I don’t even know what to title this …

I wrote this story way back in 2012 the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. I was a different writer then and a different person–younger, more hopeful, less angry, more easily bruised. Writing it gave me comfort, and I hope reading it can still comfort someone else. But every time this happens, I become less sure that comfort is what we need.


The Teacher

The gunshots were loud, close, coming closer.  Later some of her friends who lived would be saying it had all happened so fast.  But she knew she wouldn’t be with them.

The lights were out, and the door was ajar, so from the hallway the classroom would look empty.  The children were huddled in a ring around her at the back of the room on the Story Carpet.  “Quiet,” she had whispered to them, forcing herself to sound calm, to even smile a little.  “We have to be perfectly quiet.”  They were trying so hard to obey, holding hands with one another, two of them holding her hands.

Please God, she prayed inside her head.  My babies . . . please, God, please please please please please please please . . . .

She felt hands folded over her hands.  She opened her eyes and found him crouched on the Story Carpet with them, an angel.  He was beautiful, and he was smiling, but his eyes were sad.  His wings, translucent in the dim light from the windows, spread and curved around their circle, holding the children as his hands held hers.

I was sent to be with you.  She heard his voice inside her head, and in an instant, she felt calmer.  You don’t have to talk; I can hear you.

She was still terrified.  More gunshots rang out, coming from next door.  Can you save them? she asked inside her head though she already knew the answer.  Can you take them away from here?  A tear slid down the angel’s cheek, confirming what she knew.  She thought for a moment about her husband and her family and her best friend and all the ones she loved so much, and for that moment, she thought she would shatter.  But the angel held her hands and looked into her eyes, and after that one moment, she could stand it.

Can the children see you? she asked.

They can feel me, he answered.  She knew it was true.  She could feel some of the tension going out of them, some of their fear melting away.  The ones holding her hands inside the angel’s hands looked almost dreamy, sleepy-eyed and smiling.  But they don’t need to see me, the angel said.  They see you.

A moment later, the door slammed open–screaming, a terrible  noise.  She had just enough time to stand and turn, arms outspread, to think, no, you can’t have them, you bastard!  And all the time the angel was behind her, hands on her shoulders, holding her tight.  A single, terrible moment of pain ripping through her, screams of the children . . . .

Then she was walking in an open field, green and lush, gentle sunshine all around, a playground from a fairy tale.  The children were running around her like running out to recess, laughing, shouting, perfect in their joy.  She looked to one side and saw the teacher from next door.  She was holding hands with one of her students, a boy who had been in a wheelchair, barely able to speak.  Now he was walking beside her, tall and strong.  And everyone was smiling.

The angel was walking beside her.  “What will happen to them now?” she asked him right out loud, all thought of fear forgotten.

“They’ll decide.”  Peple were coming toward them, calling out greetings.  The children knew them; they were running toward them, arms outstretched, being scooped up and hugged close.  “Some of them might stay here, but most of them will probably choose to go back and start over.  They were all so young.”

“Miss, look!”  A little boy from her class had stopped and was dancing in front of her, pointing.  “It’s my pawpaw!”  An old man dressed in camoflage with a bright orange hat on his head was coming toward them.  Suddenly the little boy was dressed just the same, and he ran to his grandfather’s arms.

“What about you, Teacher?” the angel asked.  A woman had appeared on the crest of the hill just ahead of her, and her heart skipped a beat with joy.  “Will you go back?”

“I don’t know.”  She had an idea that beyond these hills, this place was even more beautiful, not a place of clouds and golden harps but of peace and laughter and love.  But the place she’d left behind had been beautiful, too, with so much love her heart ached remembering it.

She turrned to the angel.  “If I go back, will I remember this?”

“No,” he said, smiling.  All of the sadness was gone from his eyes.  Here, he had no wings she could see.  He looked just like everybody else.  “You’ll start fresh, a whole new life.”  He took her hand.  “But I will remember you.”

the end

The Passion of Miss Cuthbert

Stella 2 Passion of Miss CuthbertI have a new book out. It’s called The Passion of Miss Cuthbert, and it’s the second in my series of romantic mysteries starring amateur detective Stella Hart. Stella is a silent movie actress in the 1920s whose stepfather owns an English manor house. Her fiancé and partner in crime-solving is George Barrington, Thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. Stella is white. George is white. Stella’s mom and stepfather are white. Stella and George spend this installment on an ocean liner where the passengers we meet are all white, including the corpse, the killer, and Miss Cuthbert, the frumpy chaperone whose passion ignites the plot.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you begin to see my problem.

The book was actually released as scheduled on June 4, 2020, a/k/a Day 10 of the protests following the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. That morning, my publishers and I talked it over and agreed that yeah, any kind of big promo push for my book that day would be disrespectful, tone deaf, and just generally gross. We all had friends on the front lines of the protests. More importantly, we had friends and colleagues whose lives were in danger every time they left the house.

I won’t pretend it made me happy to ignore my book release. I worked really hard on that story, and I’m proud of it. Plus it’s the first book I’ve ever written specifically and completely for Falstaff Crush, the Falstaff Books romance line, and I think that’s kind of cool. And trust me, I’m as arrogant and self-involved as any writer alive, and I really, really want to sell books. But not even I could stomach doing commercials for an easy-breezy story of a white girl on a cruise ship last Thursday.

