Understanding the other

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December is a busy month for most. Although I’ve been working on the second draft of my latest novel, my creative energy has been transferred to working on local projects in The Hague, The Netherlands to bring a bit of tranquility and celebration to the lives of the Syrian and Eritrean refugees temporarily housed in our neighborhood.

This post on my other blog shares one such event.

https://kristininholland.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/breaking-bread-with-refugees/

The Power of Seeing Famous Authors Speak

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Tonight I did something splendid. Instead of staying home and writing, I went out and attended a talk by a famous author. Since this all went down in The Hague, I posted it on my Kristin in Holland site. However, considering it has everything to do with the writing of fiction and the amazing contemporary author TC Boyle, I thought I’d also share the link here.

https://kristininholland.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/tc-boyle-and-the-shadow-of-fame/

Jurassic Sexism World

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When the poster for Jurassic World went up at our neighborhood tram stop, I didn’t ignore it, like I do so many other advertisements for films, but pondered it with a mix of nostalgia and curiosity. I have fond scared-out-of-my-wits memories of the first Jurassic Park in 1993 (I scare easily). The first Jurassic Park was so much better on the big screen, surrounded by others screaming along with me as dinosaurs came after humans.

Still on the fence about seeing Jurassic World in the theater, I watched the trailer, which promised not only special effects and scream-inducing scenes with scary dinosaurs, but the added bonus of eye-candy for mom in the form of Owen (Chris Pratt) and, I would soon discover, Omar Sy (already forgot his character name).

My son was eager to see it too and invited a friend to come along. My husband joined us reluctantly, turning it into a family affair.

The pace of the movie was familiar as a trusted recipe: a) a slow beginning to introduce the main characters and give the jurassic world Owenviewers a chance to develop a degree of emotional attachment; b) romantic tension in the form of super-alpha, overtly masculine Owen, (Chris Pratt) and super-controlled, icy-yet-beautiful Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard); c) dinosaur-related problem paired with the plot-building conflict of opinions on how to resolve the problem, followed by; d) GMO dinosaurs who have escaped their cages with an insatiable appetite for hunting and killing everything that comes in their path, including, of course, humans.

Jurassic World did not let me down when it came to the scare factor and breathtaking special effects. But after the movie, I had an experience akin to waking up with a strong case of garlic breath– a distinctly bad taste in my mouth that you are fully aware comes from the amount of garlic you willingly consumed the day before. In this case, the garlic was that of cliches, sexism and stereotyping that was so overt in its placement that you can not help but be pissed off that you took it in, and willingly washed it down with a super-sized slug of special effects.

For example, Claire, our female lead, is portrayed as a woman who is emotionally repressed and not in touch with human jworld.claireinstincts.  This is stereotyped in her lack of feeling or interest in her nephews who come to stay with her (no maternal instincts) as well as her insensitivity for the dinosaurs as living, breathing creatures (lack of empathy).  She is also portrayed as “manly” in her conduct, but only in a way that female professionals are portrayed as manly: she puts work first above all else, she is sexually frigid, translated by her icy and judgmental reactions to super sexy Owen, as well as her prim and boring clothing, her straight cropped hair and high heels.

What is Hollywood’s message to viewers of this entertainment film? In order for a woman to succeed in a man’s world, she has to cut herself off from her femininity (read as emotions, maternal instincts and sexuality). But then it gets worse.

Claire is teased by Owen, the epitome-of-masculinity, about her lack of emotion, her clothes and her high heels, and is told to “wait here” on many occasions. She is treated, in all respects, as a child. However, she rebels against his dominance. How? By unbuttoning her crisp white workshirt and tying it in a knot, revealing her tank top and cleavage underneath. Go Claire! And moreover, she can run through lush green fields in her high heels just as fast as Owen in his suitable shoes. She can jump onto metal platforms and keep up with the rest, all while maintaining her balance on those three-to four inch heels. Is this the Hollywood superwoman? On top of that, her authority within the park is being questioned as well as undermined by, no other than testosterone-overdosed men.

jurassic-world-bryce-dallas-howardIt is only through spending time with Owen, a real man who’s really in charge, that her femininity returns. This comes in the form of her image becoming sexier as the film progresses, her physical pull to Owen increasing, and a confusing mix of helplessness (save me Owen) and smarts: She’s the one who uses the gun to save Owen from a winged dinosaur; she’s the one who bravely brings another behemoth dinosaur into the fight.

