Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sanitizing Fairytales

From the day my three boys were born, we read to them as part of the bedtime routine, no matter where we were in the world. Choosing books with illustrations was a must until they all began to read the words for themselves, which they accomplished before they started school at the age of 3½. Because we were reading to them in Welsh (a phonetic language despite what you may think when you see words such as llywyddiaeth), they learned faster.

One of the main publishers of Welsh children’s books is Gwasg y Drefwen (The Whitetown Press), which translates classic fairy and folk tales, as well as publishing many of the classic Welsh language stories.

My boys were also given opportunities to hear classic European stories such as Hans Christian Andersen’s most famous stories such as The Red Shoes and The Little Mermaid. Of the two, these three rapscallions were particularly fond of encouraging me to read The Little Mermaid for this:

The wedding ceremony was a marvelous occasion, and that night the prince and his bride set sail for his own country. There was music and dancing on board, and the little mermaid danced as she had never danced before. Though her feet hurt with every step she hardly felt the pain, so intense was the pain in her heart.”

This is the real story—with consequences. The reason my sons wanted me to read this was because I always cried. Though they were too young to fully comprehend the sad end for the little mermaid who gave up the life she was destined to live, endured great pain and could never speak nor confess her love for him, they were exposed to depths of emotion and realities of life.

Andersen was no teller of happily-ever-after stories.

I stopped reading Gwasg y Drefwen books to them when the publisher presented stories such as The Three Little Pigs, not as tales from which children learn the basics of life without having to experience them. In the Drefwen version, the first two little pigs are never held to account for their lazy, make-do attitudes to house-building. They escape to their smarter, harder-working, forward-thinking, prepared brother who gladly takes them in and shelters them from the wolf.

So, the wolf, who is behaving according to his predatory nature by devouring the unprepared, lazy piglets, is denied the fruits of his efforts, teaching children that it doesn’t matter if you don’t take care of yourself, someone else will. It also teaches that the wolf is bad, despite his designated purpose in the natural order of the food chain.

For the same reason, I have lost respect for Disney. The animated film, The Little Mermaid, completely upends Andersen’s purpose expressed in his tale: be careful what you wish for.

For tens of thousands of years, humans have used storytelling to convey experience and life-saving truths. What Drefwen and Disney do is pander to the sensitivities of parents who don’t want their children to endure letdowns.

I confess that my children’s disappointment at not being invited to a classmate’s party was painful for me but, as their teachers pointed out, it was much better for them to learn how to handle disappointment early. Disappointment is a short-term low. A lifetime built on never experiencing failure is, at best, unrealistic and, at worst, detrimental to our children’s good mental health.

Fairytales sanitized to protect children’s tender feelings protect parents from having to explain the harsh realities of real life but as I told my sons, “Life is hard and then you die.” Or as the Navaho explained to their children, “Go too near the edge, you will fall and die.” Or as my mother told me, “Run with scissors and you’ll put your eye out.”

I still run with scissors but I take full personal responsibility for the results.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


One of the jingles I remember from my children's Sesame Street years is about artistic perspective: "That's about the size. Where you put your eyes. That's about the size of it." The lesson on perspective, in much more than the artistic sense, is one I must relearn frequently.

Take, for instance, last Sunday evening. We were on our way to the nearby town of Oroville, headed to a son's birthday dinner, when we received a message. Our county sheriff had ordered the evacuation of Oroville due to the "expected failure" of a spillway on the nation's tallest dam. Almost immediately, the traffic going the opposite direction went from sparse to heavy to bumper-to-bumper as people fled the city where we were headed on their way to the city we had just left. Uhhh...?

Phone calls and text messaging moved the dinner from one son's home below the dam to the home of another son above the lake. Then the traffic slowed in our direction as we joined others heading into the foothills.

But back to perspective.

As a reporter for the local newspaper, my hubby had covered the Department of Water Resources (DWR). He knew the dam inside and out, quite literally, and understood what the risks were and weren't. Like most other drivers, we stayed calm, maintaining normal traffic patterns and even letting others into the lane in front of us.

Not so with the folks who panicked. As we drove east, a car whizzed up the fog line on our right, going west at about twice the speed limit, backing up down the shoulder. Another car flew by on our left, possibly going as fast as eighty m.p.h. on a city street, dodging cars from both directions in the center turn lane. Those were only two of the people who behaved foolishly, even dangerously.

An old joke says you know it will be a bad day when you turn on the news to see evacuation routes out of your city. It isn't a joke when it happens. Keeping perspective in mind, we took a back-door route to go home that evening only to find the national news showing images we had just seen along the way. I promise we weren't laughing, but we weren't panicked either.

