Halloween is right around the corner…

Hi, kids–

So how is everyone feeling about Halloween? I know some parts of the country are going to get some snow this weekend (holy crap–I’m so not ready for this…), so that might put a damper on your festivities (I hope not), but why not dress up ANYWAY? Just cuz? It’s not every day, after all, that you get to put on something gory/goofy/freaky/totally off the wall and wear it around town and nobody bats an eye.

I’m not suggesting you go supah mac daddy like THESE folks (but those are pretty awesome), just that you put a little Halloween in you and get into the spirit. It’s a festival with a long tradition embedded in the shift in seasons from fall to winter, and the mystical aspects about that. Ancient Celts believed that on the night of Samhain, the boundary between worlds was at its most transparent, and the shift in seasons mimicked the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Samhain celebrations were often marked by bonfires, and that tradition still continues in areas of the British Isles.

And if that’s not quite up your alley, then perhaps indulge in MY favorite holiday, Día/s de los Muertos.

source: destination 360

That holiday’s roots come from indigenous cultures of Latin America, and for all its macabre iconography, it’s actually a celebration of life — when the living acknowledge their ancestors and people who have died before them, some family and friends, others not. They celebrate the lives of those people, and reflect on life in general. It’s a little wink at death, which claims us all, and a recognition that life, and the people in it, can be absurd. I like those juxtapositions.

So have yourself some fun n’ games!

Happy Friday!

TV tip: Prohibition

Hey, kids! Let’s talk about booze, sex, and immoral behavior! WOOOO!

Or rather, let’s talk about the historic context for those in the U.S. and how a political and social movement to ban alcohol actually ended up fueling all the vices it hoped to eradicate/regulate.

To that end, I HIGHLY recommend Ken Burns’ series that just aired on PBS called Prohibition. Burns is a skilled documentary maker, and he always finds really interesting people to talk on the films and he gets great archival material and super soundtracks. This one is no exception. You can find out more about it and see the episodes RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK, along with some great information about the era and the history of the movement, which, my friends, dawned some 80 years before the 18th Amendment was actually passed in 1920. It was the first and remains the only amendment to the Constitution that has actually curtailed rights in this country.

I’m a historian, and sociopolitical movements like Prohibition prove fascinating to study because of the myriad layers. The movement was fueled by religious fundamentalism, but it ended up providing a venue for women to enter the public sphere and engage in radical civil protest that was considered appropriate for them, given that they were trying to put an end to drink to save the household.

The movement was also fueled by xenophobia and “Drys” directed a lot of their ire at the onslaught of immigrants who entered this country in the late 19th century and early 20th from European and eastern European countries. Tied up in that was anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism (the movement was Protestant), directed again at many immigrants to this country. The Dry movement framed its arguments in terms of “true Americanism.” Those who don’t drink are somehow better and more American than all the slovenly immigrants/Catholics/Jews who bring their drinking habits with them and try to ruin the country.

However, as you’ll see, when you try to outlaw something, and basically legislate morality with a self-righteous “we know best for you” approach, chances are, lots of people are going to flout that. And, indeed, that happened. Illegal alcohol sales and production climbed, thousands of illegal bars mushroomed in cities across the country, and for the first time in U.S. history, women were going to these clubs. Because when nobody is supposed to do it, then everybody does it and all bets are off. Hence, the 1920s Jazz Era created the social milieu in which traditional boundaries within the realms of sex, gender, and sexuality were tested, crossed, and ignored. Crime escalated, too, as big crime bosses developed illegal booze businesses (think cartels) and as a result of that, violence escalated.

This is a great series, and it provides a window into our past. I said elsewhere that if you want to understand America today, look to the past. You’ll definitely see some parallels in the political and social movement of temperance and some of the movements on the political landscape today. There are lessons to be learned from history, and I’m always amazed when I delve into it that the more things change, the more they do stay the same, in many telling ways.

Here’s a trailer for “Prohibition” to wet your whistle.

Happy watching!

This n’ that and happy Labor Day

Hi, folks. I blogged about the history of Labor Day over at Women and Words. You can see that HERE.

I’d also like to remind you that I do have some “pointer” blogs here that might help you in your own writing. Here are a couple on anthologies.

Here, I blog about submitting stories to anthologies. If you’re looking to do that and you haven’t ever, maybe check that one out. If you do that regularly, maybe have a look anyway to make sure you’re covering yer bum, y’know.

And HERE, also at Women and Words, my co-editor on our pirate story anthology, Skulls and Crossbones: Tales of Women Pirates, R.G. Emanuelle and I spell out for you how that anthology came together and the process we went through to create it.

All right, happy Monday, happy writing, happy reading!