Laura Dern_THEN.jpg

Laura Dern_THEN.jpg

Compare 2015 Claire to the smart and confident, properly-shoed Ellie Sattler character played by Laura Dern in the 1993 Jurassic Park.

When a man suggests he go in her place out to hunt dinosaurs, Ellie scoffs, saying she’ll talk to him about his sexism when she comes back. In other words, she’ll put that sexist man in his place after she kicks some dinosaur ass. Ellie is compassionate toward animals, not afraid to get into shit, and is smart, sexy and knows how to wear proper footwear.Jurassic+Park+Ellie+Sattler+Dinosaur+Poo

What has happened in the last 22 years to our image of women in the Jurassic context? Are we, in an era of so many civil rights breakthroughs–embracing same sex marriage, cheering on our famous transgenders–tipping the scales backward when it comes to gender equality for women?

I realize, that I too am displaying sexist tendencies toward men. Even though the Owen character was annoyingly sexist, I also found him hot and forgave him his teasing of Claire for his bad-assness and pleasing biceps. He could, after all, train raptors, and, unlike other bad-ass, hot male Hollywood characters, he had a sensitive side he wasn’t afraid to share.

And what was with–spoiler, so stop now if you don’t want to know this detail–Claire lying on the ground in a helpless, sexy pose, as three dinosaurs have a full-on battle right in front of her? Were the screenwriters asking for audience participation to the tune of yelling “get out of there, you stupid b!*ch?” Even my son, in slightly more polite language was saying “What is she doing? Why doesn’t she get out of the way? Is she stupid?”Bryce-dallas-howard-jurassic-world_sexy

What do you have against strong women, Hollywood? Why are you using this family-entertainment summer film as a platform for sexism?

Do you think special effects and somewhat “ha-ha” dialogue is enough to justify this overt sexism? Or is this some sort of playfulness that is allowed in ridiculous genres, and therefore acceptable?

Have you seen Jurassic World? What are your thoughts?

The Problem with Short Stories

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Last month, I cried out to  my readers for short story inspiration, as a means of hurdling my apparent writer’s inertia on my latest eco-novel thriller concept. My intention was to write a short story on all the ideas that came forth–all three of them. But what I wasn’t willing to admit, though my subconscious already knew, is that I’m not much of a short story writer.

So now, I’m 11,000 words into a far from short story that’s turning into a novella, which very likely will turn into a novel, all sparked by three words plus a genre from a fellow novelist: A suitcase, a stranger and a train. Love story. Thanks Francis!

The thing is, I like short stories. I like reading them and I like writing them. But  I’ve noticed a pattern in an unprecedented number of short stories including my own; they tend to explore the darker side of human nature. Consider Young skins by Colin Barrett or Dark is the Island by Kevin Barry. These short-story compilations by two prominent Irish authors explore the darker side, laced with humor and cultural insight.

Life is full of darkness, but also graced with light. I prefer to stay in the light most of the time, dipping into the darkness for the sake of contrast, or as a means to appreciate the light.

But if you want to see the dark side, let me know, and I’ll post one of my darker short stories here. But in the mean time, I’ve got a stranger on a train that is demanding my author attention.

Hurdling inertia

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI ran track when I was in high school. I did the mile, two-mile and the 440 relay. I was good for going the distance. However, I humbly refused to do hurdles. It’s one thing to put one foot in front of the other over and over again at a reasonable pace. It’s quite another to defy gravity and jump over metal bars topped by a solid piece of wood. (Yes. Almost to the analogy part). I might not have been able to get over those physical hurdles, but I’ve been jumping over metaphorical hurdles one after another.