Most of a week has passed. So far the spillway has held, the lake level is down, the evacuation order has been lifted, and things are back to what passes for normal. The only big difference for us has been a "sleep-over" with the three cute grandbabies in our downstream son's family. Although about 188,000 people are still under an evacuation warning, we're no longer in the national headlines and it looks like the greatest risks may be behind us.

So far the only people who have been injured were those who lost perspective, the folks who panicked and caused mash-ups along the evacuation routes. The lack of perspective on the part of the DWR is a matter for the politicians to unravel.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Married To Your Forever Friend

by Fran McNabb

Valentine’s Day celebrates love. At an early age children learn the holiday’s meaning by exchanging
cute cards with their classmates. Later, valentines are reserved for special classmates and friends. Children learn early that giving and receiving are ways to show love.

As we get older, I think the meaning of Valentine’s Day stays with us, but many couples no longer need the confirmation of love with a gift. Couples who have been together for twenty, thirty, fifty years and more can find their love in other ways.

I’ve been married to the same man for 46 years and I can tell you there have been very few gifts coming my way on Valentines. On our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple I realized the man I’d married wasn’t going to be a man to try to impress me with gifts. We were in the Air Force living in Germany and were walking through the military complex on our way to the liquor store. I stopped in front of the window of a flower shop. He noticed, smiled and said something like, “You want a flower for Valentines?” I smiled big. He then stuck his hand in his pocket, pulled out some money and told me to go in and buy something for myself and he’d go to the other store. What?? Didn’t my new husband understand what Valentine’s meant? Obviously not.

Or maybe he did.
That day I went into the flower shop alone, pouting of course, and bought myself a pot plant. A croton. It lived in our small apartment and grew into a beautiful plant. Every time I watered it, I remembered that day on base and had to giggle. When we packed up to come back to the States, I had to leave my croton, but every once in a while, I’ll be reminded of that plant. Like that plant, our love grew during those years in Germany and beyond.

I no longer expect a gift on Valentines, but I did put my foot down one year and told him I expected to get at least a card. Now I do get a card on Valentines and on all other important days, but even without a card I know that love can be shown in many more meaningful ways. Sitting together in the quiet of an evening watching the water or the sunset, holding my hand in public, taking me fishing or dancing when I know he’d rather do something else, watching a romance on TV with me—little things that I cherish as gifts of love.

An expensive piece of jewelry would be nice to get someday, but do I need it? Nope. What I need and what most older couples need is the gift of being together with your Forever Friend and Love.

FRAN MCNABB lives along the Gulf Coast with her husband. Both their sons and grandsons live away so they enjoy quite a lot of time together fishing, boating, and socializing. Fran writes light romance, some of which are set along the Gulf Coast. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com or at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Perfect Valentine's Gift

My husband and I have been married for forty-seven years.  I had to do the mental math to figure out that number because it's hard to believe I've lived that long with the same person. I won't say it's always been easy or a bed of roses, but we've worked at it and refused to give up on it when times got tough. And there have been some serious rough patches. We've worked out compromises, learned to live with each other's flaws, and continue to love each other despite differences of opinion on lots of issues.

Thinking back over the years, the way we've celebrated Valentine's Day is a reflection of the progression of our marriage.

The first few years, when we were childless, he was in grad school, and I was working, we would generally go out for a nice dinner at some upscale place. The kind where you had to make Valentine's Day reservations three months in advance.

Then kids came along. I stopped working for a while to raise them (and also to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life - but that's a difference post for a different time), he had a bottom-rung job, and we were too poor to do anything but exchange cards - sometimes with a bit of chocolate or a bottle of inexpensive wine attached.

The kids grew up, went off to college, our job situations improved, and the cards got fancier, the chocolate more elaborate, and often were accompanied by flowers or some other nice gift. We even went back to the nice dinners out.

Now my husband is retired and I've cut back work to part-time. He has discovered a love for cooking and prefers to create his own special meals for us, so we don't go out as much.

A few years ago he came up with the perfect Valentine's Day gift for me.


Baseball diamonds, to be exact.

One of the things that has united us for all these years is that we're both sports fans. We met while we were both undergraduates at Duke and many of our early dates involved sporting events there. I have some great memories of those times. (And one not-so-great memory, but that's a post for another time.) We've continued to enjoy a shared love for Duke sports, pro football (WhooHoo, Patriots!), college basketball, and baseball.

We've managed to get to a few major league games in Atlanta and Washington, which are both within driving distance, though it's a pretty long drive. But that's expensive and time-consuming and the seats aren't always great.

More often we go to minor league games right here in our home town. The city built a classy new baseball stadium a few years ago that is easy to get to, charges very reasonable prices for seats, and has lots of food and drink options. Our team is a class-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins and a lot of their top talent has passed through here on the way to the majors. We've seen Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and the late Jose Fernandez play. Giancarlo Stanton still holds the record for the longest home run ever hit out of our park, one of the 39 home runs he hit during his one season with our team. Being minor league match-ups they aren't always the prettiest games, but they're always fun.

