Sharing Thoughts on ‘Second Chapters’ with Authority Magazine

Invited by Authority Magazine to share some thoughts on the topic of “second chapters,” and never one to miss an opportunity to discuss hard-won insights or useful experiences—and the value of both— I accepted.

It was a comprehensive and compelling discussion, and following the excerpt below is a link that will take you to the full piece on Authority’s sitewhich I hope you’ll avail yourself of. I enjoyed getting into the grit of the conversation and appreciated the very specific and thought provoking questions. I hope you enjoy the read!  

AUTHORITY MAGAZINE: Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their lives. Jeff Bezos worked on Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorraine Devon Wilke.

An accomplished artist in a wide range of creative mediums, Lorraine started her career as an actress and rock & roll singer/songwriter, finding success in both arenas well into the 2000s. While she continues to perform whenever opportunities present themselves, she’s designed a second chapter built around photography and writing. Currently, she has three award-winning novels in the marketplace, hundreds of essays and articles in media, literary journals, and books, and has recently signed on as the in-house “LA Life” photographer for the national digital lifestyle magazine, The Three Tomatoes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m originally from the Midwest; born in Chicago, grew up in small towns in northern Illinois; third oldest of eleven kids in a family that required we learn responsibility, engaged in great dollops of fun, and held creativity in high regard. Both my parents grew up in the city, which nurtured their love of music, art, theater, and books, and they were committed to raising kids with an appreciation for the same. Music was everywhere, we read voraciously (even spent a decade or so without TV), put on basement shows and backyard carnivals, and, given our embrace of all things artistic, each of us emerged from our childhoods with creative proclivities of one kind or another. I majored in theater at the University of Illinois, then hit the road with a rock & roll band, ultimately landing in Los Angeles where I happily remain.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s a very simple one: “Express yourself.” When I was a kid, there was an R&B song with that title written and sung by Charles Wright, and I felt like that lyric was my mantra. I was never someone who could sit quietly and keep my thoughts internalized — in fact, I can picture anyone who knows me laughing out loud at that notion! I was a person who was driven to express myself, in myriad ways, but mostly through singing, acting; comedy, even early writing efforts. But singing was my greatest Muse, and still, to this day, one of my very favorite ways to “express myself.”


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Dear LA: I Love You

The latest from national digital magazine, THE THREE TOMATOES:

“Dear LA, I Love You” from LA Life Photographer, Lorraine Devon Wilke, pays homage to our beautiful City of Angels with Valentine’s Day around the corner.”

‘This week’s cover photo, from our LA Life photographer, Lorraine Devon Wilke, captures a literal ‘love letter’ to Los Angeles, one that appears on the ground floor of The Bloc in DTLA. Though the piece’s official title is, ‘Heart LA,’ Lorraine decided her photograph of the work deserved its own title, simply: ‘Dear LA, I love you.’”

“The work of art is just one of eight pieces in a permanent collection by street artist, WRDSMTH. This particular piece was created in collaboration with Antigirl, who designed the multi-colored heart which perfectly accompanies the words. Tomatoes might want to stop by and see this collection in person at The Bloc in downtown LA.”

I’m always delighted to have my photography featured in this creative and bountiful magazine, and urge you to click over (The Three Tomatoes) to enjoy all the other content they’ve got posted there.

Until the next time…


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Photographs, LA Life & The Three Tomatoes

Some quick news: Debbie Zipp, the “LA Life editor” of the sensational national newsletter for women, The Three Tomatoes, reached out to me with the invitation to, as she described: “…come aboard to provide us with your beautiful, intriguing, and insightful photographs of Los Angeles for our ‘LA Life Newsletter’ cover photos.” How could I not love that? Of course I said, “YES!”

Walk This Way, photograph by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Today is the first edition of that artistic endeavor; I’m delighted by the photograph she chose, the page on which it appears, and look forward to seeing what she picks for each future edition!

A little background: I met Debbie years ago when she was with a film company, In the Trenches Productions, who optioned one of my screenplays. I always appreciated her support and enthusiasm for my work, and we’ve stayed in touch over time. I’ve enjoyed reading The Three Tomatoes newsletters, always thought they were outstanding in their quality and content, so was really touched by the invitation to be involved.

As for the The Three Tomatoes, I think their words say it best:

“We’re a lifestyle website inclusive of newsletters, podcast, and events for smart savvy ‘grownup’ women who want to live their life fully at every age and stage. We offer curated, entertaining, and informative lifestyle content that covers topics from fashion, travel, cooking, shopping and style, to frank discussions of sex, aging, and contemporary culture. It’s a fun, eclectic, vibrant site with a loyal nationwide audience. Our lifestyle newsletters are published 2x a week. Our once-a-week recap newsletter gives highlights of new content at our website. And we have four city specific newsletters – New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami – where you’ll get the inside scoop on things to do in those cities. And it’s free to subscribe!