2011 I finished my first draft ever of a full-length book.
2012 I sent that draft off to a half dozen friends to get feedback.
2013 I had my debut book edited by a professional, purchased cover art and released it into the world.
2014 I had a book signing event in the U.S., was asked to write guest posts on multiple writer’s blogs and started book two.

And then my four-year stint of metaphorical hurdle jumping came to an anti-climactic halt. I may even be stretching it by counting 2014 as a hurdle year, as I had planned to be finished with my first draft of book two by 2014, not still in the beginning phases.

What in the hurdle happened to me?

Perhaps I just need inspiration. They say that if you want to do something, anything, you could go online right now and find thousands of articles telling you exactly how to do it. Probably a number of vimeo or youtube videos would show me step for step how to get back on track with my book, leading me into the framework with the enthusiasm of a bunny following a carrot a boy playing Minecraft.

But my problem is something else entirely: I have been enjoying life. Being in the present. Taking on other writing assignments. Collaborating on exciting projects. Meeting new friends. Using inappropriate punctuation.

I really DO want to get back to novel number two, but I’m wondering if you all might entertain a little idea I came up with all on my own to jumpstart the creative writing process.

I am inviting YOU to give me three elements for a short story along with a genre of your choice. Example: An orphan, a violin and a stranger: Mystery.

Yes. I know there are websites that can automatically generate this kind of stuff for you, but I like the idea of “interacting” with my actual readers and having their input.

Ball’s in your court! (What’s with all the sports metaphors author Kristin Anderson? Geesh!)

Forging Ahead

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I’ve noticed a trend in all of my romance novel “research” I’ve been doing in the past few years. Authors tend to start out writing a classical (as in somewhat formulaic and predictable but with enough twists and originality to make the story their own) romance: girl meets boy. Sparks fly. A series of unexpected events bond the characters together before obstacles get into their path. The question remains not IF but HOW they will overcome said obstacles to reach eternal bliss, usually ending with happily ever after, which may or may not included marriage and children. Yes. I too am formulaically guilty as charged.

Bad? Not necessarily; we romance reading types like to hear the same story over and over again, provided that it has enough twists to keep it interesting and that the ending brings happiness.

By book two or three, the romance author decides to grab another set of powder-filled bottles from the spice rack to heat up the formula. I’m not talking about going from slightly sexy to erotic. Although I have experienced this development in some writers, most romance authors seem to settle on a heat level for their sensual writing and stay within a few degrees of sizzle both for their own comfort level and for that of their audience.

The new dash of spice I’m talking about is the mixing of two genres; going from romance to romantic suspense (e.g. thriller). Call it a mix of deadly night shade and Habanero pepper, but the romantic thriller adds a level of tension to a story that a typical romance seems to miss. It also calls for a stronger stomach, because suspense quite often means violence or the threat of violence, which can put an uncomfortable edge on the entire novel that keeps you moving forward. Thus the reader is now doubly motivated to turn the page: to see how the romance will progress and to see how the characters will escape the danger looming over their heads.

I recently discovered author Lisa Clark O’Neill’s “Southern Comfort” series. A gripping mix of crime and romance, I found myself outside my comfort zone as she explored the dark topics of sex trade, child abduction and more mixed with attraction between hot, heroic detective types and feisty civilian types. It is an intriguing mix, but not a mix for everyone. I enjoyed her ability to lace humor, attraction and love into these darker settings.

I must be following some sort of path, because I too am delving into romantic suspense as I embark on novel two. But my twist to the apparent path? Eco-romantic suspense!

Steelies and Other Endangered Species A five-star read

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Author Kristin Anderson’s Review of Steelies and Other Endangered Species: Stories on Water

It is a bit tricky taking a well-written book on vacation as once you begin, it can be a bit demanding of your time. Should I go for a hike in the California sunshine or read another chapter? Shall I stay up late with friends chatting about life or sneak off to that rocking chair in their living room and resume reading to see if that main character gives into his vice? Rebecca Lawton’s latest novel Steelies and other Endangered Species: Stories on Water, is the perfect solution for my summer vacation reading companion. Each short story provides the satisfaction of a full reading experience, yet you are easily compelled to read on, not by tricks of plot and craftsmanship, but by the promise of another beautiful nature-based story ready to unfold.

