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June 10, 2018

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#MomsToo Fights Back Against the Book Trade
mothers against disrespect


Tired of being "written off" by authors


May 13, 2018
— Mothers have had enough. On Mother's Day, they took to the streets to protest their treatment at the hands of authors and publishers.

"We used to get knocked up. Now we get knocked off," said the group's organizer Iva Hadenov. "Authors have been getting rid of us in novel after novel. We're sick of it!"

Like wildfire
As #MomsToo spreads across the country—gaining members in every state—publishers, politicians, and pundits have been stunned by how quickly it has gone viral.

"By Jove! This thing's growing like wildfire," said NBC's Cal Brittlebastion. "We had no idea moms knew what social media was, let alone how to use it.

C. Paige Severn, of the Association of American Publishers, agreed: "Most of these gals are well into their 40s and beyond. 'What do they know?' we thought."

A 300 year history
Killing off fictional mothers goes back to the first novels—at least to the 1700s with Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders and continuing into the 1800s with Dickens's David Copperfield.

The 20th century saw the likes of Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew—no mothers. Solve that, Nancy.

Dozens of far more recent novels also lack mothers: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Ahab's Wife, The Goldfinch, I Liked My Life, to name only a very few.

Smeared
Bernadette Peters, star of stage and screen, has become the most celebrated voice of #MomsToo.

"I've been smeared. They didn't just kill me off," steamed Peters. "They made me a child deserter!"
She is referring, of course, to the 2012 bestselling Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

"Of course it's about me," piped Peters. "What other Bernadette is there?"

Male support
Surprisingly, the #MomsToo movement  has drawn support from men.

"The quicker they win this thing, the quicker they'll get home to cook dinner," said one man, who wished to remain anonymous.



Fronta Loeb, special to The Daily News and LitLovers.

answer to questionsSometimes we want answers to life's profound questions. Why am I here? What's my purpose?

Sometimes we just want them for Book Club.

Here at LitLovers, we get a fair number of emails, asking for the answers to our Discussion Questions. Here's the latest :

Tim writes
We talked about American War by Omar al Akkad in my book group the other day, using the discussion questions found on LitLovers. The group couldn't decide on the best answers to some, so I'm writing to see if you have any answers for them?


I'm sorry, Tim, we don't. Sometimes, the questions are issued by the publishers, as they are with American War; more often, at LITLOVERS we end up writing our own for a particular book. In either case, we don't have specific answers.

Confession: Sometimes we don't even have answers to our OWN questions.

It's anybody's take, really, because the questions are designed to be OPEN ENDED—to stimulate discussion. They're not meant to have a single right answer but to result in different possibilities.

Book clubs tell us that their best discussions are those with different viewpoints, each one as legitimate as the next. It's what makes conversations about books so rewarding: I say PO-TAY-TOE … you say PO-TAH-TOE.

Even authors acknowledge that readers bring different interpretations to a book that they'd never considered. That doesn't make those ideas—or readers—wrong.

On the contrary, new meanings—created through the act of reading, by individual readers—make literature all the richer. Luminaries like Peter Carey and Margaret Atwood, both Man Booker Prize winners (Peter Carey twice!), have told us as much.

So the point is … you DON'T (really) WANT answers to book club questions. That would ruin the fun.



same old same old4Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a bo … yeah, yeah.

Monotous? Maybe. The other day I received an email asking for book ideas paired with activities surrounding cooking, music, and gardening …or anything else that might perk up the meeting.

We came up with a few ideas. If you've got any others, we'd love to hear.


1. Sourdough by Robin Sloan: discuss the book, then…

…bake sourdough loaves using live culture. Or bake the bread first… then discuss the book AFTER you pop the bread in the oven.


2. Lab Girl by Hope Jaren or
    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: discuss the book, then…

…set up a potting table with pots, potting soil, spades, etc., and have members plant individual tree saplings or some sort of outdoor plant (everyone could even name their plant for a favorite novel or character: Anatomy of a Miracle, H is for Hyacynth; The Secret Life of Violet Grant; Upstart Lizzie Bennet).


3. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee: discuss the book then…

…watch a National Geographic wolf documentary on YouTube: She Wolf is good (the wolf featured in the film is the same female wolf ,"0-6," featured in the book); Living with Wolves: Jim and Jamie Dutcher is good, too.


