Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Blog Post Series

Today, I'm starting a new series of blog posts based around a collection of old family photos I've had in my possession for a number of years. These photos and the stories told about them inspired my first novel, "Belle o' the Waters," the story of a young girl who came west with the first set of Mormon pioneers. I will post more about that novel soon (stay tuned!) but wanted to start this blog post series now, since it's Thursday. I'm thinking of calling it Throw WAY-back Thursday, since the photos in this series are a lot older than most people use when they post with the Throw Back Thursday, or #tbt, hashtag.

This photo, for example, of my great grandparents and their eldest child, daughter Alice, was taken around 1897, probably in Rexburg, Idaho, where they lived. My great grandfather, Albert Luthy, was born and raised in Switzerland and came to the US at the age of 19 with his parents, after the family was converted to the LDS Church by Mormon missionaries. They came west with a great mass of others and settled in 1881 in what was to become the state of Idaho.

Albert, known to his friends as Frenchie, met my great grandmother, Elizabeth Bean, better known as Nellie Bean, who was born in England and came to the US with her mother. Hers is a whole other story, to be recounted in a later post. Albert and Nellie were married in 1891. Alice, shown here, was their eldest child and my grandmother, Mabelle, was the second to youngest -- twelve children in all, who are now all gone.

More on this family story in the new year. Thanks for following along!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Annual Writing Report

I have had a busy and productive writing year, and even though I didn't reach all the goals I set out for myself back in January, I did accomplish a lot. One unstated goal was to revive this blog and post more, and while I started out strong with a lot to say in January and February, the poor blog has been mostly ignored while I was busy writing other things. Next year will be better!

One big accomplishment this year was finishing my second novel, "Fearless." I've been working on this for about five years, off and on, and did a major rewrite starting in January. After getting feedback from some readers, I did another major revision and finished around the end of September. I've been submitting it to small presses and will continue to do that until I find a home for this story. This slightly futuristic thriller  touches on issues of religious faith and the myriad ways people cope with fear in a fear-filled world. I'm very proud of it and was thrilled to learn that "Fearless" was a finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom contest for "Novels in Progress."

My first novel, "Belle o' the Waters," is likely to be published in 2018, but I am still in the midst of negotiations about this -- so hold on for more news, hopefully as early as January.

And then there's the third novel, a science fiction tale that I've been working on since 2013. Just as with "Fearless," the early drafts for "The Kiss Catastrophe" were created during NaNoWriMo, and I am now rewriting the entire thing based on a new-and-improved outline I've finally settled on. Although one of my goals for this year was to get a finished draft of this book, that didn't happen - so it's now become my top priority for 2018. I am excited to be moving into scifi, a genre I have wanted to do more work in for a very long time -- since I was a teenager, basically. So, a VERY long time!

My main writing goals for this year involved these books that have been in the works for multiple years, but I have also been working on short stories, both writing them and submitting them. I had a goal to submit 100 times this year, and I am still going to try to make that goal. I submitted the Belle manuscript 6 times, the Fearless manuscript 8 times, but the largest number of submissions I made was of short stories. I submitted 74 times to literary magazines, so my total number of submissions for the year is 88 - not quite my goal number, but we still have 9 days in this year. I think I can do it.

Of those 74 short story submissions, I've received 49 rejections, withdrawn twice and given up on 3 literary journals that seem to have gone defunct. So, a lot of those submissions are still pending. One resulted in success and I was thrilled when my flash fiction piece, "Laundry Day," was not only published by the Same but nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

I was also happy that those 74 short story submissions included some for 4 brand new stories that didn't even exist before the year 2017. I continue to write short pieces, especially flash-length, since novel-writing takes so long and can get to be quite wearing without something I can finish and get out the door a bit sooner.

In addition to all that, I did a few other writing-related things in 2017. One was a book review I wrote for Washington Independent Review of Books about Melissa Scholes-Young's novel, "Flood." Check out both Melissa's book and the Independent, which posts lots of reviews of new books.

