It’s not what you ‘ink’

When I worked at the newspaper, one of our regular assignments was new business stories. My editor handed them out on a rotating basis when a request came in from the business owner or from one of our advertising reps. If your name was up, this story was your baby.

Normally it was a pretty simple deal. Call the business, make an appointment, stop in and chat, write a short feature. But I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive when a new tattoo parlor moved into the area and it was my turn to take a new business story.

I am probably one of the most straight-laced people you’ll ever meet. My ears are double-pierced and that’s about as wild as I get. I am so vanilla and boring it’s ridiculous. Tattoos were not in style when I was in my late teens, early twenties but even if they had been, I would never in a million years have gotten one. I didn’t have a problem with other people having them; just not for me.

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But I was a professional so I made the appointment and drove to the business to do the story. There was another, established tattoo parlor just around the corner from the newspaper office that kept a ratty old couch on the sidewalk in front of it. People – not sure if it was customers or employees — who looked decidedly stoned would sit on it and watch people walk by. I was relieved that this new place did not have this feature.

I went inside and the owner looked like your stereotypical guy that owned a tattoo parlor. He had ink and piercings on every piece of real estate I could see. Still, I shook hands with him and got to work on the interview. As we spoke, I began to feel a little silly for making assumptions about his business. It was very clean. He and his employees were very polite. They strongly believed in their art and everything displayed was tasteful.

But when I got up to leave, things turned awkward. He asked me if he could see the story before it printed. I said no. That’s against policy because it would be a holy nightmare if we had to get clearance every time we ran a story. People ask that a lot so I wasn’t surprised. I offered to call him and read him his quotes to make sure I quoted him correctly, but that was as far as I would go.

Then he asked me if he could just write his own story and submit it. I was kind of surprised because I thought we’d gotten along just fine. That’s when it hit me. He was looking at me, a middle-aged mom with her khaki pants and cardigan sweater and thinking there is no way in hell I want this chick to write my story. She’s going to get it wrong, so wrong because she doesn’t get it.

And I almost laughed because I realized while I’d been judging him, he’d also been judging me. I offered to just drop the story altogether but he must have decided any press was better than none because I left with the green light to write the story. He called me the day after it ran, brimming with praise but a lot of that was probably just relief.

I was thinking about this story the other day when I was reading about all the controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations. I’m not going to speak on the race issue because I’m very sure I’m not qualified. But I will say this: We all judge each other. Every single day.

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It’s sad but it’s true. We judge each other by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the neighborhood where we live. We make assumptions about people based on where/if they go to church, where/if they work and whether/if they graduated from high school or college. Or if they served in the military or if they were born in a foreign country or if they listen to Taylor Swift.

I could go on with a thousand examples but I think you get my point. No one is exempt from judgment. As we get more mature, one would hope that we’d learn that so often these initial assumptions are just plain wrong, but I’m not sure we do. My father-in-law refuses to eat at any Jimmy Johns sandwich shop in the entire world because a couple of his coworkers one time got sick from one restaurant, a place I had eaten at a dozen times and never gotten sick. There are people who won’t set foot in a church because one congregation did them wrong. There are people who look at skin color and make all kinds of assumptions based on their experience with just one family.

I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it’s like to be a woman in a world that devalues your worth. We get paid 77 cents to every dollar our male counterparts make. We are sexualized and dehumanized on TV and in movies and even commercials. If I go into an automotive shop, the guy behind the counter often assumes I know nothing about my car. In some cases, he will take advantage of that.

I don’t think anyone, regardless of race, gender or religious bent can claim they corner the market on what it means to be judged and marginalized. I think we all experience it every day but to different extents. I think we live in a society today that is more open than it’s ever been (Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vogue never would have happened even five years ago), but people still feel the impacts of intolerance. That judgmental nature isn’t going away because it is so ingrained in our hearts.

When I was in grade school, my mom moved back to the Midwest after she and my dad divorced. This was in the mid-seventies. I was in kindergarten. From kindergarten through sixth grade, I was the only kid in my grade (usually two or three classes per grade) who had parents who were divorced. It’s so common now, but literally it was just me until the parents of a boy in my sixth-grade class split up during the school year.