Readin’ Tip (everything old is new again)

Hey, kids–

As some of you know, I read a ton of nonfiction in addition to fiction. I think it’s important to read widely and read often, across genres and across fiction and nonfiction. Not only if you’re a writer. Do it as a reader, as someone willing to expand boundaries.

At any rate, here’s another one of those nonfiction books that I found resonates even today. It’s called (in the spirit of those wonderfully wordy 19th-century titles) The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, by journalist Matthew Algeo.

source: Powells

Why is this such a groovy read? Click on…

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Do some readin’!

Hi, peeps–

Just wanted to pass along a groovy reading tip. I’m a little late to this party (this book was published in 1997), but I highly recommend Barbara Hambly‘s A Free Man of Color, which is a murder mystery set in 1833 New Orleans (right around Mardi Gras). This is the first in this series. The main character is Benjamin January (or Janvier, as the French and Creole New Orleans residents call him), a free man of color, whose stepfather freed him upon his death.


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Readin’ tip

Hi, kids. Back from my stint with the French Resistance. Now I have a bad accent, a removable goatee, a beret, and I like wine and cheese more than I did before.

Anyway, here’s a reading tip for you. I just finished a book by author/journalist Erik Larson. It’s his latest, titled In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, and it describes Nazi Germany during 1933-1934, when Hitler was still maneuvering to get more power. Hindenberg (the prez) was still alive, and Hitler’s position as Chancellor was still relatively new.


Larson centers the story on the American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, a history prof at the U of Chicago. Roosevelt sent him over (Dodd was not the first choice), and he and his family are immediately caught up in the rapid changes of German society as the Nazis increased their hold over many aspects of daily life, politics, and press. The anti-Semitic laws started slowly, but what’s fascinating here is that other countries were well aware of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and well aware of his encroaching fanaticism but everyone played an appeasement game with him, operating under the assumption that beneath the fanaticism was a logical leader.

Therein was the mistake. Dodd was fiercely unpopular because he refused to play the diplomatic game and he was not fooled by Hitler — he didn’t live extravagantly, didn’t suffer fools lightly, and spoke frankly to Nazi officials (including Hitler) with whom he interacted. Nevertheless, the Roosevelt administration refused to acknowledge Dodd’s warnings about the rise of Hitler and the latter’s pushing Germany into a new war. When Dodd was relieved of his post and returned to the US, he spent time during the late 1930s working with an anti-Nazi propaganda organization and giving speeches all over the country about the dangers of Hitler’s Germany and the fact that Hitler was maneuvering to invade Czechoslovakia and other Eastern Bloc countries. In 1939, his warnings proved prescient, when Hitler invaded Poland and the world again descended into world war.

This is a superb look at how easy it is to insinuate a nationalistic, violent, and dangerous ideology into a country that is reeling from economic and social stresses. It starts slowly, with a few laws passed here and there outlawing certain things (like abortion, for example — the Nazis outlawed abortion among “Aryans”), and a collusion between corporate interests and government. Soon, the press is a tool of the government. And soon, certain classes of people are targeted as enemies of the state. And soon the disappearances of perceived political enemies begins, with government double-speak and obfuscation. And by the time you wake up and realize what’s happened, it’s too late.

Though this book is ostensibly a view into history, I found some creepy parallels with the current situation in the US. The collusion of corporate and government interests; the buying of elections; dismantling of unions and collective bargaining; cries against public education and federal aid; political candidates who trumpet a mean-spirited and exceptionalist agenda (“our way or the highway”; “we are called by God to do these things”, e.g.); a giant corporate news entity that touts a particular party and thus ideological line; the positioning of certain people as enemies of if not the state, the American way: LGBT people, immigrants, and Muslims in the current climate. That plus the wholesale mean-spiritedness of what passes today for press coverage mimics what passed for Nazi press 70 years ago.

Larson is a fabulous writer. I’ve read almost all his other stuff, and he injects a prescience into this story that really creeped me out. In addition, I didn’t know much about the diplomatic corps during Hitler’s rise to power, and learning about William Dodd — a man who was so, so right — was a real treat. It’s a fast read, and if you’re up for a little bit of comparison of historical eras, it might prove unsettling.

Happy (or at least, interesting) reading!

Independence Day, U.S., and reading tips

Hi, folks–been kinda crazy here. Didn’t get to a zombie tip this week, but I DID watch the movie Zombieland again. Love Woody Harrelson’s character. You can tell he had a hell of a good time with that role.

At any rate, I know a lot of folks are doing the long weekend stay-cation thing (and maybe vacation, if you can afford it). But also keep in mind what this holiday’s all about. It ain’t about shopping, or buying new furniture, or retail sales. If you’ve got kids, remind them why we observe this holiday. It ain’t just a nice weekend to have a nice BBQ on.

I’ll help with that. Read on…

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