4. Last Days of Night by Graham Moore: discuss the book, then…

…watch PBS's American Experience: Tesla or BBC's Nikola Tesla. OR...make an easy electric motor (see instructions on YouTube or... invite a physics teacher to demonstrate how one is made. They're so cool: my husband made one for me years and years ago!)


5.  Bel Canto by Ann Patchet: discuss the book, then…

…listen to recordings, or watch videos, of Renee Flemming (on whom Patchet based her book; they're friends) OR...invite a singer/voice teacher to demonstrate operatic techniques: opera singers NEVER use mikes (unlike Broadway singers) yet even their softest notes can be heard in a 2,500 seat concert hall—an astonishing feat requiring years of study.


6. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: discuss the book, then…

…set up a one-night "bookshop": members bring anywhere from, say, 3 to 5 books to exchange with others OR consider setting up a "Little Free Library" somewhere OR, like Monsieur Perdu, have members bring one book and talk about how that particular book helped them cope with a difficult problem or period in their lives.

 

 

chiller thrillers 350pxRecognize any of the phrases to the left?

Hard not to. They're taken verbatim from reviews of suspense novels and are repeated over and over in cover blurbs and ads (because, really, how many ways can you say "exciting"?).

Add to that…nearly every thriller gets hailed as "THE NEW GONE GIRL OR THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN!!!!!"

My problem is I've grown tired of heart-thumpers (a phrase not on the list, btw)—of being on the edge of my seat for 384 pages—and reading in PANIC MODE.

So Dear Reader, confession: I skip ahead … to the last couple of pages. I need to see if my favorites make it through intact so that I can just settle back and enjoy the ride. After all, isn't that the point of reading—to savor the words, their rhythms and nuances and to luxuriate in wherever a story happens to take us?

Listen, I LOVE a good thriller—every now and then. But it should come as no surprise that, since Gone Girl, thrillers have been flooding the market. It seems as if the publishing industry has gone mad with its outpouring of beautiful psychopaths.

Worse, even writers of "literary fiction" are adding touches of thrillerdom to jazz up their plots and, I guess, juice up their sales. Oh, well. 'Nuf said.


grammar policeThey're off their game … unless maybe they've already thrown in the towel — because sometimes it feels like nobody's out there doing the dirty work, pulling in the perps. I'm talking about the Grammar Police.

Celebrities, politicians, pundits, authors, even the vaulted New York Times — all of them — are getting away with grammatical homicide.

This one came in today. It's subtle all right, but indicative of a downward slide into lawlessness. I count 2 "lock-em-ups" right off the bat. So let's read it and unpack it.

There's people that have been trying to line up for the opportunity.

 

1. THERE'S people
Oops: "people" is plural, so we say, "There are people" or "There're people." We don't say, "There is people" or "There's people."

  1. There're books in the library. — There's a book on the table.
  2. There're mice in the field. — There's a mouse in the house.
  3. There're lots of people. — There's a lot of people.


2. There's people THAT
Oops again: "people" are, well … people, and we use who when referring to homo sapiens. "That" or "which" refers to things.

  1. The person who gave me the book is my aunt.
  2. The aunt who gave me the book is my favorite.
  3. The people who read the book loved it.
  4. The ones who loved the book are my friends.

 



Both of these are common crimes. Pay attention and you'll start noticing how often you hear "there's" instead of "there're" … and "that" instead of "who."

Okay, then. Let's have another go at the sentence:

There're people who have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Even better is this (try to avoid starting a sentence with "there"):

People have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Let's face it, though: does any of it really matter? For me, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard, but in the larger scope of things … I'm not sure it does matter.

*Oops! Here's another one just in: "There’s help-wanted ads everywhere." —1/11/2018



books broken heartDear Reader. Maybe it's about time for this post. Like you, I bet, I've been distressed — no, horrified — by the divisiveness and ugliness pervading our public discourse.

We've turned against one another: liberals and conservatives, globalists and populists, blacks and whites, men and women, religious and nonreligious, elites and … well, pretty much everyone else.

But here's the good news. We have BOOKS. Novels, especially, are sources of refuge — with the power to heal, to bind wounds and the wounded.

Through book clubs—with our books—we come together to share the love of story. We visit different cultures and are exposed to different ideas. We grow our empathy. We locate ourselves, for a time, in a wider world. We understand — because we are well read — that change is inevitable. But we also understand that there are lasting values which must be protected, always.

Those "lasting values," though, can get us into trouble; how we define them differs, which makes them easy to politicize. You could say the idea of values is what divides us.