My best friend for the first couple years of elementary school was the daughter of a Pakistani family that lived a few blocks away. Her father was a doctor and they had a nice house with a swimming pool. At that point, my mom was renting a small but decent house with me and my brother. I was totally cool with the fact her skin was darker than mine and the food she ate at her house was different and that she was Muslim. None of that matters to kids. But her mom found out my parents were divorced and that was the end of our friendship. When I look back now, I can see her mother had other issues (she always made a big ta-da about the fact her daughter was in an arranged marriage and was too good for American boys) but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt when she rejected me for something that was completely beyond my control. The irony is that in our community, which was 99.9 percent white, she had probably experienced discrimination due to her skin color, but that fact did not save her from her own prejudices.

Now as for all of the Oscar buzz, I’ve got to say it’s kind of ridiculous to see this level of drama over an outdated awards show by people making millions of dollars. I mean, let’s face it, black or white, they are all getting rich from the entertainment industry.

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But I think it is a reminder that we judge too harshly sometimes and we make assumptions based on the wrong criteria. Some are crying racism, when I’m not sure that’s the case. But maybe they have a point that good movies aren’t being made with a diverse cast. I sure know how hard it is for women over the age of 30 to have a presence in Hollywood. Dialogue needs to happen but I think it needs to start at a place where we acknowledge we are all human with the feelings, dreams and hurts that come with that. Somehow we need to see each other as individuals. I know that takes more effort, but if we’re honest, that’s how we all deserve to be treated.

When a good book goes bad…

“The 5th Wave” made its big screen debut over the weekend. It’s one of my favorite books in recent years, and had all the stars lined up in my favor, I would have made it to the theater this weekend to see it.

But…

Well, let’s just say the more I watched the trailers and read about the project, the more I worried that my beloved book was in the wrong hands. Or maybe shouldn’t even be a movie at all. I don’t want to blame Hollywood directors and writers when a book-to-screen adaptation goes sideways. Some books just don’t easily make the leap to the big screen.

Whatever the problem, it seems my fears were justified. Not even Liev Schreiber, one of my favorites and a great choice for Vosch, could save it. Critics and audiences were underwhelmed. The sad thing is that reflects on the source material, unfair as that may be.

5th-wave

Rick Yancey’s story of survival following an alien invasion, from just a cursory glance, seems like it would be in the same vein as other YA dystopian tales. But Yancey really separates himself from the pack by asking hard questions, questions about survival and what it means to be human. The scene with the “crucifix soldier” (as told in the book) is particularly haunting and heartbreaking. The description of Cassie’s weeks alone in the woods, thinking she could be the last human alive, is both terrifying and thought-provoking. He doesn’t shy away from those themes and that’s why the book is so darn good.

Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record for book-to-screen adaptations. For every good one, there are dozens that fall woefully short. My husband usually avoids watching any movie with me when I’ve read the source material because I become a complete psychopath when the movie roams too far afield. I knew I was in trouble with “The 5th Wave” when the trailer showed Evan (played by Alex Roe) shirtless in the water because THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BOOK!!!! AND WHERE IS THE SNOW FROM THE BLIZZARD??? IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE WINTER!!!!

(deep breath)

Rick Yancey shared this review on his Facebook page, and I give a huge shout out to the reviewer (who had clearly read the book, or at least did a great job of faking it) for separating the film from the source material. It was refreshing, for a change, for the reviewer to not look down her nose at the book because she didn’t like the movie.

I wish Hollywood would stop thinking of just dollars when selecting these books for production. I know a rabid fan base can translate to movie ticket sales, but it’s time to just stop. I read the rights have been purchased for another favorite trilogy of mine, “Red Rising,” and if I had any pull at all, this book would not be a two-to-three-hour movie. The book is way too long, too much world-building, too many characters. It needs to be a 13-part TV program along the lines of “Game of Thrones” or “Wayward Pines.” Three seasons, one for each book. Please. Pretty please.

books

I think these episodic programs have done wonders for storytelling. I wasn’t an iota interested in seeing the “Jessica Jones” series on Netflix, until I watched the first episode and was hooked. Great character development and plenty of time to unfold the plot without the dreaded information dump. Same reason I love “Sherlock.” Ninety minutes allows way more time to develop the story. And “Justified.” Elmore Leonard’s short story and great characters came to life over six seasons. I really wish TV would get more involved with these book-to-screen adaptations. I think the success rate would be better.

I’m not saying all book-to-movie screen adaptations are bad. I have the movie version of “The Martian” on hold at the library and can’t wait to see it since I loved, loved, loved the book.