I hope you will subscribe so you can not only see subsequent photographs of mine they roll out, but can avail yourself of the wide spectrum of offerings The Three Tomatoes feature with each edition. Enjoy!


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The Continuing Long Shadow of Literary Cancellation

It was exactly three years ago today that I was in New York appearing on the NPR show 1A to discuss American Dirt, the controversial novel covered in today’s New York Times article, The Long Shadow of ‘American Dirt’.

I was there because the show’s producer had found two articles of mine (Are White Authors Not Allowed To Tell Stories Involving Black Characters? and Authors Should Not Be Constrained By Gender Or Race In The Characters They Create), and wanted my perspective on a book that had become a lightening rod by virtue of its author’s ethnicity. Sparked by my experience as a white author with a novel that included characters who were Black— The Alchemy of Noise — I came to the discussion with, perhaps, a slightly different take than others there.

My own experience (detailed in the linked articles) involved the type of limitation and marginalization Jeanine Cummins was being assaulted by after the publication of her novel. In my case, it was before: as I was shopping for literary representation of The Alchemy of Noise, I was informed by every agent I talked to, heard from, or met with that, “No publisher will touch your book, so consequently I can’t either,” which, despite the story being based on my own experiences in an interracial relationship, flat-out excluded me from traditional publishing. According to today’s NYT’s piece, that sort of literary censorship and marginalization ramped up after the American Dirt debacle, but I can attest otherwise. It started long before.

As reiterated during my participation in 1A those three years ago, I believe the limiting of art based on the ethnicity and race of an artist is, to my mind, anathema to the very purpose of art, which entails freedom of expression and the exploration of unlimited creativity. How that translates in literature is simple: any writer of any background should be able to not only write any story involving any kind of characters, but should do so without risking commercial rejection (as I did) or creative assassination (as Jeanine Cummins did). Once written, once published, that story can then be judged solely by its craft, artistry, authenticity, and sensitivity, not whether the author dared step too far out of their cultural/ethnic lane.

Whatever inequities exist in the publishing world (and there are MANY), they’re not solved by demonizing and marginalizing creators compelled to tell stories wider than their own skin color, gender, religion, or ethnic background. If we stuck to that formula there’d be no science fiction, no fantasy; no books where animals talk, or ancient civilizations are brought to life; men couldn’t write women or women, men; stories with diverse sets of characters wouldn’t exist; everything would be homogenous, predictable, and safe.

That is not art.

I read American Dirt. I cannot speak to its authenticity from an ethnic point of view, but it was a well-written and compelling story. Should it and she have been cancelled with such ferocity because of who she is and the sensitivity of the story she chose to tell? NO. No one will convince me of that. Any more than anyone can convince me I wasn’t permitted to write my own story.

[Click the link to read the NYT article; it makes some excellent points that bear consideration: The Long Shadow of ‘American Dirt’.]


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When My ‘Dry January’ Became Permanent

I quit drinking. I wasn’t an alcoholic, it wasn’t January, and it was a really long time ago, but the ubiquitous “Dry January” memes of late brought it to mind and I thought I’d contribute a bit to the trending topic.

I framed myself as quite the drinker back in my younger years, the post-college rock and roll have to live out the stereotype of a hard-drinkin’ rocker chick on the road years. But even then, I was basically a pussy about it: Jack & Diet Coke, Black and/or White Russians, Bailey’s and Coffee, and Gin & Tonics with a splash of Rose’s Lime Juice were my drugs of choice… I know, hardcore, right?

Even more hardcore is the fact that past one drink—literally just one of those sweet spirits—I was a mess. Nausea, head spinning, heart pounding; couldn’t sleep, queasiness and migraines for days… but yay, so much FUN, so I’d drink on! Self-immolation as an art form.

By my thirties, and after countless epic hangovers—though luckily, I never hurt myself or others, even if there were mornings I wondered who I might need to apologize to—it became patently clear that I was someone who could not hold my liquor. At all. It was also likely I had an allergy to it; there was no amount that didn’t get my heart pounding and head aching. Even a Grand Marnier Mousse with a touch too much liqueur could trigger the dreaded effect. So, one queasy morning, after taking far too long to come to the decision, I decided to stop drinking. Period. Anything. At all. At any time. And that was it.

I quit drinking.