But there ARE lasting values, ones we can all agree on. First and foremost is KINDNESS, and we can find it in literature. Many of our favorite books are those in which kindness is found in unexpected places, in which an open, generous spirit prevails over cruelty and selfishness, anger and fear.

A second is belief in the DIGNITY of every individual. That's a hard one. It's much easier to play the lowest card in the deck and resort to name-calling — I know, I've done it. Yes, shamefully, I've indulged in vitriol.

Yet literature is rife with the acknowledgement of human worth — that individuals, no matter how vile or how degraded, possess an inner core of dignity.



winston blog4Stepping away from books, let's talk about something more PRIMAL that helps us overcome our differences.

If you haven't already guessed from the photo to the left—it's our pets.

While visiting my daughter, I enjoy spending time at an off-leash dog park. Not only is there a wide variety of dogs, but their owners are a fairly diverse group as well.

Yet the moment
one of our dogs turns aggressive, we're quick to apologize and rein in the bad behavior. What's surprising is that the other dog owners are equally quick to accept the apology. I've seen this dozens of times. Animals, it seems—like books—tap into a deep well of GRACIOUSNESS within us.

One of those times, the political chatter one had been particularly caustic. (When hasn't it?) So it was of note that, as we sat watching our 4-legged creatures, we 2-legged ones were exhibiting the BEST OF OURSELVES. I wanted to hold onto that and carry it with me.

Moral to this blog post: GET A PET AND READ A BOOK. Let's make the world a better place. End of sermon.

writing top of my lungsBy Kathy Aspden, Author *
Here’s the thing I love about screenwriting – it’s about using the fewest words to create the largest picture.

There’s a wonderful economy in the language of films. You’re given two hours at best – which translates into 120 pages of script, one page per minute.

I’ve had table readings of my scripts – no action included – and have been surprised to find that it really is one minute per page.

So here’s your mission:  Write a scene that doesn’t include the character’s thoughts, desires and complex histories, but somehow conveys a character’s thoughts, desires and complex histories. It’s like a puzzle.

Add to that the fact that somebody important who’s reading your script does not want you to direct them. It sounds confusing, doesn’t it? It is.



RENNIE
I was wrong. You can tear up my contract and keep the money. I’ll take my chances on the outside.



This is a line from my screenplay, A PERFECT WORLD – a dystopic society in 2046 where America is bankrupt from taking care of the sick.

All illness has been traced to HPAS - Hybrid Procreation Autoimmune Syndrome – caused by the cross-pollination of people breeding outside their race of origin: The American Melting Pot. The government has decided it’s time to fix the problem before humanity is too sick to survive.

What if medicine suddenly became illegal and the sick were encouraged to die while America cultivated a new race
?

Now picture my dilemma as the screenwriter. Exclamation points are frowned upon. Italics aren’t allowed. Underlined words are not encouraged unless absolutely necessary. Using all caps (ala Christian Gray style) is a complete no-no.

And yet my character, Rennie, is a woman in a government run clinic, who is thirteen-weeks pregnant with a genetically viable child, produced through a government sanctioned union, and she wants out.

She wants out at the top of her lungs. She wants out in spite of the fact that she has signed a contract. She wants out even though she knows that medical care outside of the facility has been deemed illegal.

SHE WANTS OUT!!

But it’s not my call as a writer to do the director’s job (or so they say). So I write the words and hope he/she gets it. Or more likely, I hope the twelve-year-old he/she intern assistant to the producer gets it.

It’s all good, though, as long as YOU get it.


* Kathy Aspden is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

doll purseBy Kathy Aspden, Author *
Writing is a lot like making a baby. Sometimes, it takes everything to get to the point of conception, and sometimes you don’t even remember having sex that night, but somehow a baby was conceived. Either way it all begins with a tiny seed that is planted in your heart (or your brain if that’s how you’re wired).

Even before conception, the image of your child is already materializing: "He’ll have my eyes, my husband’s lips, and hopefully not Uncle John’s nose…" In anticipation, a parent is creating a composite baby in their mind. It’s the same for writers. We envision different blends of traits, strengths and weaknesses for our characters.

"Composite Character" is a term I was certain I had invented, right up until I looked it up on Wikipedia. What I found was that I had been intuitively using a process that many writers and filmmakers have done forever - take two or more people from real life or experiences or even history, and meld them into one quirky, interesting person with the capability of being both deeply flawed (as most great characters are) and relatable. It was another case of my inventing something that somebody else had already invented (insert travel hammock, swinging screen door for sliders, the instant ballerina-bun maker).

