in there, the mentality that handcuffed and arrested Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas would be calling in the Navy SEALS for support.

Here’s the robotics and engineering room at Maui High School:

maui high school robotics roomSo I’ve been looking at these fantastic projects and schools . . .

And I looked up what STEAM meant:

Adding “art and design” to “science, technology, engineering and math.”

I’m so proud of these students. Not just Ahmed, who is so praiseworthy, but also all the other hard-working, gifted young students learning and building and making. My heart is filled with joy to see how creative their educational experiences are.

By the way – is it possible for them to MAKE these things in isolation? Via some sort of remote, mobile app?

I have news for Peter Diamandis and the educational “Learning Management System” providers I’ve recently been in contact with: Learning isn’t “knowledge transfer.” It occurs by doing. How this can somehow be separated from personal interaction for things we actually make and do — is beyond me. Moving little pictures around on an app or watching someone build a robot is NOT the same as building one.

In order to learn how to write anything coherent that communicates, one must first read many different things, and must also follow all the steps in the writing process. They are more than just “in the absence of anything else, just write.”

But grief: I am not sorry for Ahmed Mohamed and his family. Their troubles have turned into what must certainly be a blessing. The horrible incident in Texas is paying off in plenty of education and awareness for others. I hope many teachers see this and realize the trap of unconscious (or conscious) racism, racial profiling, bias — and just plain being behind the times. I put those pictures of our young bomb-makers to show just how out of touch anyone at that school would be to see Ahmed’s clock project as a bomb. Also to show how irresponsible his engineering teacher was, to not help him present his project to the class — instead of telling him to hide it and not show others.

No, I’m grieving because when I was in third grade, somebody gave a chemistry set to our elementary school. It didn’t have enough supplies or equipment to outfit an entire class. It was really just enough for 2-3 students to use at a time. And of all the kids at the school, they gave the chemistry set to me. They put it in an unused room next to the library, told me to go one period a day and figure out experiments. I was even put in charge of inviting kids to do experiments with me. Of course I asked my friends to come along. I’m sure I left plenty of kids out that I should have asked. I was by myself the day I almost set the school on fire.

The best thing I did out of that set was grow hydroponic vegetables that were in the school office for at least two years. The worst? Almost setting the school on fire by setting parts of my lunch on fire.

Yes, back in the day, they let a 3rd grader play unsupervised with a Bunsen burner.

So, by the time I got to high school, I failed Chemistry. I was assigned a lab partner who referred to me as “Stupid American Girl” and who didn’t get what we were supposed to be doing. He didn’t believe in lab notes. I didn’t know how to stand up to him so I went along with his cockamamie schemes. We failed together.

So it just kind of breaks my heart to see these young women making things and building things.

My option was to paint and write. I did it, and I have made a lot of things.

But for me: I wouldn’t have been able to make something like Ahmed. Not after third grade or so. That was when it became uncool for girls to be interested in things like that. Girls needed to be interested in sewing, cooking, fashion, home decorating. It was suspicious even that I liked to read — not to mention the stuff I *did* read.

Yeah well, so I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I do wish this could have been me.

ahmed-robotics

So, if you are an English teacher, familiarize yourself a little with robotics and engineering courses today. Go visit the robotics club or engineering classroom. Learn to recognize circuit boards, power sources and other commonly-used components. Educate yourself on things like Arduino chips.

Look into 3-D printing. See what can be made in addition to the endlessly-shown dumba** with the 3-D printed rifle. Most recently, it’s been Hershey’s chocolate. One of the experts in it thinks the biggest long-term use will be 3-D printed food.

I think my job is to bridge the gap between the generations. Those who came before, and those who will come after.

Yesterday I got into it with a gender-biased guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with himself. Many of my friends continue to search for valid reasons why Ahmed was treated so poorly at his Texas high school. I’m sorry to say, there are no good or valid reasons, any more than it was right for my high school chemistry teacher to partner me with a failing student because he was sure I’d fail, too and furthermore it didn’t matter. It wasn’t any more right for one of our high school counselors to tell my friend to go to our local community college and “get her Mrs. degree.”

It’s like some of my recent interchanges with the “Learning Management System” people (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, Fedora, etc.) Just as Peter Diamandis thinks that mobile technology will somehow make people learn (like … the existence of books makes people learn?) and negate the need for classrooms and teachers, these folks think that the ability to put a handout online, include a powerpoint, and have papers turned in via computer (or mobile device – hey!) constitutes improvement in learning. Without the human connection, testing and feedback: no. It doesn’t.

That’s a woman’s opinion. Because of how school was when I grew up – even with the opportunities I was given – I didn’t get the chance to build these things. And that makes me sad.

 

 

American Genius

I’ve gotten a lot of insight from Temple Grandin. Toward the end of the filmed version of her life, she (portrayed by Clare Danes) tells a group of all-male, highly skeptical chain-smoking slaughterhouse owners why her humane system, which one comments is “like an airport for cows,” is an improvement over previous brute-force systems. “I – I’m like Edison or Tesla,” Temple says. “I see the way it will work. I can run through it all in my head.”