Oh, and there was this little thing called NaNoWriMo that I did, yet again. My 7th year in a row! I'm pleased to say I generated another 50,000 words for what appears to be a new science fiction story. I'm certain this is going to be a few years in development, but you may hear more about it later, since I think it's a pretty good story, actually.
Finally, last but not least, I have been quite busily involved in some paid writing gigs this year, and am thrilled to be on the team of freelance science writers working with the American Institute of Physics. I've worked on a couple dozen press releases and science highlight pieces, known as "Scilights," a new venture the AIP started in mid-2017. One of my favorite Scilight offerings is here, but there are lots more posted on the site. I also continue to write for the American Institute for Cancer Research, and contributed four science-based articles this year that were used in their newsletter for donors.

As we close down this year, I feel pretty good about how it turned out. I'm especially pleased that I was able to keep my focus on my writing, despite the endless distractions in the media and political world, not to mention my own personal world. Here's to another good year - 2018 is right around the corner!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

NaNoWriMo - Again!

Yes, I am doing NaNoWriMo again - my 7th year participating! The novel I'm working on this year is tentatively titled "The Sun," and the info about it is posted here.

And, yes, I am actually posting something on my blog, months after the last time I did so. My excuse is that I've been very busy writing this year, lots of short stories, finishing one novel, fully editing a second and, now, starting a third using NaNo as a support to do so. Hopefully, I will post more on this blog, soon, but for now it's back to writing!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Revisiting Those New Year's Resolutions

So, how are you doing on all those new year's resolutions you made a couple of months ago? Here it is nearly the end of February and, if you're like me, it feels like the year is slipping away in a torrent of distracting and chaotic events, most of which are taking place outside my own personal life. How do we cope with this?

The thing that has helped me resist the tide of sludge that threatens, daily, to sweep away any sense of control I have is my goals chart. I don't make new year's "resolutions" in the traditional sense. These vague statements of resolve to do better in various categories of health, relationships, etc, are not particularly helpful when I ask myself, later in the year, if I'm doing what I said I wanted to do with my life. What is helpful, though, are numerical goals -- and charts that show progress toward these targets.

I have goals in areas I feel I have control over. It is important that any goal-setting I do be focused on things that I, as an individual, can accomplish. I might have a desire for world peace or a better direction for our country, but I need to find things that I, as an individual, can actually do. My own approach has been to stay focused on what I was already doing with my life and to try to help others do the same--hence, a goal to write at least 2-3 blog posts every month to share what I've learned about coping or even thriving in life.

Some of my goals are daily ones (meditate a minimum of ten minutes every day, write three pages of free-writing every morning, etc), some are weekly and some are monthly. Most of my goals are writing goals, since this is what I do, and they are always quantitative. For example, I have a goal to submit my completed short stories 100 times this year, which means I need to send out two stories per week to stay on track. If the weekend is approaching and I still haven't submitted anything for the week, this is a powerful incentive to get my act in gear and send something out. I've already noted those goal numbers on my calendar so I know, at a glance, if I am doing what I told myself I wanted to do this year.

The physical act of writing down my progress each week is extremely satisfying. In the past I've even used things like gold star stickers on my calendar to motivate me to do what I told myself I wanted to do. Try it! It may seem silly, but it actually works quite well.

This technique is ideal for writers since so much of what we do can be quantified: word counts, pages, items finished, even lists of places to submit our items to. The more numbers I have the better able I am to see if I'm doing what I want with my life.

I use this method in areas of my life beyond writing. One goal I've had for the last few years is quite simple: have lunch or coffee with at least one friend each week. This sort of thing is especially important for people, like me, who work at home alone. It's too easy to get isolated and find all my social interactions on Facebook or Twitter--I need to force myself to get out of the house, even when the weather isn't great, and do something that might seem frivolous, but is far from that.

Goals do, of course, have to be adjusted at times. I've recently had to do this with my running goals when I found out the hip pain I was experiencing was due to a tear in a ligament, and treatment is going to require decreasing my mileage for awhile. This is not the first time I've ever had to adjust my running goals, though--in fact, this is something smart runners do all the time. I'm not saying I'm always smart about it, but I have learned to absorb the disappointment when I've found out I don't always have control over things I think I do. Aging and health in general are always a good laboratories for learning this particular lesson about life. My approach? Adjust my goals. Because of this injury, my running goal is now to get better and run again without pain. That may have to be adjusted, too, of course, but it's one day at a time with something like this.