John, Melissa, and I decided to wait to do any major promo until tomorrow, June 9, and as you can see, I’m blogging about it today. Is that any better? Is it still too soon? Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

Diversity has been on my mind with these books since the beginning. My original inspirations for this kind of story were  two of the most overtly racist popular writers of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google it. I don’t have the heart to tell you.) I knew going in I had to fix that, that my main characters were going to be sensitive to the world view of people not like them and aware of their privilege. And I think I’ve stayed true to that; I hope I have. But in these first two books at least, everybody is still #sowhite. I actually toyed with the idea of making Stella’s lady’s maid, the wise and fearless Sophie, a Black woman. I even floated the idea to my alpha reader, my sister, Alexandra Christian. Together we agreed it was a bad idea for two reasons: one, I’d only be doing it to have a Black character in the story, and two, if my story was only going to have one Black character, she did NOT need to be a lady’s maid.

So in Book One: Guinevere’s Revenge, which is set at that English manor house, everybody’s white. The second book I actually wrote for the series was The Baronet Unleashed. It takes place in Hollywood and has multiple Black characters, at least two of whom are scheduled to turn up in future installments. But when I started writing the Miss Cuthbert story, I realized it needed to happen before George saw Hollywood, so The Passion of Miss Cuthbert became Book 2, and The Baronet Unleashed became Book 3. If we’re all still around and books are still a thing, it should be coming out sometime this fall.

I wrote The Passion of Miss Cuthbert in January, February, and March of 2020 as the dumpster fire that my own personal life had become exploded outward into the dumpster fire that has engulfed everybody else. Writing it was my comfort, my escape, and I make no apologies for it. It’s a damned good book. Do I wish that for the week of its release, half of America was not at war with the other half? That we weren’t all in danger of getting sick and/or making one another sick, that some of us weren’t threatening violence for the right to make our neighbors sick? That Black Americans could live their lives as safely and fearlessly as I do mine, that we as a country could collectively agree to that as their inalienable right instead of brutalizing them in the public streets for even asking? I do, of course I do. I wish that every day whether I have a new book out or not. I’ve written lots of words that speak to that wish both in fiction and not, and I’ll keep doing that because writing words is the thing I do best.

But this week, I’ve got Stella, and she’s good. She’s fun. She means well. If that seems wrong to you, I get it; ignore me. My feelings won’t be hurt. But if you could use what my editor calls “All goodness and light with just a little touch of murder,” let me hook you up.

North, South, East, West, and the Romance Writers of America

In 1985 when the miniseries North and South first aired on TV, my mother worked for a lady named Miss Rose Cauthen. North and South, for those previously spared by youth or ignorance, was based on a series of historical novels by John Jakes about two wealthy and heroic white guys who meet at West Point about a decade before the Civil War and become friends for life. And of course the big hook is, one is from the North and one is from the South—South Carolina, to be specific. It’s the vehicle that unleashed the raw sexual power of Patrick Swayze in a pair of tight britches on an unsuspecting world. Mama, my sisters, and I watched it avidly. All the ladies in Mama’s office watched and discussed it daily with breathless enthusiasm. Miss Rose herself declared it to be the best thing she’d seen on TV in an age.

Then came the Great Unpleasantness. The North guy’s abolitionist sister (played by Kirstie Alley) not only helped one of Swayze’s slaves escape the plantation, she had sex with him in the barn on his way out. A Black man and a white woman engaged in consensual sexual relations (or at least 10 full seconds of foreplay on the way to sexual relations) right there on the TV screen. I can only imagine the noises that came out of Miss Rose and her sister, Miss Louise, as this horror unfolded before them. But the next day, Miss Rose declared that she had turned off her television set. She informed her staff that North and South was filth of the worst possible kind, and she would not allow it to be discussed in her office. She even attempted to forbid the rest of them to watch. And when Mama told her she declined to be so censored in her own home, both Miss Rose and Miss Louise made it plain that henceforth they would think less of her as a lady. Bear in mind, please, that these genteel flowers had already absorbed the shock of several extended sequences of half-nekkid Swayze making soft focus whoopie with another man’s half-nekkid wife in scenes hot enough that Mama made Alexandra Christian cover her eyes. But a brief interlude between a single consenting white woman and a single consenting Black man who subsequently married was more than they could bear. And the idea that any other “nice” woman could bear it just fine was more than they could imagine.

I’ve found myself remembering Miss Rose a lot lately as I’ve been watching the RWA implode. It’s a long, complicated, very much on-going kerfuffle, but for the purposes of my point, here are the highlights. (For a more detailed analysis, start here.) In recent years, as romance as a literary genre expands beyond the f*ck fantasies of white ladies of a certain age both in fact and in perception, the Romance Writers of America keeps getting itself in trouble. The actual membership is becoming more diverse, but the ruling spirit of the organization keeps proving over and over again that it just kind of is not. One of the most vocal and effective critics of institutional racism in the RWA and romance as a genre is bestselling romance author Courtney Milan, who is Chinese-American. Back in August 2019, no doubt in response to yet another version of “honestly, Courtney, I don’t see the problem,” Milan called out another writer, Kathryn Lynn Davis, for her portrayal of Asian characters in a book from her backlist. On Twitter, she called the book a “racist mess” and quoted passages to prove her point.