As for the movie, critic reviews were good; audience reaction was great. But, this book was more action-based than thought-provoking, which probably made it a better candidate for big screen adaptation. Just a guess.

Oh, and then there’s Matt Damon. That didn’t hurt either. :)

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Happy 2016!

It’s 2016 and while I’ve definitely had some good memories (and not so good ones) from this past 365 days, I’m looking forward to the year ahead. While some of the things I’m excited about are personal (my youngest graduating from high school), I also am awaiting some less-than-monumental events this coming year.

“Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

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Seriously, I wish I had a way to get a copy of this book, then magically make all the responsibilities in my life go away until I could finish this final book in the Red Rising series. Unfortunately, not only is that not likely to happen, I’ll probably have to arm wrestle my youngest for first crack at this book.

This is Brown’s first series, and he accomplished the very rare task of putting out a great first book, then topping it with a sequel that was even better. So I have high hopes for Book 3. Bahhh! I can’t wait.

“Red Rising” was first touted as YA and I’m glad that moniker has kind of faded. It’s definitely adult fare, even if the protagonist is in his late teens. Kind of violent but socially relevant. Great characters, great plot. Did I say already that I can’t wait?

And along those same lines….

“The Last Star” by Rick Yancey

5th-wave

His first book in the series, “The 5th Wave” is going to be a movie this month, but I’m way more psyched for the final book in his trilogy. This is YA, but it asks some hard questions about survival and what it is to be human following an alien invasion that devastates the planet.

His protagonist, Cassie, is smart, funny and kicks butt in her efforts to save her little brother. As a warning: The book includes some profanity, including the f-bomb, but considering it’s the end of the world, it’s not exactly out of place.

And one more book….

MINE!

“Extreme Measures” is still the working title, and I expect this to be out by summer at the latest, maybe even late spring. The draft is done and ready for editing. I know a mother isn’t supposed to have a favorite child — and I still don’t officially — but I really like this book so far!

More Benedict Cumberbatch? Yes, please!

I am a “Sherlock” junkie. I’ve always had a crush on the literary version of Sherlock Holmes and this BBC adaptation is awesome. While it will be 2017 before the next full season is released (sad face), a special episode will be aired in early January. Since I don’t get cable and the closest movie theater showing the episode is more than three hours away (bigger sad face), I’ll have to wait for it to come on Netflix or on video. Either way, I should be seeing it some time this year. Yay!

sherlock ab bride

And — I’m aware of this only because my youngest is a complete comic book nerd — Cumberbatch will star as Doctor Strange in a Marvel movie in the fall. So, while I may know nothing about the comic book, I’m game to go. Really, I’d watch Benedict Cumberbatch read from the phone book. It’s not a “oh-he’s-so-hot” thing. I just think he’s a very likable and talented actor.

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But it can’t all be good…

Election 2016

I’m already really tired of the presidential election campaigning and it’s only going to get worse. By August, I expect to be boycotting online media outlets and all commercial television. I still have a bad taste leftover from 2012.

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Yep, this image pretty much sums it up! :) Happy New Year!

It’s Here! (Almost)

I uploaded “In the Presence of My Enemies” last night and pending any major technical glitches, it should be available very, very soon.

It is “live” on Smashwords and should be on Amazon later today (fingers crossed). And it should be going out to Barnes and Noble, Apple and other vendors within a few days.

In the Presence of My Enemies

As a side note, I’m temporarily offering “Flesh & Blood” at a reduced price for a few weeks. If you haven’t read “Flesh & Blood” (book 4), reading “In the Presence of My Enemies” first will reveal some major spoilers. This is my way of trying to prevent that.

Right now, “Flesh & Blood” is free on Smashwords and will eventually be free at other online retailers. It will be 99 cents at Amazon soon, and hopefully the Zon will eventually switch it to free when other retailers do. Usually that’s the case.

Happy reading!

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I mentioned a post or two ago, “In the Presence of My Enemies” should be ready for release before the end of the year. I still don’t have an exact date but I’ll post here when it’s ready. My goal is to have it done before Christmas. Fingers crossed. :)

In the meantime, here’s a peek at the cover and a short excerpt.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

In the Presence of My Enemies

 

Craig didn’t say anything for a minute. “So how is she?”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s obviously in trouble.”

“Are we talking about Carolyn?”