It’s now been decades and I gotta tell ya: I don’t miss it. I don’t even think about it. Sure, a warm Bailey’s and Coffee, or a frosty pitcher of margaritas might tickle my receptors from time to time, but all I have to do is consider the aftermath and I’m good. At this point, I don’t even have to go there. It’s just past tense.

And now, it appears, I’m in vogue! “Dry January” discussions are everywhere. More and more articles have come out dispelling the previous belief that some amount of alcohol is okay/acceptable/good for you. The “hidden risks” for women are widely proselytized. Even literature is focused on the topic: see the Washington Post piece:

‘Drinking until I passed out’: Quit Lit targets women’s sobriety A new genre of storytelling focuses on alcohol dependence and is helping some women curtail drinking or quit altogether.

It seems I was ahead of the curve.

And I don’t say that with arrogance, but rather, gratitude. I am fortunate to have come to my decision before too much damage was done, or I did hurt someone or myself. Before I bungled jobs, ruined relationships, or adversely impacted my children. I feel like my spirit guides (play on words, yes), who clearly required overtime-effort to prevent those hideous results, finally opened my eyes to the folly of imbibing in something that might have been “a fun buzz” for a minute or two but ultimately kicked my ass for far longer. I am grateful for the epiphany.

It has, however, been an interesting journey since, being someone who doesn’t drink. In a culture, a country, a time when drinking is so prevalent, so accepted, so every day, it appears in most TV shows and films, is de rigueur at dinner parties and gatherings, and largely expected at any celebration or ceremony, I’m an anomaly. I’ve learned it can actually trigger anxiety when you say, “No, thanks” to a drink. I’ve elicited wide eyes of wonder when refusing a champagne pour. I’ve had hosts insist, “Just a little red for the main course.” Garnered supposedly knowing (and inaccurate) whispers of, “Oh, you’re in the program,” from people who either were in the program or forgot it’s supposed to be anonymous. Some have outright blurted, “Not even a splash?” followed by, “God, that must be so hard!” or “How do you have any fun?” Which makes me smile. Because they didn’t know my mother.

Both my parents were surrounded by drinkers growing up. A brother, in my father’s case; my mother was basically raised by a loving family of hardcore drinkers; in both cases they lost many of those folks to alcohol-related illnesses, likely the reason neither were drinkers themselves. My father would occasionally enjoy a beer or glass of red wine, and before she stopped all together my mom was fond of Sloe Gin Fizzes, but alcohol was not a regular accompaniment to our family activities. My mother even made it a mantra: “You don’t have to drink to have fun!” she’d chortle, and though it took me a few years of really bad hangovers to realize she was correct, once on board I wore that mantra like a cloak.

Maybe it’s my particular personality—or the fact that my parents made having fun our birthright—that her mantra works for me when it might not for others, but whatever the reason, I’m grateful for it. I don’t want to need alcohol to “loosen up.” Don’t want to require a buzz to enjoy my circumstances. I hate the thought of not remembering what we talked about last night or wishing I’d done this and not that. I want to be clear-headed at all times, bracingly aware of my surroundings and the people I’m with. Sharp and cognizant of what’s being said, the nuances of the moments I’m in, the beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t, and didn’t, do that when I was drinking. I don’t think anyone can.

There’s also the health angle. As mentioned above, more and more articles have come out verifying the negatives of imbibing. And while I hate to be a spoilsport, a Debbie Downer of Drinking, it’s something to at least pay attention to. What you do with the information is, of course, a personal choice, but for what it’s worth this is the latest from the World Health Organization:

No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health: The risks and harms associated with drinking alcohol have been systematically evaluated over the years and are well documented. The World Health Organization has now published a statement in The Lancet Public Health: when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.

To read the whole piece, which came out in January of 2023, just click here. It’s sobering… (pun intended).

Why the WHO declaration resonates with me specifically is that I’ve had my own health scare, not related to alcohol, per se, but still… being informed that your biopsy came back positive and you’re now obligated to endure well-known rituals attendant to that diagnosis is a wake-up call like no other. Once you’re done with all of that (and it’s a lot), you can never again take your health for granted. I pay more attention to what’s required to protect the “clean bill” I’ve returned to, to hedge my bets towards living the long life I intend as a strong, robust, hardy gal singing rock and roll in my nineties. And, as has been made clear by my oncologist and other scientists I’ve read and listened to, the following is a fact:

Since I’ve been there/done that and don’t wish to ever again, that information solidified the decision I made years ago.

