Here’s My Blog for The Huffington Post

The nice people at The Huffington Post were kind enough to publish my article on their Gay Voices page about why straight allies should be willing to speak out on behalf of LGBT issues. I added it here too in case you missed it. If you don’t agree, that’s fine. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m simply sharing my opinion on the matter. I felt like I needed to have my say on the issue, which is why I wrote That You Are Here in the first place. Here’s the link to the article on The Huffington Post’s website. If you have a moment, stop on by the page and share your thoughts on the matter. What’s cool is that now I’m a blogger for The Huffington Post – I have an official blogger’s account and everything.

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An FYI: If you agree with anything anyone on Duck Dynasty has ever said, you will not like this post. If, however, you believe that all human beings are in fact human beings, and that all human beings fall in love, then by all means proceed.

We don’t have to go very far to find examples of those who fight against same-sex marriage with every ounce of energy they have. Politicians, religious organizations, and ordinary citizens can be loud in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Despite this backlash, there has been an increased public acceptance of same-sex marriage, due in no small part to the courage of many in the LGBT community. When you know that your neighbor, your friend, your teacher, your favorite actor, or your favorite musician is gay, suddenly gay people aren’t so different — you realize they’re regular people who do their jobs and fall in love and live their lives like everyone else.

Yet for many there’s still an us-vs.-them attitude toward LGBT issues. “That’s their problem,” many say, or, “That doesn’t affect me.” Or, worse, many just ignore the issue completely. Here’s a post from Unabridged Andra’s blog where she talks about parents not saying much, if anything, to their children about marriage equality. She has a column on her blog called “LGBT Tuesdays” where she works to bring understanding of LGBT issues. What Andra is doing is wonderful, and there should be even more openness toward LGBT issues, especially from those of us who are straight allies.

Like Andra, I’m not a parent, but I was a classroom teacher for over 15 years, and I’ve seen how children are coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender at younger ages. The more we can do to let these young people know that they are accepted and appreciated, and the more we can help them feel like they are an integral part of society, the easier it will be for them to grow into complete, productive adults. If LGBT allies don’t speak out when we see bullying taking place, if we don’t speak up when we hear derogatory comments about LGBT people, if we don’t add our voices when the need arises, then we will continue with a culture of bullying, depressed children, and struggling adults.

I’ve seen documentaries about the Freedom Riders, the brave men and women who fought for equal rights during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and I’m always amazed by the extraordinary lengths they went to — physically and emotionally — to help their cause. I often wonder if I would have that kind of physical courage to help support a cause I believe in. Let me rephrase that: I know for a fact I don’t have that kind of physical courage. But I’ve seen friends struggle with marriage inequality, and I’ve heard their stories about legal issues that can arise because the partners weren’t legally married, and I decided I didn’t want to be a silent voice. I wanted to have my say. But why, you may ask, does a straight woman care about gay marriage? I care for many reasons. I care because my friends should be able to live their best lives without being penalized for who they are. I care because the laws of this country should reflect the rights of all its citizens. And I care because as a classroom teacher I saw too many young people ostracized and bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The late and very great Maya Angelou often said that we are more alike than we are different, and the older I get the more I know that’s true. Once we learn to see the stories of LGBT people not as “their” story but as human stories, then we can see that we are interconnected and our struggles are universal. After all, all people have to learn to feel comfortable in their own skin. We all have parts of ourselves that we need to come to terms with and accept, whether we’re gay or straight. Everyone needs to find their own path in the world, and everyone falls in love. Once we recognize that same-sex marriage isn’t about being gay or lesbian but about being human and wanting to do human things like get married and have a family, then we can see that what we’re really fighting for is everyone’s right to live their best lives.

My point isn’t about trying to change the minds of those who are stubbornly against gay marriage. I’m not naive enough to think that any amount of arguing or finger pointing will prompt anyone to think differently about this important issue. My point is that those of us who are on the side of same-sex marriage should feel comfortable speaking about it. We should be ready to share our views, not with the intention of confrontation but with the intention of being comfortable saying “I’m for same-sex marriage” so that others do not control the conversation. If people against same-sex marriage have no problem speaking their minds, then neither should people on the side of same-sex marriage. The more people who speak out, and the more positive voices that are heard, the more accepted same-sex marriage becomes, and the sooner same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states. Yes, more states are allowing same-sex marriage every day, but there are still obstacles to overcome. Sharing our positive voices will help.