Steelies-front-cover-design1-675x1024What I like about Lawton’s writing in Steelies is the simplicity and pace. Like water in a well-fed stream, the words in each of the fifteen short stories in this compilation spill out effortlessly, taking you along in their current of storytelling. Take the first sentence of short story “A Real Cafe” for instance:

“You may think someone’s your opposite–neat where you’re messy, tough where you’re tender–until you run a river with him.”

You know immediately that this story will be about being on the water, but also about insights into human nature and compatibility when faced with the forces of a river. And considering author Rebecca Lawton was “one of the first women guides on Western whitewater, and an oarswoman on the Colorado in Grand Canyon and other rivers for fourteen seasons,” you know she writes about the experience with authority.

Our vacation this year has included a five-day journey to the Grand Canyon, driving through Navajo land, seeing glimpses of isolated desert life as well as distant vistas of the Colorado river where some of the stories in Steelies  take place. What a blessing to read Steelies under the very landscapes that inspired the writing!

Released on June 18, 2014, Steelies and Other Endangered Species is hot off the press (Little Curlew Press) and has thus far garnered only five star reviews on Amazon. I guess I’m going to have to join the band wagon raft on the five stars! Lawton brings not only her white water rafting experience to her writing, but also her MFA in Creative Writing coupled with a hard science background as a geologist. No wonder she can write just as fluidly about love and attraction as she can about Steelhead Salmon, paleontologists and geologists. Take this passage from short story “The Road to Bonanza” starring a female geologist.

“Utah was wild and stripped to the bone. Strange and beautiful–rock exposed everywhere, naked and honest. The few trees were the size of mere shrubs, casting scant shadows, nothing like the deep, oak-filled woods back home. Even the colors of the earth were different here: hills of orange, spires of red, stripes of yellow in bald topography that stretched to every horizon.”

Who else but Lawton, a creative writer & geologist, could describe rock and topography in such prose?

Lawton is not afraid to throw love and passion into the mix. In her compilation namesake short story Steelies about a naturalist dubbed “Fish Lady” by the non eco-minded locals, a love story unfolds that addresses one of the other Endangered Species–environmentalists doing the right thing against all odds.

I highly recommend Steelies and other Endangered Species: Stories on Water as a thoughtful, enjoyable read that will take you on many memorable natural journeys. It may just leave you longing to spend more time in nature, while deepening your appreciation for all of God’s creations, whether it be the mountain lion, Steelhead, the rolling river or the person you love.

 

Lawton

Author Rebecca Lawton

More about Rebecca Lawton:

Rebecca Lawton is an author and natural scientist whose poetry and prose have won a Fulbright award, the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, residencies at Hedgebrook Retreat for Writers and The Island Institute, and nominations for three Pushcart Prizes.

Rebecca’s collection of essays about whitewater guiding, Reading Water: Lessons from the River, was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area bestseller in 2008 and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist in 2003. She is co-author of five books on creativity and the outdoors, most recently Sacrament: Homage to a River with photographer Geoff Fricker (Heyday, 2014). Her debut novel, Junction, Utah, explores the impact of oil exploration on American community, water, and wilderness (van Haitsma Literary, 2013). Her short story collection, Steelies and Other Endangered Species: Stories on Water, is forthcoming from Little Curlew Press.

One of the first women guides on Western whitewater, Rebecca was an oarswoman on the Colorado in Grand Canyon and other rivers for fourteen seasons. Her work as a scientist has focused on water resources and sediment. Currently she serves on the Board of Directors for Friends of the River, as an external advisor for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Program at Sonoma State University, and on the Natural Resources Committee for Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, California.

 

This review was written by Kristin Anderson, author of Green. Feel free to share this review on your own website.