But the truth is I am rarely, if ever, in the company of either men or women who don’t drink. Most accept my status without question or judgment, but some see me as an outlier; a few even frame my not drinking as socially subversive (a woman once said to me: “I don’t trust a person who doesn’t drink.” Go figure). And though I never discuss the aforementioned in social settings, I’d guess most would rather not even read or think about what I’ve written in the paragraphs above.

I get it. We’ve been groomed, acclimated, almost trained to see drinking as so commonplace and customary that it’s the act of not drinking that’s strange. And yet as politicians (who surely drink without question) debate the health issues of pot, CBD, cannabinoids; are horrified about opioids and the ravages of other drugs, it bears considering the pervasive and deleterious effects of our most beloved and common drug: alcohol.

OK, that’s it, I’m done. I’ve probably annoyed some of you to no end, but I hope those on the cusp of considering these points consider them further. I’ve had too many people in my life suffer greatly because of alcohol, and probably some in my current life whose health and welfare are being negatively impacted even if they don’t know yet. I’d like to see a shift in public perception, much as what happened with smoking. How what was once considered “cool,” accepted, and socially ubiquitous was discovered to be profoundly unhealthy and became ultimately undesirable. Perhaps someday the truth of alcohol will awaken those who care about such things, enough to shift their thinking towards my mother’s mantra: “You don’t have to drink to have fun.” At least try it. With January almost over, it’s a thought.

Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

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And Once Again, Covid Comes For Christmas


Flights were booked, connections were arranged; the split-second timing of “leaving there and getting here” was set, synchronized so everyone would be where they needed to be at the designated time and place. And, with that, holiday plans were activated and have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Then key personnel—after office parties, or bar crawls, or dinner events—started coughing and sore-throating, and before you could say, “non-refundable flight,” the dreaded “T-line” lit up and all plans were off.

positive test

Nope, it ain’t over, folks.

But we so want it to be, don’t we? So much so that it is now more normal to see people not taking precautions than taking them. Concern for oneself or even others in the orbit has given way to a more resigned, even cavalier, stance of, “What are you gonna do? We gotta get on with our lives, right?”

Do we?

Even in a crowded concert hall where you’re elbow-to-elbow with strangers roaring in sing-alongs and breathing heavily on each other? Even at a crowded home party where laughing and (loud) talking guests huddle en masse around the buffet table? Even at the grocery store, the bank, the airport, where the potential of unknown Covidian particulate finding its way into your breathing passages is not negligible? Hell, even our Spectrum technician showed up the other day without a mask, and when I asked him to put one on, he huffed and puffed in annoyance while bleating that, “It’s all a fantasy anyway”… after which I suggested he take his leave and we’d call for someone else.

It’s no longer just the trumpy, right wing, science-denying, anti-vax folks; even many perfectly logical, openminded liberals have decided it’s time to move on: masks are disruptive, testing is pointless, and “everyone’s going to get it anyway.” Yes, maybe, but still…  there went the Christmas plans, which I’m sure is a disappointing scenario playing out for many people this season, as it did for the last two.


It was actually less fraught when there were rules and mandates that asserted some control over the matter. Yes, the sides were drawn: there was caterwauling and defiance from the red-hatters; conversely, everyone else who wanted to do their part to keep the virus in check, stay healthy, and not infect Grandma or Uncle Buddy, wore masks, kept distant, washed hands, and tested as needed. They didn’t complain too much about all of it either. Yes, remote learning had unfortunate impacts, and the lifespans of many businesses were truncated, but there was a sense that we grasped the urgency of things and were willing to participate for the common good. When we learned that over one million people in just the United States died from this dreaded thing, our efforts felt all the more important and essential…. how many more might’ve died had we not implemented precautions? Even after the vaccines arrived, those who felt responsible to the collective got their shots and continued to follow good practices, while, sadly, the other side continued to die in greater numbers. It was numbing and exhausting, but the lines were clear.

Now? Three years in? Left to our own devices?

There’s a measure of mayhem. It’s the wild, wild west out there. People still masking in indoor public spaces are the minority and the dismissiveness of non-maskers seems more emboldened. Asking people to take Rapid Tests the morning of an event— which we understand doesn’t offer assurances beyond that moment but is at least a good bet-hedge—used to be a simple, understood request, yet some now act beleaguered by the imposition. So when someone who doesn’t mask, doesn’t distance, and doesn’t follow precautions calls two days after a gathering to announce they’ve “just tested positive,” which is becoming an all-too-frequent event, we recognize that we’re firmly in the days of Covid chaos.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Based on conversations I’ve had with a wide range of people, it seems the general think at the moment is, “You do you, and I’ll respect that.” OK. So I do me. I eat in restaurants, but insist on outdoor dining spaces. I go to theaters and concert halls, but wear my mask throughout. When people come to our home for an indoor event, we insist they take Rapid Tests that morning. When we’re invited to home parties or dinners to be held indoors, we ask if the host/hostess will be requiring same-day testing; if so, OK; if not, we bow out.