Thank you, Robin Williams: A Lesson in Gratitude

dead-poets-society-quotes-1I’m writing and posting this quickly before I change my mind, so, as Anne Lamott said in her own post on the same subject, this isn’t going to be proofread to perfection. I don’t usually comment on the passing of famous people since I’m not sure what I can add that someone more articulate than I am hasn’t already said, yet I find I can’t let the passing of Robin Williams go without saying at least a few words.

I’m going to date myself here—in fact, I’ll give you a precise date: I’ll be 45 in 17 days on August 30. I was a kid in the 1970s when Robin Williams first appeared on TV screens as Mork, first on Happy Days and then on Mork and Mindy. I was infatuated with Robin from the very beginning. I had my Mork and Mindy lunchbox, and I even had my own Mork from Ork rainbow colored suspenders. (Yes, I still have a photo where I’m wearing them. No, I won’t show it to you.) I listened to his comedy album Reality, What a Concept too many times to count. I could probably still do some of his skits from that show if I set my mind to it. As I grew, Robin Williams did too.

I was two years into my university studies in 1989 when Dead Poet’s Society was released. Two years into college I still didn’t have a major. I was one of those people who wanted to study everything, and in that time I had been a psychology major, a liberal studies major, and a history major. I’ve always loved books, and by college I knew I had some skill as a writer, but Dead Poet’s Society gave me a direction. A matter of days after I saw the movie I changed my major to English and never looked back. I became an English teacher, and though the John Keating moments become fewer as the years pass and society changes, I never stop trying to achieve them. I have my “Seize the Day” rock and a picture of “Uncle” Walt on my classroom wall. The title for my latest novel, That You Are Here, comes from a segment of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Williams quotes in Dead Poet’s Society: “That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” Over the years, I loved watching Williams continue to grow as an actor and a comedian.

As a writer with dreams for my career, I find I keep learning the same lesson over again—to be grateful for what I have right now, in this moment. We always think that when we get to some certain place or when we have some particular success we’ll be happy. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I sell x many books, or when I make y amount of money, or when I have this amount of recognition, or when I win that award, or when my books become films then I’ll be happy. But how many examples have we seen over the years of those who had all the success in the world and still struggled? Because you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not content within yourself no amount of success matters. Success in itself can’t make you happy.

Normally, when I’m writing I have some point I’m trying to make, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying here except that I know I should be thankful for what I have. I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Waiting for a certain event to be happy, thinking that everything will fall into place when I have this one thing—whatever that thing is—isn’t good enough because nothing in itself can bring happiness. In an odd way, I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say in my posts all summer about being an indie author on my own terms. Success isn’t about numbers or rankings or awards. It’s about being true to yourself and doing your thing and living your life in a way so you feel good about yourself along the journey.  

So, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. Mainly, right now I’m thankful because I was around at the same time as Robin Williams and I had so many belly laughs because of him.

Thank you for everything, Robin Williams. I know you’re making God laugh right now.

Q & A: That You Are Here Tour

That You Are Here on TourI’ve been doing quite a few interviews while That You Are Here is on tour. I’ve been having a lot of fun answering the questions, so I thought I’d post some of my responses here.

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Quick round:

Coffee, tea or…what’s your vice?

I love both, but I’ll normally go for coffee.

Favorite Movie?

Dead Poet’s Society

Favorite Color?

Purple

Favorite book/author?

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

How do you feel about bacon?

I’m a vegetarian, so bacon is a no-go for me.

 

The REAL questions:

Tell us a little about yourself.

In addition to writing novels, I’m also the executive editor of The Copperfield Review, a journal for readers and writers of historical fiction. I’ve been teaching writing for more than ten years now, as well. When I’m not writing or teaching, I like to find great vegetarian and vegan recipes since I love to cook. I also love movies, Broadway musicals, and I’m a big fan of Downton Abbey. Pinterest is my new love since it’s the one place where I can indulge in all my interests at the same time.

What’s under your bed?

My cat. (That’s not a joke, by the way. I can hear him snoring from here.)

What comes first, plot or characters?

For me, it’s usually characters. Then my job is to figure out what happens to them and what they learn along the way.

Pantser, plotter, or hybrid? Tell us about your writing process.

I begin by plotting out the story from beginning to end so at least I have a blueprint to work with when I start. But I know that as I continue writing often the characters will take over the story and bring it in directions I hadn’t originally thought of. That’s all part of the fun of writing fiction for me—I can start with the greatest plan, but I know it’s probably going to change along the way and I like that.