So, I encourage you to take a look at those new year's resolutions you made last month, especially if you're not feeling too good about them. If you haven't been able to do what you said you wanted to this year, consider whether your "resolution" is stated in a way that's too vague. Can you make it more quantitative, put numbers to it in some way? A time frame is critical as well--what can you do this month to reach your goals? How about this week? Today? This thought process can be very empowering, so I encourage you to try it! Oh - and it's a good idea to check in every once in awhile as well, as I'm doing today. Assessing our progress toward goals is another key aspect of regaining control over our lives. And in these chaotic times, it's especially important.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Truth Still Exists

When I was in high school, I embroidered this wall-hanging and gave it to my grandmother, who hung it on the wall above her bed until the day she died. Despite its somewhat mixed grammar, the message still holds: the truth is of utmost importance and without it we will never be free.

This is, of course, a verse from the bible (John 8:31) and that's how I came to know it, but it took on a larger life for me when I learned it as a kid. I lived in a home where the truth about what was happening was covered up, lied about and obfuscated, and all by the authorities in charge. My own knowledge and feelings were denied, but I always held on to what I knew to be true. I gave this piece of needlework to my grandmother so she would know that it was the truth I was clinging to--not the words of the authority figures in my life. I don't know if she ever knew that this was my motivation, but it was.

For months now, I've been wanting to write this post, since our country has become like the home I grew up in--and because of those formative experiences, I developed quite a few survival skills. I know how to keep my focus on the facts and to not be swayed by attempts by the authorities to change the story. I know how to think critically and to remove myself emotionally so that I can keep my wits about me. I've learned that the world is not necessarily safe, and this is largely because of the people in it who will betray you and care nothing about what they do to you in their quest to get what they want. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because we are all living in such a home right now.

I have learned how to not just survive, but thrive. I've learned to seek strength and comfort within myself. I've learned that work, productive activity, is a blessing and is a good way to escape the chaos around me. I've learned, again, that the truth will, indeed, set me free. Early in my life, I discovered Science and realized that here was a way to know the truth, to unequivocally determine what is really going on.

Science has its limits, of course, but it provides a method, a well-honed thought process, for sorting fact from fiction. Long ago, I applied myself to learning its methods so I, too, would be able to sort fact from fiction. Orwell understood that Science and its methods threaten a totalitarian state. In 1984, he wrote: "...Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc."

Today we are coping with the latest in a seemingly never-ending onslaught of news and developments, this one about the resignation of the president's national security advisor. Today is the day I've been moved to write this post, because the narrative is finally focused on what we should all be paying attention to. I have believed since the news broke in the Washington Post in late November that the Russian government sought to influence our election through fake news and propaganda, that THIS is the real story. I continue to believe that the results of the election in November reflect this tampering with our democratic process. I do not believe that this administration is legitimate. This is why I, and many others like me, are so defiantly resistant.

The truth, once it comes out, is likely to be this: the president we thought we elected was placed in office by a foreign government who does not have our country's best interests at heart. The person we should all be vigilant about is not necessarily Donald Trump (although we should watch him very closely) but the one who has power over him. Who might that be? Well, it seems to be Vladimir Putin, as many people have guessed. Check out this report of how Russia sold 19.5% of its government-owned oil company to an unknown buyer, and this report that explains how this was the exact amount Putin had offered Trump (according to the secret Steele dossier) if he were to lift US sanctions on Russia. The reason that our country feels like it's come under the control of an authoritarian regime is because it has.

This is why I think we need to stop reacting to everything Donald Trump does or says, since it is all a smokescreen to cover up the very real possibility that he was put into power by Russia. All the turmoil that has happened since the inauguration only three and a half weeks ago--the executive orders including the ill-thought-out immigration ban, the legal proceedings, the endless statements by White House spokespeople who say outrageous things merely to control the news cycle--all these things are distractions from the actual story. This is the real story: a foreign power made attempts to take over our country and they've partially succeeded.