None of this is fun. None of it is comfortable. In fact, at this point it’s almost crazy-making, particularly when so many in my circle seem largely unconcerned while I continue to operate with caution. I’ll look at a crowd all jammed in next to each other, no masks, no distance, hooting and hollering along with a band, or screaming at a sporting event, and just shake my head thinking, “I guess they’re just not worried about it.” Which then makes me wonder if I’m nuts, if I’ve become hyper-cautious. But I’ve read too many articles about Long Covid, about potential unknown and longterm effects, about systemic issues that can impact the body, all of which bolsters my original mission statement asserted back in March 2020: “I DON’T WANT TO GET THIS DAMN THING!” And given how easy it is to take steps in support of that goal, I will continue to take them and hope fort the best.

But here we are again, third year in a row, with the Christmas plans of many stymied because of Covid. Which is disappointing, for everyone, especially during this “most wonderful time of the year.” My heart hurts for those affected. Hopefully, the cases will be short-lived and on the lower end of the symptom spectrum; hopefully, the families and friends who spent time together before tests were taken will escape unscathed, and, hopefully, some aspect of the holiday will be salvaged in spite of that dreaded “T-line.”

They say this thing isn’t likely to go away, so it’s up to us to figure out how to better accommodate its impacts with sensible compromises. The kind that allow “you to be you,” gatherings to be sensibly had, kids to be able to stay in school, and families to fulfill holiday plans that make the memories we all cherish. We’ll see how it goes this year. I’m keeping all the place-settings at the table either way as a positive affirmation.

Wishing you a very HEALTHY, merry, happy holiday and new year!

Christmas mannequin by Buzz Andersen @ Unsplash
Red Santa photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash
Cookie photo courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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I Once Owned a Gun…

I once owned a gun. A real fancy, brand spankin’ new .357 Magnum. It was gifted to me on my 20th birthday by a boyfriend who happened to love guns. A lot.

I say this because he regularly reveled in his arsenal. Took them out, showed them off, handled them with the glow of true reverence. His pride was a .44 Magnum with a 9-inch barrel (“just like Dirty Harry!”). He loved that gun. He also loved his shotguns and rifles and who knows what else; I wasn’t clear on the inventory because I didn’t love guns. Including the one he gave me on my 20th birthday. I would’ve preferred a sweater.

Photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko on Unsplash

Though I spent my nascent years in the urban environs of the big city of Chicago, my early childhood was relocated to a small farm town out in the sticks where lots people probably had guns. I say that not because I know — I never heard or saw anything having to do with guns, ever, during my childhood — but because it was the Midwest, it was rural; there were likely hunters, farmers, and recreational shooters immersed in the culture. It just wasn’t a theme of social conversation.

My own family, however, did not own guns. We were neither farmers nor hunters, target shooting wasn’t on the agenda, so I’m pretty sure I never saw one in real life until I met my .357 bestowing boyfriend. And the only time I actually put my finger on a trigger and pulled was the one occasion he took me shooting, him with his trusty “Dirty Harry”; me, my shiny new revolver. He was excited to share this favorite activity; I was not. There were cans and bottles and fruit of various sizes and colors balanced on a fence across the way—you’ve seen the scene in countless movies—and shooting commenced. I’m quite certain I was a lousy shot… how could I not be? But frankly I don’t remember much about that day other than I hated the exercise. The violence of it; the recoil, the BOOM, the impact… the power. The clear understanding that this hunk of metal could impart incalculable damage, and my absolute confusion about why I would want to do that.

He was not happy with me and we never went shooting again. When we broke up several months later, I did not take the gift with me, leaving it, instead, for his closet arsenal. Though I do remember him threatening me and my new boyfriend with one of his guns when it became clear I was not coming back. I heard he became a police officer.

I never touched a gun again. Just not my thing. And though I’ve lived the bulk of my adult life in the much maligned and largely misunderstood city of Los Angeles, occasionally in dubious neighborhoods where crime was high and gunshots were audible, I never felt the need to own a gun. Maybe I’ve been lucky; maybe I’ve been smart. Maybe it’s circumstance, happenstance; the roll of the dice. Certainly I’ve been in dicey situations from time to time, but I always managed to extricate myself without the use of, or desire for, a firearm.

