Thursday, February 16, 2012

When a Loved One Goes to Prison

They'd come into the store with their request lists and ask very quietly for the books or magazines. Rarely were they knowledgable of the store layout, not being readers themselves. Then, they'd go to the counter where they'd run their purchases by the cashier and brace themselves for the review. When the cashier would find out the shipping address for the packages, they'd go over the purchases, as a courtesy for the customer, to try and avoid a "return to sender" situation. The customer usually took this part of the transition with quiet dignity, but still the sensitive cashier understood the invasion to the privacy of the customer and the receiver of the package.  Magazines were scanned for scantily clad women and violent images, books for their subject matter - no erotica, no mobster material.  Invasive.  Six weeks later, no matter how well the cashier reviewed the product, US Postal usually returned the package for some unknown fraction. The purchaser received a phone call, but they rarely returned to pick up the package.

Too many times, I played the role of the cashier. Too many times, I scanned the product. Too many times, I told the purchaser bad news or felt the need to recommend other purchases. Too many times, I returned the product to the shelf after the return and then notated in the log that we owed someone a refund.

As a result of this unhappy experience, I came to the conclusion that when a family member goes to prison, the family who supports that member finds themselves in a similar one. They find themselves experiencing invasive indignities in arenas they never imagined: not just the courtroom, not just the process of visiting. Other areas exposes the family's personal business: church friends wonders where so-and-so is, co-workers wonder why so much work gets missed, landlords need notifying and apartments need packing up, utilities cancelled, and the hits just keep on coming.

Way back in my bookseller days, I became a favorite of one particular family. They'd call to make sure of my working schedule and I'd meet them at the Info desk. Their brother didn't care what we sent as long as the book was either long or wieldy. We sent a lot of really long books: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chronicles of Narnia, and Twilight (that sucker looked long!). We also sent a mass of philosophy books as they took him longer to read.  We avoided magazines because, even though they were valuable for trading (I didn't ask what he traded them for), any package that contained a magazine seemed to come back stamped "Inappropriate Material" or maybe not stamped at all.  I never knew who the women were that came to pick up the package and I never asked. I always greeted them happily and told them how good I felt at seeing them again. I'd try to make the visit as pleasant as possible and always gave them the best service I could. Usually, by the end of the transaction, they left fairly happy. Eventually, they stopped coming. I didn't know if I felt good about that or not. I just hoped that their lives found some peace, somehow.

Twitterland's response to Whitney Houston's death prompted this blog entry. I read some of my favorite Tweetfriends who knew people who'd died of addictions and felt saddened how her death of possible addiction issues affected them.  They reminded me of the family I dealt with back in my bookseller days and  I couldn't help but think that, in  a way, when addicts enter the prison of addiction, they take their loved ones, too. Addicts' loved ones find their lives invaded and their dignity bruised as they find themselves answering questions about their addicted loved one.

Society seems to not show a great deal of respect or compassion towards families who suffer alongside addicts of criminals. We call these families "enablers" and make assumptions about their roles in the lives of the troubled people. We make snap judgements about "blindness" or "indifference". We make morbid jokes when addicts die and say "no surprise" without stopping to think that they left behind loved ones who's hopes just died, as well. I say that society members who say such things show the blindness and the indifference, and they're the ones I pity the most.

Unfortunately, nobody will really read my blog, so I'm not going to change anyone's mind or make anyone think twice about their own attitude. I'll just settle for changing my own.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

As A Christian Reading Anne Bishop

picked up this book - The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop - one rainy weekend many years ago simply due to the size of the book (well over 1000 pages). I wanted a long book to wile away the wet hours and stimulate my imagination. I'd only read the first few pages in the bookstore and hadn't paid too close attention to the characters or their names. Plus, I really only cared about the length as I just wanted to kill a wet weekend. You cannot imagine my surprise when I arrived home and, within a few chapters,  discovered that the book featured Satan as a put-upon father and Luciver and Damien as tortured sons.  Woah. My poor little Christian soul went on red alert.

As a Christian, I stuttered to a halt in my reading and found myself taking several blinks as I forced my mind to wrap around the idea that High Lord of Hell could take on the role of a caring father who did his job to the best of his ability and paid the price for the high power he wielded. Damian lived his life as a sex slave who yearned for a woman he could serve and Lucifer, being something of an arrogant ass, could still fondly and gently deal with a wayward little girl who really should go home to her bed. As I made my way through the book, I felt myself wishing my father would love and care for me as Satan did his sons. He seemed to always know when to draw the line and stand up to them and when to give them love and support.

As the weekend progressed, I pondered several points including the connotations the names "Satan" and "Luciver" had in my life. I also pondered the role that evil took in my world and how that correlated in the fantasy world of Anne Bishop. I realized that when reading fictional fantasy, one needs to park the real world at the door, to leave preconceived notions  behind as we delve into our imagination. 