Davis and the RWA attempted to turn off Milan and forbid the rest of us to watch her any more.

Specifically, Davis made a formal complaint to the RWA, saying Milan had cyber-bullied her and cost her a contract. RWA formed a secret squirrel special ethics committee to investigate because, inconveniently, the regular ethics committee at RWA that everybody knew about was chaired by Milan herself. The secret squirrels investigated and voted in secret to suspend Milan’s RWA membership for a year and ban her from holding any office within the organization for life.

And bless their sweet hearts, I swear I think they thought that would be the end of it. When one of Milan’s friends went public with the news, the RWA seemed to be shocked—shocked, I tell you!—to discover that not only would Milan not just go away and hush because they told her to, a big, loud swath of their membership was just as horrified by their attempt to silence her as she was and just as willing to say so.

It’s quite the circus. Since the initial blowup, a lot of complicated issues going back decades have come out. There’s even dispute now as to whose idea it was to spank Milan in the first place. Davis now says she only filed her complaint because the leadership at RWA told her she had to, that she never intended them to punish Milan. Meanwhile, the RWA leadership insists that once Davis filed her complaint, they had no choice but to act.

I call bullshit on both sides of that argument, but whatever. Y’all know me well enough by now to know I #standwithCourtney. I recently recorded a video statement as acquiring editor for Falstaff Crush calling out RWA and supporting diversity in romance in the strongest possible terms—love is love, y’all. That should be up on the Falstaff Books YouTube channel soon if it isn’t already.

But the actions of Davis and the RWA leadership are not mysterious to me. I know those people. As we say here in the Beautiful South, I’ve been knowing them all my life. They’re Miss Rose. Behind all the boilerplate and pearl clutching, all their assertion and defense comes down to this. “I am a nice lady. All my friends (all of whom think like me or don’t dare or care enough to tell me otherwise) tell me all the time what a nice lady I am. Nice ladies are not racists. Therefore, I cannot be a racist. My views on and portrayals of people not like me cannot be racist but are in fact the truth—or at least a perfectly acceptable fantasy that doesn’t hurt a soul. Because I don’t hurt people. I’m nice.”

Sorry, Miss Rose, but you’re not.

The people who think this way are so dependent on this view of themselves they see anything that threatens it as an unforgiveable attack. Out of fear or laziness or some combination of the two, they adamantly refuse to consider for even one moment that their critics might have a point. To question their own attitudes.

To check their privilege.

And until RWA can do that, it’s not going to get any better.

Romance as a genre is so much more than it’s perceived to be. And lord knows, with book stuffers and click farms and copyright crazies, we need a professional organization to defend us now more than we ever have before. But a Miss Rose RWA will never be qualified to do it.

White People Baking Cupcakes

Y’all please pardon my metaphor, but the past day or so, I’ve seen a lot of people getting their feelings hurt when they really shouldn’t, and I’m hoping this will help.

Imagine you find out that your church is holding an all-night vigil for the families of children who have been murdered. You think this is a fantastic idea; you want to help. You’ve read about some of these sweet kids and how they died, and your heart genuinely breaks for them. Your tears are real; you feel for these people so much. You know you can’t possibly ever really understand what they’re going through, but you want to do something, contribute something, let them know that you stand beside them. So you volunteer to help host the event and even bake a bunch of cupcakes–your best cupcakes, the ones you’re famous for.

You show up at the event, and it’s packed–you had no idea so many people had been touched by this kind of tragedy. It moves you more than you can say; you wish you could do more than just offer cupcakes but cupcakes is what you’ve got. So you put them on the buffet.

Now the people who are attending, they are all very different from one another with different personalities, different experiences, different histories, different ways of coping with their loss. Some of them actually know you–you’ve met before, they know what a kind, empathetic person you are, they know cupcakes are what you make when you don’t know what else to say, and they will accept and appreciate your effort as part of the on-going relationship the two of you already have. They might not give a tinker’s dam about your cupcakes; they might not taste a single one; they might even feel pressured and irritated to have to engage you about cupcakes when their minds are so much elsewhere. But they will notice, and on some level, it will mean something to them.

But most of them don’t know you from Adam’s housecat; to them, you’re just the stranger who brought the cupcakes. Some of them, because of their personalities or coping mechanisms or upbringing, will be able to muster up enough social politeness to notice your cupcakes and say thank you even as their hearts are shattered. Some of them are so raw they won’t even see your cupcakes, wouldn’t recognize a ten foot cupcake if it fell on their car on the way home. Some of them might even be furious with you for thinking a fucking cupcake could make the slightest bit of difference to someone who has lost a child–how dare you,  you person who hasn’t felt the pain I feel, show up here with a damned box of cupcakes? What do you want, a medal? But even those people will know you made the effort, that at least one person who doesn’t really understand cares enough to at least make a batch of cupcakes.