Oddest thing on your desk?

My cat (I have three). She’s looking out the window at the moment.

What’s your most interesting writing quirk?

Probably that I have the ability to procrastinate like nobody’s business when it’s time to write. Procrastination is my super power. I’ll cook, clean, do the dishes, feed the cats, check my e-mail—it takes me a while to settle down, but once I’m writing I could keep at it for hours.

What’s your favorite thing about the genre you write in?

I write in several genres, and I like that. That You Are Here is the first time I’ve written an m/m love story. My Loving Husband Trilogy is in the vampire/paranormal genre, though it could also be classified as historical fiction. Victory Garden is set during World War I and the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. Woman of Stones and My Brother’s Battle are also historical fiction, set in Biblical Jerusalem and the American Civil War, respectively. I like jumping around from topic to topic. It keeps things interesting for me and hopefully for my readers. I’d be bored writing the same type of story over and over again.

What is the hardest thing about being an author?

Finding time to write when I have a day job. Luckily, I have summers off so I can feel like a full time writer then. I also have a thing against writing first drafts, but since there’s no final draft without a first draft, I have to get that first draft done.

What’s the easiest thing about being an author?

Coming up with story ideas. I have an active imagination, as most authors do, and I have a lot of ideas floating through my head at any and all times of the day and night. I love kicking around an idea until I can start to see the story come into shape. I love that I can take these crazy scenes that I see so clearly in my head and share them with others. Writing fiction is an outlet for my imagination. I started as a screenwriter, but screenwriting was too much like a blueprint for me and I didn’t like the terseness of it. I love describing the room where the action takes place. I love describing the characters’ clothing, and what they’re thinking and feeling. I love the entire world building process and making that world come alive for the reader.

What’s your favorite published work of yours and why?

That’s a great question, and my answer varies from day to day. I’m very proud of That You Are Here because it’s such a different type of story for me. I’m most known for historical fiction, but That You Are Here is completely contemporary. I love writing about love—how two people fall in love. That You Are Here is about falling in love and staying in love in a complicated world.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Sometimes I’m inspired by books I read or television shows or movies I see. Sometimes I’m inspired by events in the news. Sometimes I’m inspired by events in history. Sometimes it’s a crazy story from my imagination. I’ve learned that inspiration can come from anywhere so I try to keep my eyes open for ideas.

Who is your favorite character from one of your stories and why?

This answer also can change day to day, but I do have a particular fondness for Mark from That You Are Here. Mark is an inherently kind person with a big heart and in a lot of ways he represents the person I’d like to be.

If you get writer’s block, how do you get around it?

In Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, she says to allow yourself the freedom to write the worst junk in the world. That’s a great way around writer’s block because I know it’s okay for me to write something that isn’t all that great at first. I keep writing and I know I’ll figure it out eventually.

What are you working on at the moment?

My current project is back to historical fiction in a love story inspired by Downton Abbey. My recent trip to London was great research.

What’s the biggest writing challenge you’ve ever taken on? Did you succeed?

Writing That You Are Here was a big challenge for me because it’s so different from anything else I’ve ever written. I wasn’t sure I should write it at first, but that’s the story that was in my heart so that’s the story I wrote. The book has received great reviews, so yes, I think I succeeded. Readers love the love story between Mark and Andrew, and that’s so important to me.

When a Book Changes Your Life

Meredith Allard:

I got back yesterday from my second trip to London. I had a great time and had the chance to see a few sights I missed on my first trip. I admit I felt a lot like Cora from Downton Abbey–“I’m an American. I don’t share your English hatred of comfort.” I mean, seriously, air conditioning isn’t a new invention, and ice isn’t even an invention. It exists in nature (though some polar bears might argue that fact). Still, I love London and I’m glad I had the chance to look around again as I begin writing my new novel, which just happens to be set there. While I’m recovering from jet lag, I thought I’d repost this blog from last year about my first trip to the UK. Enjoy.

Originally posted on From Meredith Allard:

“I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I’m used to the way I am.”

From Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

The Alchemist How often does a book change  your life? I’m not talking about books you love so much you read them again and again. I’m not even talking about books that prompt you to think differently. I’m talking about books that cause you to do something, to take action. Just because I’ve loved a book doesn’t mean I make any changes in my day-to-day life after reading it. When I’m reading the book I’m engrossed in it, but then I close the covers and go back to my life, doing the same thing at the same time most days of the week, most weeks of the year.

About a year ago I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho when it was one of the…

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