“Who else?”

“And you care?”

“I’m not inhuman.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Actually I always thought you were a vampire. Isn’t that why they call lawyers bloodsuckers?”

“No, that’s what they call reporters.”

“Well, thanks for the clever banter. Time to go?”

He ignored me. “This whole thing makes me uncomfortable. I keep thinking about what you and your pastor were talking about. It’s…”

“Freaky?”

“Yeah. I don’t do spiritual.”

“Not asking you to.”

“But I’m worried about you. And even about Carolyn. Who are these guys?”

I sighed, knowing it would be easier to just tell him than try to get him to go home and ignore me. “I can’t say a lot. I told Carolyn I’d be discreet. Personally, I think these guys are con artists who hold these high-priced seminars for dupes that are willing to plunk down a wad of cash to feel good about themselves and how they live their lives. Nothing earthshaking there.”

“But?”

“But…they also tap into the supernatural. At least they think they do. Some of it is subtle. Some of it’s not. I’m not going to lie. It’s been messing with me, too.”

Why is this even news? Oh yeah, because the media thinks we’re insane

Yesterday, I was perusing some news sites on the Internet during a break at work. An article about Starbucks and the controversy with Christians over the new Christmas cup caught my eye. I clicked on the link expecting to see that Starbucks was proclaiming “Greed is the reason for the season!” or “All hail, Satan!” or something along those lines.

Instead, I found the flack was over a plain red cup.

Oh.

Okay.

I’m confused.

Who looks to Starbucks as a Christian company in the first place? I mean, its symbol has always struck me as pretty New Age-ish. I’m not a frequent Starbucks goer since I can’t afford $5 cups of coffee and if I am going to spend that much I want a darn good cup of it. Sorry, Starbucks isn’t my favorite on that front.

So, I don’t get what the fuss is about. I’ve seen holiday cups from Starbucks with snowmen or Christmas trees. I’ve never seen a Nativity scene or Biblical references. Do I think Christians are snubbed sometimes? Sure. And some of those instances need to be addressed. Do I think this is one of those times? Absolutely not. This whole “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” nonsense has become ridiculous.

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Starbucks is a business who – shockingly! – wants to make money. And the holidays are prime time. So it makes sense that the cup is going to be as innocuous as possible. Starbucks still wants the atheist, the Jewish, the Muslim, etc. to come into its shop for a cup of joe, no matter how – or if – they celebrate Christmas. Its job is not to preach the coming of the Lord. Given some of the liberal leanings of the business leaders, quite frankly, I don’t really want it to try.

And the red cup is practical. When December 25 is over, no one wants to be carrying around a Christmas cup. This design is still going to look good through the winter until the stock runs out and the traditional white cup comes back. It’s the same reason that most of my Christmas decorations, except for the tree, are snowmen, deer and cardinals. They stay up until spring.

I could see the problem if Focus on the Family or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was leaving the Christ out of Christmas. That’s why Christians send their dollars there. But Starbucks? Come on, be serious. I’m not even going to address the fact that the root of Christmas is a pagan holiday in the first place because I don’t want to deal with the hate mail. If Christians want to claim this as a time to celebrate Christ, more power to them. But expecting to control the world and its view is unrealistic. I mean, have you read a Bible? Things aren’t going to get any better on that front, folks.

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The part of this that bothers me is the media. If you notice, the media takes every opportunity to latch on to stories about Christians, then paint all of us like a bunch of up-tight, hateful, nut jobs. Good job to all the Starbucks haters for giving the media more ammunition. Go ahead and get your panties in a bunch over this red cup. In the end, it’s just generating free advertising for Starbucks. And making the rest of the world think we’re crazy. Not exactly a win.

This is why I hate Walmart

My husband and I ride together most days when we go to work. It’s great for mileage and gas costs, not to mention good company. But we do have a small snag. He likes to be at work really, really early. He likes those quiet morning hours when the phone isn’t ringing and no one is stopping by his desk asking for help putting out a fire (figuratively, not literally. I hope.)

So he likes to be in the office by 6:30 or 7 a.m. at the latest. My work day doesn’t start until 8 a.m. So I’ve become creative in finding ways to fill my time. Mostly, I read in my truck until it’s time to go in. I’ve tried to use this time for writing but the truck is not a good place to use a laptop. Plus, then I have to haul it inside because I don’t want it overheating or freezing in the truck.