The enemy in our midst is a hostile foreign power. This is the most logical explanation for everything that's happened. I don't have a problem with people marching in the streets and protesting all these actions, since they are, in fact, abhorrent and wrong--but I fear that people are being manipulated and used and whipped into a fervor by a regime that is trying to wear us out and confuse us. Don't fall for their tricks. Stop and think and pay attention. We all need our wits about us in these difficult times.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tweeting the Revolution

Greenpeace activists hang banner over White House
We are now dealing with a group that used social media to gain access to the White House. Whether or not this access was gained legitimately, it is through social media that they continue to  manipulate citizens in this country. It is not yet clear exactly what is going on inside that building, but I highly recommend this thoughtful analysis, which includes a lot of new information than I've yet to see in other sources.

I believe we are at war. This is not a war fought by soldiers and with bombs or tanks, but a war of words and images and data, some of it real, some of it faked. If you are active on social media right now, you are on the battlefield. If you've found yourself here on the battlefield without realizing war has broken out, it's time to wake up and pay attention.

All of us need to understand how the war is being fought. The tools that are being used to oppress us and suppress dissent are at your fingertips and can be used to fight back. It is no longer acceptable to deride Twitter as "silly" or a "waste of time," when our President can change relationships with countries in a single tweet.

In 2009, Iranian citizens demonstrated in the streets of Tehran against their government. This uprising was thought to be facilitated by Twitter and other social media, which was used by the protestors both to get the word out to the world about what was happening in their country and to stay connected to each other. This revolution is sometimes, then, referred to as the first Twitter Revolution as it initiated what has now been years of uprisings around the world, all facilitated by social media.

The uprising in Iran began after elections that year that were widely believed to be "rigged." The Iranian government literally shut down access to the internet during this time in an attempt to control the revolt. Two years later, the people of Egypt rose up against their own president, who they deemed to be corrupt. That revolution was, again, facilitated by social media. I wrote about it here and am struck by the similarities between what is happening in the US this month, in 2017, and what happened in Egypt in 2011.

What lessons, if any, can we draw from this history? In no particular order, here are some thoughts I've had as I've watched, generally through social media feeds, the last week or so of protests across our country.
  • Don't use your social media feed to vent and rage impotently against the system or people you disagree with. This is not the best use of these platforms and only adds to the already deafening noise level on them. If you need to vent (and we all need to do this) use your own private journal or, better yet, talk to your friends and family in person. 
  • Do use social media to connect with others, share information, or organize action (protests, calling or letter-writing campaigns, meetings, etc). Social media are really just fast and highly-connected communication channels. Their greatest value lies in facilitating and enhancing our ability to communicate with each other.
  • Stop fighting with each other. We need to unite to better fight our common enemy. There are many things at stake and all are important, but it serves no one to shame or chastise people who happen to be working on an issue different from the one you're passionate about. 
  • Limit your social media time and understand that too much Facebook time (or Twitter or even televised news) can be detrimental to your health. Our bodies are not designed to take in this much alarming information this quickly, so prioritize self-care at this time: maximize time spent in nature, get plenty of sleep and exercise and make time to connect (in person) with other people. Stay focused on your own life and work and use these media sparingly to stay informed and share useful information with others, not to substitute for a life in the real world. 
  • Understand that in this highly-connected world, things will evolve and change much more quickly than they did in the past. A coup that might have taken weeks or months to pull off can now occur overnight. A revolution that might have taken months or years to succeed might now prevail in a few weeks. This is simply a result of the increased speed of communication and not necessarily due to the fact that we are more nimble. It will make your head spin at times--we all need to get used to living in a new timescale.
Humans are resilient and I firmly believe that these new technologies are largely useful and will help us, as a species, develop societies and institutions that are for the good of us all. I find it interesting that groups among us have been "practicing" for this time for awhile now by forming flashmobs for various singing and dancing displays. Those flashmob skills are now being put to use in mounting demonstrations and in getting packs of lawyers to airports to help free those unfairly detained by the latest edict from the White House.

There will be more opportunities to flex our social media skills, so let's get smart about how best to use these valuable tools. One of my current fears is that our government, like governments in the past, will try to cut off access to social media platforms, in an attempt to squash dissent. It's happened in the past in other countries and it could happen here. We need to be vigilant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Can't Get Over It

Marching on Washington
Now what? We’ve marched on Washington and hundreds of cities across the country and around the world, and I’m glad we did. We’ve posted photos and videos and shared our experiences in online discussions and in-person conversations as well. The march brought to the fore multiple urgent issues that need our attention. Some are of special concern to women: the pervasiveness of sexual assault and violence against women, reproductive rights, equal pay, and others. These issues fueled the formation of the march, but other issues and causes propelled it forward: protecting the rights of immigrants, religious minorities, ethnic and racial minorities, even the health and future of the planet.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed when faced with so many areas of concern. Each of us is a single person with limited time and energy. You might choose to tackle all of it, but my experience is that this leads to exhaustion and burnout.