And here’s the thing. You don’t get to be mad at any of those people. You don’t get to get your feelings hurt. You don’t get to think they’re ungrateful or that you wasted your time or that next time they can eat store-bought cookies or starve as far as you’re concerned. Because it’s not about you. Did you make cupcakes so people would say, ‘oh how awesome is she? She made cupcakes!’ Or did you make them so people who are dying of grief at least have something good to eat?

Fellow white folks (and cis folks and straight folks and Christian folks and whatever folks who don’t have to worry about getting dragged out of their cars and shot for who they are), on days like today, we just brought the cupcakes. We see the Nazis marching in Charlottesville, and we feel sick to our stomachs. We want our friends and neighbors whose lives are threatened by these assholes to know we stand with them–we HAVE to let them know we stand with them. But on some level, we don’t know shit, and we HAVE to acknowledge that, too. Until we can turn aside this tide of hate for good, until the people who are practicing this hate are no longer using their color or their gender or their sexuality or their religion as an excuse to label other people as un-people, those of us who share the traits they value have to not only get past our raising and stand against them, we have to understand how hard it is for the people they’re hurting to trust us. It’s not about us. We’ve just got to keep on bringing the cupcakes.

The Princess Defense: A Kickass Statistical Analysis

The release and box office success of Wonder Woman has feminist debate on the lips of Geek Nation once again. I haven’t seen it yet, but count me among the fans. I love the idea of a kickass female leading the charge in a summer superhero flick, even if she has to have perfect hair and a one-piece maillot with boots and tiara ensemble to do it.

But here within the happy ranks celebrating the movie, a rallying cry has emerged that is starting to get on my nerves. “My princesses are now generals! Huzzah!” writes one blogger who gets shared around the web. “Princess Buttercup is finally redeemed as an Amazon!” writes another. (I’m paraphrasing the thesis of both, of course; they’re easy to find and very nicely written.) The idea seems to be that these princesses, Leia and Buttercup and by extension every other princess in every other movie prior to the Great Climbing from the Trench was a misogynistic embarrassment to feminists—or at least no more than the sloppy seconds we clung to because popular art, particularly science fiction and fantasy, offered us no one else.

When I called poppycock on this notion yesterday, I got a short course on representation in response—we have plenty of princesses and domestic goddesses, this woman explained, but we need more kickass warrior women. When I suggested that I had noticed a lot more women kicking people in the face in popular art lately than I had non-desperate housewives, intellectual professionals, or princesses who ruled by something other than the sword or dragon, she wrote back that she was specifically referencing blockbuster movies. She’s obviously smart and made her point well, so I decided to cast an analytical eye over the top 5 movies of 2017 so far by box office, the best definition I know of “blockbuster.” (This list came out at the end of last week, just before Wonder Woman’s big weekend, and FYI, even just from presales and previews and such, she came in at Number 11.) I asked the same series of questions about each, and here’s what I found:

  1. Beauty and the Beast

Most prominent female character(s): Belle, the central protagonist. It’s her story.

And she is? A scholarly dreamer and inventor who becomes a princess.

Is she kickass? Well, no, not really. She’s willing to rip up her iconic pretty princess dress to ride to the rescue of her Beast, and she picks up a stick and whacks a wolf or two. But I’d call her more brave and practical than I would kick-ass; she’s a lover and a reader, not a fighter, and she doesn’t seem to have any kind of psychological or identity crisis about being rescued.

Does she have sex? Not on screen, but a growl and a giggle at the end suggest that if not yet then really soon.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

Most prominent female character: Gamora, one of the hero’s team of sidekicks and his love interest

And she is? A green-skinned alien hottie in a sexy leather outfit who flies spaceships and shoots people in the face.

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? Oh hell no. In fact, the notion that she might is one of the big running jokes of the plot.

  1. Logan

Most prominent female character: Laura, a MacGuffin

And she is? Another in the long tradition of super special damaged daughter substitutes for heroes in contemporary science fiction, fantasy and horror (see also: Firefly, The Last of Us)

Is she kickass? It is the entirety of her character.

Does she have sex? What’s the matter with you, you sicko! Of course she doesn’t!

  1. The Fate of the Furious

Most prominent female character: Michelle Rodriguez is back as the kickass love interest, but most prominent is Cipher, the villainess

And she is? The Ball Buster

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? She tries to seduce the hero ‘cause that’s what these girls do, but he ain’t having it.

  1. Lego Batman

Most prominent female character: There’s a Batgirl.

And she is? A second string sidekick

Is she kickass? As much as a Lego figure can be, yes.

Does she have sex? No. Did I mention she’s a Lego figure?

So of the five most popular movies of 2017 prior to the release of Wonder Woman, only one has a female as lead protagonist, but all of these women but one are, in fact, kickass. (We’ll get back to that sex thing and why it’s important in a minute.) But this probably isn’t a fair sample; it’s only the first week of the summer blockbuster season. So let’s look back at 2016:

  1. Rogue One

Most prominent female character: Jyn, the protagonist

And she is? A pilot and mercenary with family connections that make her the best and most motivated choice for what turns out to be a suicide mission for the Rebellion.