Temple GrandinAlthough we all eat safely today thanks to Temple’s human animal processing systems, and millions of children with autism and their families have gained inspiration and real-world skills thanks to Temple’s education and advocacy, she’s not an “American Genius” according to National Geographic. No woman or non-white person is. This show irritated me, but not enough to say anything about it until today.

There is a small Tumblr which allows safe, anonymous reports of gender-biased comments to women writers; it’s a fraction of the size of the “Shit People Say to Women Directors” film industry Tumblr which has helped to support the ACLU investigation into hiring practices in Hollywood. So, today the Tumblr about bad comments toward women writers has a 2-year old pandering post* by male internet celebrity writer Chuck Wendig, which pushed a legit Twitter meme started by Chocolat author Joanne Harris into second place. Because most of the readers of this Tumblr are female, fortunately yet more coverage provided to Wendig was *not* as heavily shared as Joanne’s project (4 notes to 19 last time I checked).

*Pandering Post: As my best friend Cathy always said, “When you live in crazyland, crazy seems normal.” So therefore the tradition of white males getting tons of attention by “sponsoring” complaints of females seemed “normal” to me, until about a year ago, I had just plain had enough. I don’t read them, I do not share them. Some exemplars of this genre include Jim Hines’ crusading for anti-sexual harassment policies and of course, Wendig’s extremely lengthy post of who knows how many reasons why women endure gender bias in publishing and how wrong guys who disagree are. Hundreds of comments, most from gushing females. There’s no links here because these “right-doers” (AKA attention whores) don’t need extra boosts. Now that I’m aware of this, I see these *everywhere*. For every legitimate statement by a female entrepreneur, woman in tech, or author, there’s at least 2-3 of these “pandering posts” or videos where a man gets attention for being “cool” and on the woman’s side. The magnitude of attention/”sharing” is always like 10:1 – 10 to the male/1 to any female. These men are nowhere to be found whenever actual work, money or real projects are under consideration.

I want to say Temple Grandin is lucky because she doesn’t care about this stuff. But Temple is acutely sensitive to injustice. Her filmed life story illustrates this over and over, as does her own autobiography. Once she figured out that people were biased against her, she persevered, using her own steady, persistent gifts and talents and plenty of creativity, to accomplish her goals.

As to me, I was born with a sense of injustice … to others. Poor treatment of others always resonated with me. It’s only taken 53 years for me to “get” poor treatment of my self.

So, back to the “American Geniuses.” I wrote about Maria Goeppert Mayer in my first appearance in Analog this past month. Maria is the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. She identified the structure of the atom itself. She worked on the Manhattan Project and many other critical atomic projects, often for free. She wouldn’t have been able to do as she’d done without the support of her husband Joe Mayer, an accomplished chemist. Joe lost at least one position (University of Chicago) for his support of his wife’s research.

As far as this “American Geniuses” show is concerned, Maria holds not a candle to “real geniuses” like Colt and Smith & Wesson, the firearms competitors, or media magnates like Hearst and Pulitzer. Out of the group of “geniuses,” probably only Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (competitors, LOL) and Edison and Tesla quality as actual geniuses who accomplished something positive for others. Maybe Philo Farnsworth. The rest are like Thank You For Smoking’s “Merchants of Death”.

People say Tesla was crazy, he was a monomaniac. Edison, like Temple Grandin, had a disability that made his interactions with others more limited (he was hearing impaired). Temple, of course, has autism and yes she’s like Edison and Tesla — yes she’s a genius! So again, even though she is objectively, verifiably one of the most influential, positive people of the 20th century, there are a fraction of the articles about Temple than there are about someone like Steve Jobs or … Chuck Wendig. No joke. But this 2012 article describes how her work to change slaughterhouses and animal treatment was a “long term project.”

If I may speak for myself, I have never cared about “being famous” or “attention.” I shy from it. I was thrilled to be able to operate the laptop at Comic-Con Thursday. If cameras come around, I will run.

But I know what we are doing is important. Temple would say “nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be” to explain why it was important to design human animal slaughter facilities. She explained her autism to others by saying she “thought in pictures.” She spoke simply and straightforwardly at all times.

So.

The Problem With Books

Everybody who’s rotating around the current publishing industry is smack dab in the middle of the 20 percent and that is the way they like it. Everything they say is devoted to supporting themselves: the same as Edison and J.P. Morgan were stone-committed to direct current before Morgan threw Edison under the bus. Neither saw a problem with DC being able to serve only wealthy urban dwellers, whereas crazed Tesla’s AC could serve everybody.

When I thought about people who exclusively read certain authors, or who only read certain types of books, and are very reluctant to deviate, I would picture Temple in her aunt’s house or college cafeteria, announcing, “I only eat jello and yogurt! I – I only eat jello and yogurt!” Well, these are “Temple-Type Readers,” I would think.