My advice is to pick the one or two areas you feel most passionate about and devote your energies to those issues. Picking a focus doesn’t mean I deny the importance of all the other issues. It will be nice if people join with me, or you, in supporting our causes, but please don’t attack folks who choose a different issue to focus on—we are all in this together. Moral support is crucial.

Although many of us were out there marching, there were also many who could not or would not participate. We are starting to hear from the latter group, to learn why they weren’t with us, why they say our chants and signs don’t speak for them, why they wish we had stayed home.

“Can’t you just get over it?”

I’ve heard this question most of my life. It’s come at me from all corners of my family when I’ve given voice to the anger and frustration I have felt as result of being sexually assaulted and humiliated by an older male member of that family for years. I was quite young when the attacks happened and have had decades to “get over it,” but these women (and, yes, they are all women who have said this to me—white women, of course) think there must be something wrong with me that I’m still angry.

“You don’t see all the good he has done. You think he’s all bad.”

I was told these sorts of things as well. I find it interesting that speaking out against reprehensible behavior is interpreted by the perpetrator’s defenders as being an all-encompassing condemnation of that person. I get it: even good people sometimes do bad things. However, just imagine how hard it is to try to see good in a person who has assaulted you. Forgiveness is possible, but it’s asking a lot, and should never be demanded.

This, of course, is happening in our country right now, on a national level. Many people have condemned things our new president has said or done. Some of these same people have later chosen to support him. I cannot do that. For me, trust has been permanently broken. When Donald Trump was revealed as the sexual predator he is, I became physically ill and I know, for a fact, that many other survivors of sexual assault did, too. Our bodies know the truth before our brains do, it seems.
My favorite sign from the march

I was emboldened and inspired when other women came forward with their own stories of sexual violence. I wrote about it here, but what I didn’t say then was that their brave actions and words inspired me to re-post my own story. I had written a blog post several years ago and was immediately attacked (yes, these same older white women) for “going public” with my story.

“What I don’t understand is why you have to talk about it.”

I reposted my story because it’s the truth and I was never allowed my own truth. The interesting thing is, the facts have never been disputed by the perpetrator himself. The only thing that has been disputed are my feelings.

“You’re not angry. It didn't hurt you.”

But I am angry. And it did hurt me, in some ways permanently. I am done with being told by other people how I feel, or how I should feel. And this is why Saturday’s March on Washington will be remembered by this survivor of sexual assault as a highlight of my life.

My life-long sense of rage was finally validated this January 21. I have tried to speak out, for years, because girls and women all over the world are being assaulted and abused every day. I want to be one voice speaking up for them, saying, “I actually do know how you feel, and I hear you,” but it’s hard to keep going when I’m attacked for speaking even my own truth, which has happened too many times when I’ve told my story. This Saturday I finally knew, in a deep visceral way, that my voice has been heard.

As I made my way to the march early that morning, I really didn’t want to go. It all seemed rather pointless. “Nothing will come of this,” I thought. What I didn’t know is that near the end of the march, next to the Washington Monument, I would come upon a little girl, sitting atop her father’s shoulders. She was dressed all in light pink and couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.

She was chanting with the crowd when suddenly everyone but her stopped. “My body, my choice!” she shouted. All the adults around her, including me, turned to her and chanted back, “Your body, your choice!” She beamed, full of joy, and shouted it again: “My body, my choice!” And we affirmed this truth for her: “Your body, your choice.” I wish, when I was her age, the adults in my life had believed this.

And then I heard it, a wave of roaring voices, rolling toward us from somewhere near the Capitol. It swept over my section of the march, and we joined in, all of us—including me and that little girl, filling the mall with sound from the Capitol to the White House. And that's when I finally began to believe it: I am no longer alone.