Is she kickass? Absolutely. She hesitates to get involved with the Rebellion, but she’s been living by her wits and her laser pistol her whole life.

Does she have sex? There’s just no time. There’s a slight suggestion that there might have someday been a romantic connection to her partner in the mission if they had survived, but they die as friends.

  1. Finding Dory

Most prominent female character: Dory, the protagonist

And she is: A sweet, goofy single gal fish with short term memory loss

Is she kickass? Not at all; it’s very much not that kind of movie

Does she spawn? No – she’s more of a spinster auntie

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Most prominent female characters: Black Widow and/or Scarlet Witch, two secondary plotlines with equal time in the background

And they are? Superheroes in sexy leather outfits, one for each side of the central, dude-centric conflict

Are they kickass? Again, that’s all they came for.

Do they have sex? Just a little mostly unspoken emo yearning. Black Widow trades longing looks and oblique dialogue with a sensitive guy who turns into a big green monster, and the red rubber consciousness that looks like Paul Bettany casts a lot of shy glances at the Scarlet Witch—but she’s also got that super special substitute daughter thing going on, so maybe that’s what his deal is. (Only a superhero movie would cast Paul Bettany as a character with no discernible penis.)

  1. The Secret Life of Pets

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

  1. The Jungle Book

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

So again, of the ones that bother to have female characters of any substance at all, only one isn’t kickass. Methinks we might be mis-defining the problem and losing sight of what makes Wonder Woman such a milestone. Wonder Woman isn’t awesome because she’s kickass in the battle sequences; you can’t swing a dead henchman without finding a woman who’s kickass in battle sequences in these movies. She’s awesome because it’s HER FREAKIN’ MOVIE. After making her do her time as the Amazon ex machina in Batman vs. Superman, DC has put her front and center in her own origin story, committing to the project enough to have a great script and great actors and the budget to carry it off. (We’ll leave the debate about how much or little they promoted it for another blog post.) And yes, that is amazing and groundbreaking, and I can’t wait to see it, and I’m so glad it’s doing so well.

But let’s circle back to Leia and Buttercup and sex. In their original incarnations as princesses, they’re pretty kickass. Buttercup isn’t riding off to battle, but she is strong-willed, loyal, staunch in her convictions, and more than willing to face off shrieking eels, shove her kidnapper down a cliff, and go nose to nose with the royal asshole forcing her into marriage—when the confrontation comes, he’s the one who blinks first. And Leia might still be wearing a grotesquely impractical white gown and going by the title “princess” in Episodes IV-VI, but she’s a senator/spy who can stand up under torture, outshoot any storm trooper, and, oh yeah, lead a rebellion against the most powerful empire in the galaxy. So what’s the big evolutionary change in them that is inspiring all these tears of joy at their new empowerment? What was wrong with them before that’s right with them now? Sex—or rather, the elimination of sex. Princess Leia and Princess Buttercup are both objects of desire for men in their story, and each of them reciprocates this attraction when they find their soul mate. They fall in love. But once Buttercup becomes an Amazon general, it’s a pretty safe bet even for someone like me who hasn’t seen the movie  yet that she hasn’t got much time or patience for mawwiage or even twue love. And General Organa has given up romance to such an extent that she doesn’t even kiss Han Solo good-bye as she sends him to his death. I’ve done an informal poll, and pretty much every cis woman and gay man I know would have at least kissed Han Solo good-bye as they sent him to his death. But a nice, platonic hug is all General Organa will muster.

I love all these kickass women; I wouldn’t part with a one. And celibacy is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice. (This isn’t about boys, by the way; if some of these women had girlfriends, you’d never hear a peep of dissent out of me. Nor do I think all of these movies need that romantic element, far from it. But the fact that literally the only one that does is the Disney fairy tale movie gives me pause.) But choosing not to take a mate isn’t inherently better or more noble, and it doesn’t equate to empowerment, female or otherwise. Yet this is the message that so many of these popular movies with their celibate beauties seem to be sending, and this particular reaction to the Wonder Woman phenomenon shows that it’s not just Joss Whedon who’s infected. Since the beginning of time, there have been misogynistic jerks who think a woman is always supposed to look sexy but never supposed to have sex. If she doesn’t look sexy, she’s a hag. But if she has sex, she’s a slut. The patriarchy has been using shame to police women’s sexuality since Lilith and Eve, and the women who buy into that patriarchal model have always been their best agents on the street. But as feminists, aren’t we supposed to be better than that? Do we really want to embrace the message that any woman who takes a lover is surrendering, defining herself by that relationship and therefore lesser in our eyes? I don’t think that’s what Wonder Woman means to say; I don’t think that’s what we want for one another. Nobody has to be a princess or dream of being a princess if they don’t want to, or a housewife, or a space pilot, or an Amazon. But nobody has the right to make any of us feel less like a woman if we do.

The Day After the Day Without a Woman: A Letter to Four Men

So yesterday was National Women’s Day, and women who could afford it stopped doing all the good stuff they do to make it the Day Without a Woman, and God bless them. Big symbolic gestures made by the people who can afford them are how most of the good in this world gets started. But of course the hills of the internet were alive with the sound of rhetoric all day long. A lot of it was from women expressing solidarity, but at least as much of it came from men. Before it all made my head hurt so much I had to walk away from the computer, I identified four different types of straight men who were sounding off. (Gay men were part of the conversation, too, of course, but their relationship with women is a completely different paradigm. Most of the day, I just felt like I owed them an apology.) Now that I’ve had some Excedrin and a good night’s sleep, I’d like to answer those four straight man-types back.