I do, however, understand that there are circumstances when having a gun for protection is logical, and I also get that some people enjoy the sport of shooting… to each his own. But the prevailing message of, “I need a gun for protection” is not true for many (most?) people. But it’s a meme at this point, driven by 2A zealots, gun manufacturers, right wing groups, the NRA, and those whose identity, sense of power, and need to present as well-armed (we’ve seen the pictures on social media) have aggrandized guns to the point of fetishization. Given the repetitive and relentless experience of mass shootings, given the Republican Party’s general gun recalcitrance (they have, after all, claimed AR-15s are excellent for shooting feral pigs, prairie dogs, and raccoons); given the cultish attachment of so many to their possession and protection of guns, what do we suppose will ever be done about this uniquely American problem of gun violence?

I don’t know. I’ve already written reams on the topic. My thoughts have been published in articles going back to 2013, even before the slaughter of Sandy Hook’s children, which should have sparked tangible change but didn’t. Click on any one; I don’t need to be redundant here.

• Let’s Stop Just Talking About Gun Control, 2013

What I do want to put on the table is this: Outside of discussions of mental health, background checks, age of possession, NRA influence, etc., is the fact that, in reality, the horrors and tragedies of mass shootings, as horrible and tragic as they are, do not comprise the bulk of American gun deaths. The incidences of gun owners using their weapons in protection of families and properties don’t either. In fact, the three biggest categories of gun mayhem and death, by a long shot (no pun intended) are suicide, and injuries and deaths that are “willful, malicious, or accidental.”


Which means, which proves, that the obscene proliferation of guns in America, exceedingly, excessively, greater than any other country on earth, is built on the lie that, “we need guns for protection.”

We don’t, actually, given how infrequently they’re used for that purpose, at least per the above chart. It seems that myriad other ways have been utilized to protect oneself, one’s property, one’s family. Statistics—pesky, undeniable, and oft-times humbling—make that clear.

Defensive use rates only sixth in the above chart of nine categories.

Which illustrates the confirmation bias and rejection of facts held by the more than 84 million Americans who own guns. At least the ones who rail and rally behind the disproven “need” to own them for defensive purposes. That disconnect has caused our country to horde and accumulate an obscene number of guns for the sake of a myth.

Right now Congress is debating various new legislation: raising the age of ownership of AR-15s, enforcing background checks more universally, various other band aids (and band aids are better than nothing). But the bigger issue is the delusion within the greater “American think,” the meme that tricks people into believing they must own a gun to protect who and what they love most. It’s a clever ruse, because who wouldn’t put their life on the line to protect their child, their spouse, their parent? Who wouldn’t defend their business, their workers, their colleagues?

What do we do with that? I don’t know. All I know is, I held that .357 Magnum and could feel its weight, its heft, its power, and as I pulled the trigger, absorbed the kickback, and watched it blow apart whatever I managed to hit, I could only imagine what it would do a body. I put it down and never picked it up again.

I will defend myself, my home, and my loved ones to the death. I just won’t do it with a gun. Statistics tell me that’s a sensible philosophy.

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I Am Unapologetically Pro-Life. I Am Also Proudly Pro-Choice

A contradiction? An oxymoron? A pander to roiling social debate? 
NO. Semantics, perhaps. But, in truth, a more complete view of what “pro-life” really means, despite its accepted, and conveniently limited, definition as “against abortion.”
 A Republican congressman (white, older, male… of course) climbed on Twitter today to proudly announce that he is “unapologetically pro-life,” echoing a stance held by so many on his side, and asserted without a scintilla of awareness of just how myopic, insufficient, even dishonest the statement is.

Because to be truly “pro-life,” one must be for life in its every manifestation, offering care, concern, and protection not just for non-viable fetal cells inside a woman’s womb, but for life in all its most inconvenient, challenged, even repugnant forms, often found in those one fears, those who are “other; those who are dirty, poor, needy, and… living.

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Right wingers, Republicans, Christian conservatives, and social fundamentalists have made the issue of abortion a rallying cry of self-righteousness while keeping themselves insulated from, and blinded to, the myriad ways in which they diminish, demean, and endanger life for so many, and in so many circumstances beyond abortion:

Living children facing poverty, poor schooling, and lack of health care. The mentally ill left on streets to suffer homelessness, illness, and crime. The incarcerated, disproportionately BIPOC, often wrongly convicted or poorly defended, facing the antiquated barbarity of the death penalty. Immigrants fleeing drug wars, religious persecution, and lack of opportunity. LGBTQ and BIPOC who endure hate crimes, discrimination; profound inequity and inequality. Women struggling, in a still-patriarchal society, to earn enough to feed their kids, pay the rent, and find basic stability. Living, breathing human beings, all in need of fairness, compassion, and protection.