During the weekend, I slowly embraced the expansion of my imagination as I fell in love with the characters and embraced some of their philosophies including "power comes with a price" and the part that everyone plays in the world and how we may not enjoy that part, but we play it anyway. I liked that the characters may wield power, but they did so at personal cost. I enjoyed the philosophy that outsiders may see beauty and glamour, but inside that world we may not survive should we gain acceptance. 

I don't recommend this series to all of my Christian friends as I know that some of my more conservative friend would not accept a fantasy world where Satan plays the part of a loving father who reads to his sons and bemoans his daughters lack of dresses in her wardrobe. However, I do recommend the read to my friends who want to expand their imaginations. I suspect that many of my more conservative friends may struggle with the name of Satan and that he resides over Hell with both a firm hand and with compassion for some of those who end up there. 

In the end, I'm now a full-blown Bishop fan...and guess what? I'm still a Christian, too. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

I started this book at 8:00 in the morning and finished at 11:15...the same morning. I stopped twice to visit the ladies' room and twice to refresh my tea cup. I could not put the book down or stop. In fact, I started to panic that I wouldn't finish prior to start of work. I actually considered calling out sick. 

Every morning Christine wakes up not knowing where she is or how she got there. Every morning, her husband Ben patiently walks her through the last 20 years of her life prior to his leaving for work. Then, every morning, a doctor calls and tells her to find her hidden journal and read the secrets she's recorded there. In the front of her journal, she finds in her writing the statement: Don't Trust Ben.

Divided into three parts, the first part centers on her meeting with her doctor who walks her through the secret treatment they've been working on to help her regain the memory she lost in an accident 20 years earlier. He returns to her the journal she's kept for the previous month and tells her to read her own entries to better understand all that's happening to her.

The middle part allows the reader to read along and discover, along with Christine, what she needs to remember. This part of the book draws the reader in and almost serves as an interactive exercise as we read along and learn just as Christine does.

The third part takes place in a single day as the story culminates and comes together in an ending that I sure didn't see coming until the reveal and then I found myself thinking...why didn't I see it coming?

Watson really drew me in and kept me involved the entire Christine, I couldn't discover fast enough what took place before and every one of Christine's aha! moments became mine. I loved how Watson sucked me in and ran me ragged as he spun Christine's tale tighter and tighter. The book almost felt interactive as I learned, along with Christine, the truth about her life. 

What I learned:

I learned the importance of constantly moving a story forward. Obviously, Christine's journal entries needed to back up from time-to-time, but Watson did so in such a way to avoid monotony. He also only lightly sprinkled red herrings amongst what few clues he gave up.  He wove his tale tightly and only gave the reader what was necessary. I noticed he rarely described Christine's surroundings, focusing instead on her inner turmoil. I made note of how many times he went into discussions of her wardrobe - and I noted that what little he discussed made sense only after I finished the book. 

I also want to rethink through some of the clich├ęs of the book. Only after I finished did I realize that a couple of incidents were just this side of old plot devices...and yet, they didn't feel as such with this book.  While I did see one of the incidents coming - I knew why Christine was in that hotel room and how she came to arrive there - I didn't feel cheated or feel the need to roll my eyes. How did Watson keep me from feeling cheated?

Now that I've inhaled the book, I want to go back and take my time to learn even more about how he made me race through the did he make the journey so critical that I couldn't stop reading until I'd finished? Also, why didn't I feel manipulated at the end? How did he make me identify so strongly with this woman without attempting to manipulate the reader? Very clever. 


Friday, January 27, 2012

Taking a Left Turn with My Writing

So...I started out as a wanna-be romance writer and now I'm (ahem) a full-blown mystery writer. How did this left turn occur?

Blame it on Morgan St. James.

Ms. St. James, a talented mystery writer, spoke to my book club about her writing journey. I sat and listened as she spoke of hooks and simplicity. Months later, her words kept coming back to me about how she writes what interests her.

Cue up to two weeks ago: the word "hook" stayed with me several months later. I found myself with some free time on my hands as I watched my students play soccer. My mind kept mulling around the idea of "hook" and simplicity. I thought back to the books I'd read over Christmas break and suddenly, I flashed on this weird idea. I busted up laughing, which caused my students to think I'd gone loco, and immediately discarded the whole thought.

That bizarre thought kept coming back. Again and again. On the drive home from school, the main character of the bizarre idea began to speak to me - an occurrence that I've never experienced. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I couldn't get into the house fast enough.

I immediately hit the couch, revved up Scrivener, and began to type as fast as that character could speak. I couldn't type fast enough. I didn't stop to research, I didn't stop to outline. I just wrote. I typed and typed.

For 10 days.

Every moment that I wasn't working, cooking, sleeping, etc. I typed and typed what my character told me to write. I listened to her and obeyed.

Now I sit here with a first draft for the first time in my writing life and I'm giddy with excitement. I've so much work ahead of me, but I can now say that I'm a writer and not a hobbiest. I'm no longer doing this for fun I'm doing this to publish by this summer.

Driving instructors say that left turns prove the hardest to make for most drivers. For this writer? This left turn changed me completely and I'm embracing the uphill climb.

Thanks for listening.