Type Number One: The Troll:  You boys are the ones who spent all day yesterday trolling your sister-in-law’s Facebook wall, looking for strange women to piss off. You had your misogyny memes all cued up and your big boy cuss words in reserve, and frankly, kumquat, we saw you coming from a mile away. You little bastards are the loudest, most infuriating, and ultimately most dangerous subset of man known to woman—hell, one of you got himself elected President. One comment from you, and we know you’re not safe, to avoid you in the real world like the plague. You’re the guy we know will hurt us given the slightest chance because you hate us and believe in your rotten little hearts that to punish us is your right. But as loud and as horrifying as you are, you’re a tiny voice shrieking in the wilderness; there just ain’t that many of you. For the purposes of the internet, you’re easy enough to ignore. And you give the angriest among us womenfolk something to snack on. So go ahead on, dumbass. You do you.

Type Number Two: The Iron John: You’re the ones who feel marginalized by the whole notion of a National Women’s Day, the ones who feel a little queasy at the idea of anything that’s not about you. You ask why can’t there be a National Men’s Day. (There is one.) Whenever any of us says men have historically done this or that bad thing, you’d rise up from the grave to holler, “Not all men!” Many of you are the same guys who spent Valentine’s Day complaining to the perfectly attractive female friend who shares your office and eats lunch with you every day that women only like men who treat them like crap and that’s why you don’t have a girlfriend. You spent most of yesterday demanding affirmation from the women who care about you that you really are a nice guy. You’re irritating as hell, but I can’t be too mad at you. I know a lot of you are one really good eHarmony date away from re-thinking this whole thing.

Type Number Three: The Motherfucking Expert: You’re the ones who spent yesterday cracking jokes and laughing at how ridiculous it all was. You’re just sure we silly womenfolk are over-reacting, again, because you know that’s what women do. From the safety of a context that extends precisely as far as the length of your dick, you think you have the whole wide world worked out, that life is for all of us as you perceive it to be for you, and if we are finding it difficult, we’re just not trying hard enough. Or worse, we’re oversensitive, making things hard on ourselves and blaming everybody else. You’re the guys who talk about how we women live on a pedestal; you joke that we shouldn’t want to be equal to men, that to be so would be a step down. In the same breath, you say we’re all for equality until some manly job needs doing, then we come crying for Daddy, and isn’t that cute? Last night as I unclogged the kitchen sink while my six-foot-two, two hundred pound, bearded Aussie Viking of a husband created something pretty on his desktop, I mused at length on how satisfying it would be to choke each and every one of you to death with your own jockstrap. But after a night’s rest and reflection, I will simply say: Fuck you.

Type Number Four: The Ally: Speaking of that Aussie Viking. You were the ones I read the most yesterday. You outnumbered every other type by at least two to one, and that’s awesome. You know having a National Women’s Day takes nothing away from you, that the rights women demand are to be shared, not stolen. You see us, respect us, collaborate with us, and recognizing your own strength and privilege, you risk your own comfort, security, and physical safety to defend us. And while some of us have been hurt too much and too deeply to dare to trust you, I think I speak for most of us when I say we see you, too. We love you. And we thank whatever higher power we believe in for you every single day.

From Yesterday’s Congressional Record, or Holy Moley Mooley Moo

DISCLAIMER: While it is based on an unbiased report of actual events, this is not a news report; this is an editorial, spun shamelessly from my own point of view. I don’t feel the need to be “fair and balanced,” and I shouldn’t be read as such. The numbers don’t lie, but my interpretations are my own. I urge you with all my soul to read the raw data and come up with your own.

So in the interest of “real news,” I decided this morning to do a little independent research online about what US Congress did yesterday, February 1, 2017, a day when our country is in a squawking tizzy as much as it has ever been before, a day when we the people are looking to them with bated breath and wringing hands to either protect us from the crazies or protect the crazies from us, depending on our party affiliation. This stuff was not hard to find; you can go to C-Span and watch video of it and get a little abstract of everything they actually voted on, and you can go to the Congressional Record and get a transcript of everything that was said, plus all the documents that got put on the table. Online. Every day.

I’m from South Carolina, so I’m focusing on the legislators from here, but anybody from any state can see a breakdown of all the votes and see what their own people did.

So to start with the House of Representatives, the stomping ground of Jim Clyburn, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Rice, Mark Sanford, and Joe Wilson. They began with the “Morning hour,” where representatives got up and made speeches, some as long as an hour, some as short as one minute. There was much talky talk about the Muslim ban and President Trump’s policies in general—heartbreaking tales of stranded children and nasty remarks about Steve Bannon. Al Green from Texas got up and invoked the sacred spirit of Dr. King to bitch one more time about the Republicans holding up Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Mr. Thompson from Pennsylvania talked about how sad he was that a guy named Scott Graves wasn’t going to be staff director for the House Agriculture Committee ‘cause he’s awesome and the committee’s awesome, and he was very, very sad. And Mr. Lipinski from Illinois got everybody up to speed on National Catholic Schools Week. And then they went to lunch.