So, there are all those folks who didn’t get to attend a wonderful country boarding school like Temple did. Whose wonderful, humane, brave mothers did not have the privilege of graduating from Harvard. There’s all those folks who don’t have internet platforms, who are not James Altucher, who could write fifty fantastic articles and get less than 5 views on “Medium.” There’s all the people who don’t “know anybody.” There’s people serving time for crimes they didn’t do, or for crimes that should not be crimes at all. There’s people working jobs they hate just to put food on the table, and people who work 2-3 jobs for minimum wage who can’t put food on the table at all.

There are people who’ll never get a vacation. There are people who will never leave their home state. There are people who will quietly work and serve their whole lives long.

I think an awful lot of those people are “American Geniuses” too.

And they deserve books made for them. Books that affirm, instead of deny. Books that uplift, instead of downgrade.

I found my 45+ heroine in a bestseller/not a romance this morning: “Jack” Daniels. She’s a 48-year old pregnant detective trapped by a serial killer. The book opens with a “popular” serial killer who’s been featured in prior books murdering an innocent young woman with impunity and cruelty. He tells her he’ll “make her famous.” Instant best seller.

And people think more of this is the answer. It never crosses their minds that it’s not just like it would never cross Chuck Wendig’s mind that he’s actually being a giant douchebag by writing another of his long “splaining” articles. It’s like the cattle in Temple Grandin’s dip system. You can’t hang things on the walls. They will walk smoothly down the steps into the water. No chains or shadows to alarm them.

 

Thank You Librarian Cynthia Hurd

I don’t know if others had the same feelings as I did learning about the mass killings in Charleston this past week. When I heard it was a church, I thought “Oh, Lord, no.” I realized it had to have been a prayer meeting before reading any news reports. When I learned who was gunned down and what church it was, I thought, “What a devastating blow to all that is good.”

Poet Bill Mohr said it’s racism and says we should talk about it.

Yeah, it’s racism. What’s to say? When a mass killer slaughters black people who welcomed him into their church and says he wanted to start a race war, there’s no argument. Racism. The Beltway Sniper appeared to be gunning for white people from a distance and he took a young 17 year old boy with him. That was racism, too. Racism destroys. The Charleston killer’s family and friends bear responsibility and guilt because they were certainly aware this young man was talking about doing something outside the realm of humanity and did nothing to stop him. They are responsible the same as the Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammad coached and mentored Lee Boyd Malvo to destroy others’ lives as well as his own.

Everybody wants to take the situation and turn it to their own purposes. Gun control advocates want to take others’ guns away, as if that will bring back the lives lost. Second Amendment advocates say that if the pastors had been packing, the killer, not they, would be 6 feet under right now.

librarian cynthia hurd

When I saw this picture and news story about one of the victims in Charleston, librarian Cynthia Hurd, I thought, “I know this lady.” My eyes filled with tears.

I’m crying as I type this. I will probably never be able to look at these pictures or think about her and the others without weeping.

I am a white woman. I was once a little white girl with not a very happy life and not too many people to turn to. And I was so, so lucky that I lived in a town that, like Charleston, had a wonderful library with wonderful people like Cynthia working in it. Cynthia “spent her life helping people, particularly helping them become educated,” her friend and library spokesperson Jamie Thomas said.

If I just look at what happened, a violent, at-best confused young man with nothing good going on in his life went into a place where everything good was gathered, and lashed out and destroyed it. Faith, hope, love, community … books, reading, education.

What people don’t realize, but which I saw manifested in these wonderful pictures of Cynthia Hurd and in the words of love, gratitude and thanks written by the families and parents who’d visited her library, is that no guns or bullets can take away what Cynthia did, how she lived and the many lives she touched.

Cynthia’s brother Malcolm said, “She was not a victim. She was a Christian. She was a soldier. She was a warrior. She was with her maker when she took her last breath. God bless our sister and this community.”

She was a librarian. It’s the commonly-held perception that black people do not read, or read less than, others. That’s not true. African-Americans have the highest rate of readership, almost 80 percent. She was the ultimate librarian, according to her brother. “She was always in someone’s business,” he said. “When she told a story, it went on and on and on because she included the research and all the footnotes.”

What I hear African-Americans saying is totally true. It hurts to say it, but if it were a “white” church with similar leaders gunned down, there would be hours and hours of eulogies and tributes. There would perhaps be a film in the works about Pastor Pinckney, who was also a state representative, or about Sharonda Singleton, speech therapist, coach and athlete. As it stands, Library Journal made a tribute to Cynthia Hurd, and the library where she worked will be named in honor of her memory.

I don’t have the power to do what I want to do for Cynthia. I didn’t “know her” but I absolutely did know her. She was everything her brother said and more. And – yes – there is a higher power. May these precious lives not be lost in vain.