But that’s so much less interesting, and so much more demanding, than huffing and puffing and pontificating about your loyalty to fetal cells.

Let’s face it; this debate is not about life; it’s about religious belief. Dogma. Not science. Not fairness. Not rights. Not empathy and compassion. It’s religious belief being pushed, shoved, and beaten into law, thereby enforcing a kind of theocracy Americans have long decried in other countries, particularly those who discriminate against and brutalize their women. The American right appears ready to follow their oppressive blueprints.

To be “unapologetically pro-life,” sir, one must be willing to look at, and act progressively for, all life, even life you wish to look away from. You can’t be selective and still pretend you give a damn. If your religious beliefs mandate an anti-abortion stance, so be it. Observe those rules for yourself. But your religious beliefs are not mine, not hers, not theirs, and your religious beliefs have no business in our secular, inclusive, diverse government. 

I believe in science. I believe in body autonomy. I believe in individual rights. I won’t tell a man what to do with his sperm (also a living cell), nor tell him he can’t take Viagra or get a penis pump. His choice. I also will not tell a woman what to do with the cells existing inside her body. Regardless of how they got there or what they’re doing. Her choice. Always her choice.

Which means I am unapologetically “pro-life” by the truest metric of the word. I will fight for the rights of all women (and men) to have autonomy over their own bodies, as I will actively contribute to feeding hungry children, protecting the rights of marginalized groups, finding space and care for immigrants, seeking solutions for homelessness and the mentally ill, banishing the death penalty, working to reverse climate change, and raising women to an equal playing field with men. 

That’s pro-life.

The rest is noise and religion, semantics that should be struck down for their selective, deflective, dishonesty.

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The Art and Craftiness of Critique

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame.
I simply follow my own feelings.”
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be
ruined by praise than saved by criticism”
― Norman Vincent Peale

Criticism. Getting it. Giving it. Ignoring it. Implementing it. It’s a fraught topic from any angle, and, as evidenced by the above quotes, even great people debated its impact and importance.

Where I sit? Somewhere between Wolfgang and Norman.

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Art is subjective, this we know. What one person adores, another finds grating and idiotic. But either way, every artist knows there’s no escaping the inevitability of critique. The question becomes: how do we healthily solicit it, and what do we do when we get it?

Peer critique groups or not so much? Is a famous writer’s opinion gospel or just another opinion? How’s it going with that writing coach you hired? What did the agent say? Beta readers, yes or no?

There are as many opinions on these questions as there are on art itself, so what follows is simply my take. And, as I assert with any notes I offer, “Keep what resonates, toss the rest.”

I once had a very wise mentor say: “Never give your work to a random bevy of people to critique, especially those you don’t know. No matter who they are, you’ll just get a random bevy of opinions put through the filters of their personalities and proclivities, and the sheer range of potential contradictions can stop you in your tracks. Instead, pick five (or so) of the most trusted, skilled, and experienced readers/artists/advisors you know and stick with them. You’ll get consistently useful and qualified critique every time.” I’ve never strayed from that maxim and it has served me well.

Have I always agreed with everyone on my team? No. In fact, I recently got notes that stopped me cold, so disparate were they from my own perceptions. I put them aside, convinced they were ones I could “toss,” but later went back to reread them in a less kerfuffled state. To my chagrin, and though the tone was perhaps a bit more brusque than I would’ve liked, they actually hit some very useful points, with perspective I couldn’t ignore.

I ultimately implemented a great many of them, which made my WIP significantly better. I also let the critic know how much I got out of her input, with, yes, some constructive discussion on how to better present it. She was grateful, as was I, so it seemed we both got something out of the exercise.

But I’ve also experienced the opposite: I ventured outside my trusted group to a paid consultant whose report was basically, “I don’t like much about this; it needs a page-one rewrite.” Was the book that far off or just not her cup of tea? I didn’t know, so I sat with her notes, pondered them, tried them on, but ultimately decided, like Wolfgang, that I’d “simply follow my own feelings.” That book went on to become very successful.

What does that tell you? Only that you’ve got to trust your own voice, and know the heart and soul of your work so well you actually can figure out when to listen and when not. That can be tricky, particularly, as in my examples, good notes can be clumsily delivered, or, conversely, bad ones can be offered with finesse. You’ve got to separate your emotional reaction from the value of what you’ve been given. That takes practice, but, hey, we get plenty of that.

As for the art and craftiness of delivering critique, many of the same rules apply. While style is always less important than content, delivery can determine how input is accepted and, therefore, how useful you’ll be in actually helping someone improve their craft. Giving critique is as learned a skill as any.