So now my hubby gives me baseball diamonds for Valentine's Day, usually in the form of a package of tickets for various games during the season.  As the cliché goes, it's a gift that keeps on giving. I love it!  And I love him for thinking to do it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Sensitivity of Ageism

When I was at the gym last week in Manhattan, I overheard a personal trainer refer to his client, a distinguished looking man most likely over 70, as Buddy. I was horrified.

It reminded me of when I’d visit my father in Arizona and take him out to lunch.  It was in his last years while he still was living independently. He had been a successful Wall Street lawyer, always in command, always distinguished.  Now he was in his mid-80’s and not so distinguished and no longer with the trappings that came with his status as a successful lawyer.  Even when I struggled to help him manage the trip from the car, navigate the curb, then the walk to the restaurant entrance and then to the table, I still saw him as dignified and someone to respect.  He still had his wits about him and still had his wonderful sense of humor. He still was my father.

And then someone, the hostess or the waiter would speak to him in the same patronizing tone as that personal trainer and I’d cringe and want to lash out and correct.  Whether these people knew it or not, they are and were treating these older adults like infants or half-wits.

It also happened in the nursing home where my father spent his last months.  The highlight of that stay—in a home with an excellent reputation—was the visit from the woman who brought in the therapy dog once a week.  She spoke to the residents as adults and was respectful.  Otherwise, my father and the other residents were treated like nursery school children.   Even the tone of voice of the nurses and aids in the nursing home was that special tone that inept preschool teachers save for their most recalcitrant students.

Most of us, at least in the progressive and inclusive area where I live, make an effort to be sensitive about gender differences, sexual orientation, race and religion, but when it comes to age, so many people are tone deaf.  I considered sending an email to my gym telling them what I overheard and how offensive I thought it was, but I wasn’t sure if I was being sensitive on behalf of my father and my memories of him or myself since although I’m not as old as that man or my father, I’m no longer young.

One might say disrespect to the elderly is the least of our society’s problems in these days of turmoil. The case against ageism may not be as compelling as the one against racism or other minorities.  In fact, as boomers, we seniors are climbing into the majority. On the other hand, most of us won’t escape getting old and a society more sensitive to the reality of the elderly would, no matter what our other minority statuses, be a more tolerable and kinder place to live and age.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Save Your Marriage Using Romance Novels

by Victoria M. Johnson

I have been an avid reader of romance novels for years and years.  I suppose you could say that I'm addicted to happy endings.  I have my favorite authors and subgenres of course, but it's always a pleasure discovering new authors and new tips for keeping romance alive.

Tips?  What kind of tips, you ask.

Well, one day I began noticing that authors, through their characters in romance novels, were revealing great relationship tips.  You can also call them advice or guidelines for a happy life.  Actually, once I started looking for these gems, I found dozens.  So many, in fact, that I wrote a motivational nonfiction book to share and celebrate the wisdom found in romances.

Below are snippets from three chapters of that book, All I Need to Know in Life I Learned From Romance Novels. These small excerpts are examples of truths I found on finding and keeping romance alive and well.


If you don't treat your partner right, someone else will
There are three rules for writing a successful romance novel: Focus on the relationship. Focus on the relationship. Focus on the relationship. I think it’s a great motto for marriage, too. With all the deadbeats out there, a good man will be snatched up by another woman before you have time to change the sheets.  Good men truly are hard to find.  If you have a good one, don't take him for granted.  There are women out there who want to steal your man away from you. They are conniving and plotting at this moment.  We’ve seen it, read about it, maybe experienced it; we know that it happens.  So what can we do to protect our unsuspecting men from the clutches of these enticing predators? What do our heroines do?
They put their highest effort into what matters to them.  The heroine does not act half-heartedly in anything.  This includes interactions with the hero.  The hero and heroine are always in touch.  The developing relationship is meaningful to them.  Let your mate know how important your relationship is to you.  And consider another writing maxim: show, don’t tell.

Whining isn't attractive
Whining annihilates romantic interest faster than finding a mouse in your bed.  People don’t appreciate listening to a whiner. And why should they? Everyone has problems. Whining is unromantic, unheroic, and downright useless. You’ll never hear a heroine whine. She may protest or point out negatives, but her challenge gets results, inspires action. No matter the heavy load she carries, she perseveres. As for the hero, you’ll never hear a real man snivel.  He may argue or be bullheaded, of course.  His riled conduct gets his point across, persuades.  No matter how down on his luck the hero is, he maintains his dignity.  Whatever they have been through, the hero and heroine don’t feel sorry for themselves.  They do something to change their circumstances.