It’s also a great time to make a Walmart run. I only go to Walmart when it’s absolutely necessary because I’d rather have toothpicks driven under my fingernails than shop there. For some reason, Walmart brings out the rudeness in people to a level unseen anywhere else. Screaming kids, wayward shopping carts and people taking up the whole aisle while picking out the peanut butter.

There are never enough lines open and self-checkout is only a good thing when you have fewer than ten items – items that are small, but not so light that the checkout machine doesn’t recognize it and shuts down the whole process. And you never seem to be able to find anyone when you need help. The store is huge and it never seems like there are enough people working to help you find something when you can’t figure it out on your own from the vague aisle descriptions.

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So while the store is pretty empty of employees before 7 a.m., at least you can search without having to listen to the screaming kids. So I’m OK with being on my own. And I get I’m not going to receive full service this early – I know the pharmacy will be closed and I can’t go to the photo center. But I do expect some basic necessities when shopping. Like being able to pay.

My younger son needed his deer and turkey tags for bowhunting so I went this morning to get them for him. Missouri has these handy heritage cards so all I have to do is hand it to the person behind the sporting good counter, tell him or her the type of tag I want and voila, the tags print out. I pay and am on my merry way.

Normally, I go to the Department of Conservation directly for my tags because it’s a cool place and the people are always super nice, but it doesn’t open until 8 a.m. so I decided to go to Walmart instead of going over my lunch hour to the DOC. That was my mistake.

I had to find an associate to page someone to the sporting good counter, but I was cool with that. I mean, it was only a little after 7 a.m. so I didn’t expect someone there.

The guy who came to help me had a tag that said “department manager,” and seemed nice enough. I handed him the card and he printed out the tag. The problem didn’t hit until it was time to pay. I swiped my debit card and the reader wouldn’t take it. I tried three more times. Nada. He took the card and tried it at the register. Nope. He typed in the number and the reader prompted me for my PIN. I entered it but the system denied it. He said he thought the debit system was down.

I swiped my credit card instead and it said I needed to use the chip reader. I tried using the second slot but it wouldn’t work. I told him I had never used a chip reader before and he told me he didn’t know how to use one either. This is the department manager. And he doesn’t know how the readers work. I’m sure everyone who comes in has this all figured out and never needs help — I’m just the idiot here — so it would be a total waste of time to train department managers on how to use these stupid things. (Insert sarcasm font).

With that no longer an option and me ready to blow a gasket, I took out my checkbook and wrote a check. And he couldn’t get that to work either. Had this been just for me, I would have left. But it was for my kid so I bit my lower lip and tried not to lose it. He kept feeding the check through the feeder and it wouldn’t take. He did this three times before it finally worked. I had to give him my phone number, my driver’s license number and right kidney for my $19 check, all of which could have been avoided had I been able to use my debit card or my credit card but whatever. I was really wishing I had a twenty in my wallet but my next stop was supposed to be the ATM.

He handed me the check with the stuff printed on it, my receipt and the hunting tags and told me to have a nice day. But he said it like he had to, not like he meant it.  I had the impression that he would rather be anywhere but behind that counter. I left before I said something snarky since I would only feel guilty about it later.

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And by the way, my debit card worked just fine at the ATM five minutes later. And my older son stopped at Walmart to get his tag not 15 minutes after I did on his way to class and his debit card worked just fine. But the associate helping him was not the same department manager.

This afternoon, I checked my bank account online and no record of the payment. Normally, when they run the check through the reader, it shows up on my account within an hour as pending. Sooo….I have a feeling the debit system wasn’t working at all and he should have kept my check to send to the bank. I had this happen to me at my other least favorite store, Home Depot. (Generally, I’m not a fan of big box stores).

This means if it doesn’t show up in my account within the next few days, I’m going to have to go back to Walmart (stick more toothpicks under my fingernails) to give them the check so I can be an honest person and pay for my tag. And I’m betting finding the single right person I need to talk to about it is going to be a trick. I can’t really just slap my check down and run away.

That’s the difference between a giant corporate entity and a little mom and pop place. It’s why I’d rather pay a few dollars more to have someone who cares. And I don’t think I’m alone. Walmart posted some pretty dismal profits recently. But I live in a small town and in some cases, it’s either Walmart or driving an hour and a half to a bigger city. Sometimes that drive looks pretty darn attractive.