Monday, January 30, 2006

Activism and Courage

Yesterday, we drove down the road a bit to hear Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner. A lawyer and an Iranian, she devotes her life to defending her countrymen who have been imprisoned by the current government. More than that, she helps to support their families while her clients are imprisoned. One of her fellow activists, an attorney, is jailed now for the crime of defending dissidents to the Iranian regime. Her speech, given in Farsi and translated into English, resonated with the audience. Make a difference. Take a stand, even if it means you could end up in a very bad place. Sacrifice self for the good of those who need you. And don't confuse religion with those who say they act in its name. A Muslim, she believes God is with her in her work, and that the evil done in His name must be fought by all of us.

Good words. Strong words. A Turkish novelist, recently accused of crimes against the government for his criticism of its practices, is another activist who has garnered international support. Charges against him were recently dropped. We can make a difference. Speak up if you see wrong being done. Don't tolerage even a tiny bit of it. Work to obliterate evil done in the name of the "greater" good.

When you think about it, novels are a pretty good vehicle to carry the message. In the guise of entertainment, they can unmask the ugly, laud the good, and condemn the bad. My last mystery, Yes, the River Knows, deals with racism in the South, but its message is about redemption. Even the worst of all the ills can't hide if writers keep pulling back the skin to expose the wound to the light of day.

Think about the potential difference each of us can instigate. Mind-boggling.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Wonderful Words/Bad Laptops

Flipping through the latest Vanity Fair, I found a car ad that was sprinkled with words that lit a fire within me. The fold-out was titled "vibrant design is..." and I immediately read it as "vibrant writing is..." The words that follow give me hope. They are: iconic, focused, unconventional, intuitive, visionary, brave, artful, powerful, organic, distinctive, unexpected, simple, moving, fresh, alive, magnetic, mysterious, beautiful, timeless, breakthrough, engaging, challenging, unforgettable, and emotional. Wouldn't it be stupendous if every book bore the imprimatur of even a few of these ideas? I write with both hands wide open, praying I snag some in the tales that evolve from the stories that crowd my mind.

On another note, I'm sick of Hewlett Packard computers and their crummy warranty service. Long tale made short, HP refuses to replace a disintegrating keyboard on a less than three-month-old laptop. Keys fly off willy-nilly, keys stick, and I haven't even had a chance to abuse this Pavilion yet. Their attitude is arrogant and condescending, and I'm willing to take them on in court. Tackling a big corporation is going to be fun. It may even find its way into a book!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Blowing in the Wind

January's winds shake the pines and rattle what's left of the oak leaves. The Japanese maple's remnants skitter from the gutters and leap down the street, as if celebrating. This is a January I can endure, if not love. Writing with gray, gloomy skies doesn't interest me in the slightest. It's like writing at night - not my favorite time, either. Like my hundreds of newly planted tulip and daffodil bulbs, I crave sunshine and warmth to create anew. Meanwhile, I'm working on a couple of projects simultaneously, and telling myself spring is only a couple of months away.

The good news is, Florida and the Daytona 500 are a mere four weeks hence. Yes! I've taken my Mark Martin hat from the shelf and started wearing it around instead of my wool cloche. The sunglasses have gone into my race day backpack. I'm plotting our route to the track, where we'll park, what food for the tailgate party.

The sun toasts my arms, the engines rumble and scream like the Allman Brothers on a roll, and high octane fuel spits out fumes - in my imagination. Four more weeks! Yes! I can hold out!!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Good Friends, Good Writing

Tracy Dunham
I'm really lucky, and I know it. I have writing friends who are not only nice people with good hearts, they have the courage to tell me when I'm messing up a manuscript. I just returned from a weekend where we camp out at a friend's condo in the mountains and work. And I mean, work. We brainstorm, critique, plan, encourage, etc. I discussed a book I wasn't happy with, and they hit right at the heart of the problem. Now, I just need to rip it apart and start over, but at least I was only sixty pages into it. It could have been a lot worse.

On the up side, everyone came away with a firm idea of what to do next with the writing and how to get there, and that's pure gold. There's nothing like creative energy that mushrooms, and we had that going on. Good food, good friends, creative energy, and a beautiful view - what more could a writer want? Oh yes - husbands who held down the home front while we worked. Boy, are we lucky, each and every one of us. And we know it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Our family holiday traditions include two that are, maybe, a bit odd. They started years ago when we were reading Shelby Foote's wonderful Civil War books and decided we'd visit every battlefield we could reach. Elkhorn Tavern and Wilson's Creek are two of my favs, but every year we re-visit Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor. Drewry's Bluff is reserved for Christmas Eve, which started as a trek designed to wear the kids out so they'd go to sleep that night. Not that the ploy worked, but we tried. Now, we hike the trail to the bluff overlooking the James River, listen to the Park Service sign tell us about how the Union tried just once to attack Richmond by river, and enjoy the sight of the city rising in the distance, framed by bare-limbed trees and a washed-out winter sky. The walk, except for one year when it was sleeting, is pleasant. Nothing scary remains at the site where the Confederates blew the heck out of the unfortunate ironclad.

Our second trek takes us on New Year's day through Cold Harbor, where Grant threw men like confetti at Lee's army. He wrote in his autobiography that Cold Harbor was his one regret. Men pinned their names on scraps of paper to the backs of their uniforms, hoping their bodies could be identified when the shooting stopped. Corpses were stacked for barricades, as Union soldiers tried to shield themselves from bullets that ploughed the dirt fields without ceasing. We just returned from there, and as has happened each time my feet hit the ground at Cold Harbor, I feel uneasy. There's something about the place that forces me to walk faster, get back to the car quicker. They're still there, the thousands of dead, and I honor their sacrifices, their horror, their sheer guts that forced them to their feet to run into a wall of sharpshooters when the command to do so bugled forth.

Every time we pull into the tiny parking lot, I remember what those men, dead so long ago, sacrificed to keep our country a union. I feel, through every inch of my being, a pale shadow of those long, awful days under a hot June sun.