Never trust anything a woman who has her eye on your man tells you
Distrust is like lava pouring out of a volcano, as it destroys everything it encounters.  Reading about it is much better than living it.  Though, sometimes, in spite of how much we trust someone, the evidence does incriminate him.  How do we forestall evil forces from entering our lives? Here are suggestions derived from romance novel heroines.

First, look at the motives of the person who casually mentions unpleasant “facts” about your partner.  Ask yourself, what does she have to gain?  Why is she telling you this; is it to inform, hurt, or warn?  Second, ignore the messenger’s advice and follow your own instincts.  Third, look at the situation from all sides, particularly your mate’s.  Maybe the hussy exaggerated.  Fourth, talk to him, if warranted.

The book (originally published in hardcover, now only available as an ebook) has 29 chapters of intriguing observations.  Other chapters for living a fulfilling romantic life include: If you stand around waiting for a man, you'll be alone for a long time; Attitude makes all the difference; Communication is the key to a healthy relationship; and The secret to hot sex is trust.

All I Need to Know in Life I Learned FromRomance Novels is the perfect companion for romance novel loyalists.  In it you'll discover how to apply the wisdom of romance novels in your own life.  Whether you're happily single, very married, or looking for someone special, I think you'll learn something beneficial while being entertained.  I wish you all a romantic Valentine's Day and I truly hope you find your own happy ending. 

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Quitting Writing

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

When do we say enough, good-bye, farewell, I can’t do this any more?

Sometimes the decision is made for you. Contracts are cancelled; series are orphaned; editors leave, abandoning you to uncaring monsters who hate your work… Or on a more basic level, sales tank, your books sold goes into negative numbers (yes, this can happen!), you can’t even get a guest blog…

Worst of all, your heavily advertised, well-written, factually correct books over which you have slaved are totally eclipsed by a shoddy piece of trash that reads as if it were written by a semi-literate third-grader.

How hard do we have to be hit over the head to realize that it is time to move on? We’re working horrible hours to produce the best books we know how. The traditionally published among us struggle with agents and editors, each of whom have a totally different view of our story than we do – and demand that it be reshaped to fit their vision if it is even to be considered. And, after you have done all the work, your advances shrink to chump change - if they manage to exist at all.

Those of us who self-publish have to lay out money to editors, formatters, and cover artists as well as doing our own publicity until it seems that everyone gets paid except the author – but isn’t that sort of traditional, whether trad or self pubbed? Everyone expects to be well paid for their time and skills invested – except the writer. It’s either that or learn to do it all yourself (not necessarily recommended) which takes away from your writing time. Then of course you’re advised to give some books away for free – ‘to get your name out there’ in the expectation that the reading public will rush to pay full price for your next book. I will admit that this has worked big time for some authors; for others, no. The only guaranteed part of it is that it seems to be training readers that books should be free if they are on the internet – hence the proliferation of pirates who take your book and hand it out for free to anyone who wants it. Either that, or they sell it, of course keeping the money for themselves. Once again everyone – reader and pirate – profits except the writer.

To add insult to injury, it makes no difference if you are trad pubbed or self pubbed you are almost completely responsible for your own publicity – unless, of course, your last name is King or Steele or Roberts or Koontz or a couple of other mega-million sellers who don’t really need it. Something else for the writer to do besides write…

How many of us remember why we became writers? I do – it was because I delighted in creating entire worlds and populations out of nothing more than imagination and caffeine. I loved escaping into another life, one that was so often so much better than my real one. Feeling the elation of creation, the joy of constructing a plot and characters that actually made sense. The pure pleasure of working with words, molding them as if they were living clay to create exactly what I wanted.

In the push of publishing today (both kinds) that joy is dimmed if not altogether lost, and that’s sad. No, it’s more than sad, it’s heartbreaking. It’s not only in the corporate world of Big Publishing that books have ceased to be concepts of joy and reverence, valued for their own selves, and have been debased into products whose very existence has been regulated into a thing shaped for commerce.

So why do we as writers continue to let ourselves be relegated to the bottom of the pyramid? Perhaps it is time to revolt, to go into some other form of creativity such as quilting or painting or whatever happens to make your heart sing? Or just to go on writing for your own amusement and fulfillment with no attempt or even thought of publication?

Frankly, with over twenty books out there and over nine straight days of no sales at all on any venue, that option is looking more and more appealing. At least quitting writing to sell is a viable and occasionally appealing option, perhaps one should embrace.

That’s what I tell myself I will do. The thought is as seductive as the prospect of making a big bestseller list.

I will quit writing.


Of course, I have done so at least once a year for a long time now. I am a woman of my word and once I decide to do something I do it.

Once I even kept it up for almost a month.

Sometimes I don’t know why, but I’ve always come back. I’ll be back.