The strange thing is that I can’t tell if my characters begin to remind me of someone who then creeps into my head as I write, or if there is already a person in my head whose traits have crept into my character. Anyone who knows me may have guessed that there’s probably more people in my head than is considered healthy. Whatever the reason, my characters tend to take on a lot of personality traits – like snowballs down a mountainside — as their stories progress.

I'm more aware of it when I'm writing screenplays. It's easier to have an actor to visualize as the script unfolds. And why wouldn’t an actress like Julianna Moore (with a little Diane Keaton thrown in) want to play the part of Grace Mitchell, a forty-nine-year-old author who has just written a successful self-help book decrying America’s obsession with youth, but stands to lose everything when she finds herself pregnant by a thirty-eight-year-old plastic surgeon? Great plot, right? (An Inconvenient Miracle is available for option if you happen to be a successful movie producer).

Anyway, back to these mixed-up characters of mine. What I came to realize was that my psychiatrist had been wrong; the voices in my head were a good thing. Working with the public, being part of a large family, inheriting a natural love of human interaction from both my mother and my father gave me a lifetime’s worth of crazy, loveable parts and pieces to choose from when writing. This mental/multi-tasking/ADD portion of my brain was finally paying off! On top of that, I found a great app that allowed me to see my combos by physically blending people.

Here’s my JulianneDianeKeatonMoore blend.

P.S. I also invented the first Transformer, the epitome of the composite character — a doll head that turned into a change purse. I didn’t call it a Transformer. I called it a Doll-head Purse.

* Kathy Aspden is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

cursive writingCursive Cramp
By Kathy Aspeden, Author
*

A few years ago
I took a creative writing class from Professor Patricia McGraw. It was a three-credit course designed for advanced writers.

Absolutely, I wanted to get the most out of the class.

But I also wanted to get an "A" (grade-seeker — a horrible trait leftover from not having achieved anything athletic in my childhood years). That meant doing all the homework, even the things I found redundant or repetitive. Everything.

Professor McGraw was a huge fan of cursive. She said it got our creative juices flowing to engage our hands in what is quickly becoming a medieval practice. Four handwritten lined-notebook pages a night. Ugh!

It was agony for me. I have terrible, scratchy handwriting. My hands do not form circles. I can’t get anything on my body to make a circle. Ankle rolls during yoga, hula hoop hips, all of it is difficult.

I’m not graceful, I’m purposeful. I can hand-draw a window opening without a level. I’m the chick that does all the cut-in for family painting project.

I don’t create circles or graceful arcs. Cursive is filled with pretty swirls of circles!

Can you imagine getting a mediocre grade because of a simple thing like cursive? It felt positively elementary-schoolish — until I got the hang of it. Yes, like most people my brain works faster than my hands. I had to relax my thoughts, which turned out to allow more time for different, additional thoughts. Who knew?

When I realized that Professor McGraw wasn’t looking at the content, I still felt an obligation to do the task justice. One day I wrote four entire pages of potential book titles that all flowed into one another. "The Life We Made – Making The Pie – A Pie in Your Eye – The Eyes Have It – It Happened in the Park – Park Plaza Promise - Promise You’re Not a Psycho – Psycho is Another Name for Different – A Different Desire…"

Once I wrote a grocery list from when I was a kid, "Chef-Boy-Ardee Raviolis, Captain Crunch Cereal, Frosted Pop Tarts, Tang – the choice of astronauts…" You get the picture.

Before class we’d compare notes about how ridiculous our journals were. One guy wrote everything the NHL Hockey commentator said. Another recorded all the commercials while she power-watched back-to-back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Still another student detailed every move her cat made — adding extremely funny dialogue in between actions.

We thought we were beating the system, but we had to admit that something was happening. Ideas were being triggered by the action of writing by hand.

Today, cursive is making a comeback.

I recently saw a news show about the Campaign for Cursive’s 2017 contest winners. It was filled with kids who were treating the learning of cursive like a language or an archeological dig. They were cursive powerhouses, proud to have mastered a language that many of their friends didn’t know existed.

I’ll leave you with a great link to Johanna Silver’s 9 Incredible Ways Writing by Hand Benefits Our Bodies and Brains, as well as a look back at all the hoopla New York Yankees star, Alex Rodriquez, generated with his handwritten apology to the fans of baseball.

Kathy Aspden, is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

cursive note

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