After lunch, they prayed. They tried to approve the journal of the day before, but they didn’t have a quorum, which means all the people who voted later hadn’t gotten back from lunch yet. They said the Pledge of Allegiance. Then they had more short speeches for and against Trump policies (more for after lunch than there had been before—the Trumpians rise late, apparently), plus speeches about a North Carolina newspaper that’s just the bees knees and the new chancellor of the University of Tennessee.

Then they voted 231 to 191 to overturn an SEC regulation requiring drilling and mining companies to disclose payments to US and foreign governments. Let’s think about that for a second – they didn’t vote to say these companies could or could not give money to the US or foreign governments. They voted to say that WHEN these companies DO give money to the US or FOREIGN governments, THEY DON’T HAVE TO TELL ANYBODY ABOUT IT. How in East Hell could this POSSIBLY be in the best interests of the American people? (For their answer, I direct you to the convoluted debate in the Congressional Record, and if you can make sense of it, you’re a better woman than me.) And how did our brave men from South Carolina vote? Messrs. Duncan, Gowdy, Rice, Sanford and Wilson all voted for; Mr. Clyburn voted against; Mr. Mulvaney . . . . didn’t vote.

Then they voted 238 to 194 to get rid of former President Obama’s rule to protect streams and drinking water from coal mining waste. (Because apparently fish, ducks, and school children are all f*ckers who can fend for themselves.) Messrs. Duncan, Gowdy, Rice, and Wilson all voted for; Mr. Clyburn again voted against, and apparently Mr. Sanford has close friends in the fish and duck community because he crossed the aisle and voted nay, too. Mr. Mulvaney . . . . didn’t vote again.

In short, anything that places any kind of oversight or restriction on corporations making money is bad, bad, bad, no matter what evil it might prevent in practical terms for actual human beings. Business (every pun intended) as usual.

After all that boring stuff was done, they went back to savoring the sounds of their own voices for a bit, including a Moment of Silence for the victims of the Quebec terrorist attack. Then Speaker Paul Ryan (who skipped the morning session altogether) read out the new rules for the Homeland Security Committee, which included a neat little revision whereby TWO MEMBERS now constitutes a quorum on anything that the Constitution doesn’t specifically say it can’t. Two.  Two members can now vote on stuff on a committee for a shadow agency within the government which basically supersedes every other branch of our federal government, including any and all civil liberties promised by the Constitution. Two.

From what I could tell, these rules were accepted with no fuss at all.

Meanwhile, over at the Senate, home of Senator Lindsay Graham, who likes margaritas, and Senator Tim Scott, whose black life matters whether the Capitol security guards like it or not, it was all about cabinet confirmations. There was much talk about Betsy DeVos, but the only vote was the one that confirmed former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. And both of our men on the ground voted yes. Now I get that they’re both Republicans. But where’s all that pushback we’ve been hearing about from both of them against the President’s policies? I was as pleased as anybody to see Mr. Graham burn Trump on Twitter, good for him. But if he’s still going to vote to confirm a Secretary of State who will obviously place the interests of Big Oil at the tippy tippy top of his priority list in all foreign policy for the next four years, his Tweets mean precisely squat. And I am genuinely outraged that Senator Scott has had problems in the past getting access to the Senate floor. But now that he’s in there, I’d love to see him do something besides follow white privilege down the primrose path to America’s global ruin.

And where are the Democrats? Home, washing their tights?

We have to pay attention. Congress would love to blame every ill on Il Douche while they keep silent vigil over their own comfy nest. They want to slag him out in the world then silently turn away and let him do what he wants in the rooms where it counts so they don’t lose campaign funds and support for their own pet projects. We can’t let them play this game any more. We have to let them know we’re watching. We have the tools to thwart them as close as our own Facebook wall; it’s time we learned to use them. Don’t just accept my take on this one day; start checking for yourself. Because if we let things go on as they are, we’re screwed. And in our information age, ignorance is no excuse.

We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality – Press Release

small-we-are-not-thisI’m lucky enough to have a story in this–“The Dark Lady” about a transgender actress in the days of Shakespeare. But even if I didn’t, I’d promote the living juice out of it. Much, much great stuff to read, all profits benefiting a magnificent cause. It’s available as an ebook right now from Amazon here, and print copies are on the way. Get a copy, boost the signal, spread the word. HB2 and the hate it represents are NOT North Carolina. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLOTTE SMALL PRESS RELEASES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY PROTESTING HB2

For Details, contact John G. Hartness
john@falstaffbooks.com

10/25/16

In an “October Surprise” for Governor Pat McCrory and members of the NC General Assembly, Charlotte-based micro-press Falstaff Books today released We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality. The anthology, a collection of 31 short stories, poems, and essays by North Carolina writers or writers who feel a strong tie to the Carolinas, was created as a response to HB2, the divisive “bathroom bill” passed by the NC General Assembly earlier this year.

We Are Not This includes stories from NY Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley, noted singer-songwriter David Childers, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jake Bible, Charlotte Observer columnist and longtime educator Kay McSpadden, Hugo-award nominated editor Edmund Schubert, and a host of other writers. The anthology is currently available as an ebook, and will be available in print within the month.

In his introduction, publisher John G. Hartness writes “We understand that people are people, and all people deserve to be protected from discrimination. We understand that insuring equal rights for one group does not take away rights from another group. We understand that laws restricting freedom and taking away someone’s chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the opposite of the values that this country was founded upon. We understand that we are stronger together, and that love is love.”

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be divided among NC-centric LGBTQ charities, non-profits, and lobbying organizations. The first group of organizations to receive funding will be Time Out Youth, Queen City Theatre Company, and EqualityNC.

For What It’s Worth

For the past two days, I’ve been trying to think of something to say that isn’t being said better already by somebody else, and what occurs to me is this. Right now and for the next two months, every political party in the US is going to be falling over itself to convince people of color to help them win the election. The so-called “black vote” is one of the holiest of holy grails in the American electoral process. But why should black Americans who aren’t already invested go out of their way to prop up and participate in a system that offers them no protection and has in fact defined them generally and institutionally as a threat?

Regardless of the details of any specific incident (and the undeniable humanity, bravery, and intelligence of most police officers as individual men and women) we can no longer pretend we don’t know one single, horrifying fact: that it has become an accepted truism within the official institutions of this country that black men are inherently dangerous. That the mere presence of a black man even with his hands up is a threat so immediate and so dire it justifies the use of deadly force. That isn’t just racism, folks. That’s genocide. As a people, we have to acknowledge it, and we have to fix it.

And yes, that starts with all of us individual white folks reaching out in empathy and friendship, but the warm fuzzy feelings aren’t enough, not any more. We have to share in the outrage and demand change. We have to risk our own comfort to join the fight for justice. We have to stop waiting for Dr. King to rise from the grave and take selfies with us so we can prove how liberal we are and instead become one nation united in grief and rage and the hope for something better. We have to stand beside our brothers and sisters of color and echo their voices as they shout, “No more!”

Why #BlackLivesMatter Matters – one more white chick perspective

A brief message for all my fellow white folks who have a problem with #BlackLivesMatter. I get it; white guilt is exhausting, and life is hard for everybody. But right now, at this moment, we Americans live in a country where a serious contender for the highest office in the country believes that Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US 393 (1857) is “still the law of the land.” For anyone who’s forgotten their high school civics, that means in Huckabee’s mind, our federal government operates on the assumption that African-Americans can’t really be Americans at all because they aren’t really human beings. He’s running for President of a United States where the only real citizens are white. (Dred Scott doesn’t address races that were never slaves, but considering the Republican stance on immigration, I don’t think that’s much of a stretch.)

You know what scares me the most about this? Huckabee knows exactly how black Americans will react to this (just like he knows exactly how LGBT Americans will react to his support of that idiot in Kentucky). But he’s betting his considerable campaign coffers that enough non-black (and non-LGBT) Americans will agree with him to get him elected anyway. Still think racism is an outdated, overworked issue that we need to let go?

Even if you think guys like Huckabee and Trump are clowns with no power (bless your heart), how about this? Here’s an entirely non-political example perpetrated not by an idiot whisperer but by a non-emotional, market-driven entity that serves a community that is as likely to be open-minded in its outlook as any in the country. Yesterday I was searching for cover art for a new romance which features an African-American heroine. I typed “beautiful young black woman portrait” into the search box of a popular stock art site that has no political agenda whatsoever. And for every portrait of an actual woman of color that came back in the results, I got at least five photos of white women wearing black clothes. (And lest you think I think of myself as above the argument, yeah, I just realized I found it necessary to narrow my search with the word “black” instead of just typing “beautiful young woman portrait” – this ain’t my first rodeo; I know what I have to type to find what I want; the problem I’m pointing out has had an effect on me and my outlook, too, and that also stinks.) And yes, I know the search engine picked up “black” as a keyword, not a racial concept; that’s why I got all those white girls in little black dresses. But five to one? If the photos available were in any way reflective of reality, even a search for all beautiful young women shouldn’t have come back five to one white to black. Obviously this site and its search engine isn’t consciously racist; it merely reflects the market as we, the artistic community using stock photos, define it. In other words, it’s not them; it’s us.

So yes, ALL lives matter. I don’t think anybody participating in the #BlackLivesMatter movement means to dispute that any more than the people who got upset about Cecil the Lion meant they want all dogs to die. The point is not that ONLY black lives matter or that black lives matter MOST. It’s that black lives matter ALSO. And if you think this is a message that this whole country doesn’t need, you’re not paying attention.

White people of good will can’t stop fighting racism just because we’re sick of worrying about it. If we do, we’re not people of good will at all. Because millions of our fellow Americans—our fellow humans—don’t have that luxury of choice. Racism for them is an evil they can neither escape nor control that affects every aspect of every minute of their lives. It is an evil that is destroying our nation, and its greatest power is our desire to pretend it isn’t there. If we feel like we can’t help, the least we can do is hush and get out of the way.