Early in my career, I studied acting with a teacher who was brilliant at critique, and who taught me his method so I could run one of his classes. It was quite simple. After the actors performed a scene, he’d ask: “What were you working on?” Then he’d critique that, how successfully (or not) they’d achieved their goal. He didn’t pontificate on other issues; he focused on what they were trying to do, and helped them figure out how best to do it.

It sounds stupidly simple, but I’ve used some version of that technique throughout my career and it’s been gold. With writers I ask, “What’s your intention with the story; what do you want me to feel, to get from it; how much detail do you want?” Then I critique based their answers, offered with a balance of what worked, what didn’t, in a tone that’s constructive and empowering. I know when I’ve hit the nail: “Good critique will excite the artist, make them eager to jump back in to do the work.” That’s something I’ve witnessed with others, felt for myself, and hold as a useful gauge.

Yet, ten other people will offer ten other opinions on all this. That’s how it works. So I “simply follow my own feelings” … with the concluding hope that you, too, find the best guidance in your own.

[Originally published at Women Writers, Women’s Books]

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Banning Books and the ‘Stupidfying’ of America

Let’s face it: America is getting stupider.

At least a good chunk of it is. And I know that’s not a word: stupider. Neither is “stupidfying.” But somehow the very idiocy of those fits the current, frothing state of American culture, which, in recent days, has been behaving badly at school board meetings, hissy-fitting against lifesaving vaccines; even—despite the original Nazis and Fahrenheit 451 being set firmly in the past—banning and burning books with impunity.

As they say on Twitter: WTF, America?

Do right wing adults want their children to be undereducated? Is that the goal? Or is the intent to pretend if one bans a book they actually have the power to make it invisible, like a toddler who closes his eyes believing he can no longer be seen?

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

It is a confounding task, sorting out the stupidity of regression; the stunning, ignorant, backwardness of outlawing thought by ascribing nefarious traits to literature, most of it classic and brilliantly rendered. Because it seems that, as we advance as a society, as we purportedly modernize and evolve as members of the human race in the 21st century, a contingent of conservative, likely hardcore Christian, certainly right wing indoctrinated, Americans has decided to put their feet down, dammit, and halt progress. All this evolution, change, diversity, sexual identification, pronouns, asserting rights, freedom of expression, all so au courant these days, is just NOT GOING TO BE TOLERATED.

Teach children the unvarnished, unwhitewashed history of America? Are you kidding? All that truth about slavery and genocide and the decimation of Native lands and brutalization of bodies of color is just going to make our fragile white kids “uncomfortable,” feel “guilty” and “shamed.” So, no, absolutely not. We’ve branded that unvarnished, unwhitewashed history of America as “critical race theory” (again, WTF?) and decided it’s dangerous, upsetting, and possibly enlightening— I mean, possibly frightening—to our kids.  We will stamp our feet and legislate our schools to death so that nonsense like that will not be inflicted on those tender children.

(Phew… dodged that bullet, red America.)

They’re already making regressive headway on the “women’s right to body autonomy” front, with SCOTUS tilted right and long held Republican notions of small government that stays out of our body parts being shelved for a more invasive GOP that crawls into wombs to vote on what the hell is going on in there. Apparently the process of pregnancy, despite requiring a man’s full participation—or at least his sperm count—has been designated as “women stuff,” and, given conservative definitions of women as “those softer, less-self-determined humans men get to control,” body autonomy (for women, that is) is not a priority, nor does it subscribe to conservative Christian dictates. Therefore, it will be theocratically removed from the equation. Sit down and shut up, ladies, and be grateful we’re letting you go to college and get jobs.

(Hang tight, red America; we’re almost there on that one.)

As for books… well, we all know Catcher in the Rye has eaten the souls of countless American youth, and Harry Potter has lured whole generations into the occult. To Kill a Mockingbird makes white people cringe and includes a rape, and we can’t have our kids (forget that 90% of them watch porn or emulate its stars on the street) read about that kind of rough stuff. The Color Purple is unacceptable for teens, “due to its graphic sexual content and situations of violence and abuse,” despite the brutal video games they play or TV shows they watch. One could go on and on and on. This list here (which I can’t credit because I haven’t found who put it together), includes a staggering compendium of some of our very best literature, and, yes, I checked every title. They’ve all, indeed, been banned (and some likely burned) at one point or another.

It’s a great list. As someone on Twitter said, “I’m making this the summer reading list for my kids.”

(Good parent… don’t tell the other side!)

What are we doing, America? Seriously, WTF? When did reading books that depict life, both real and imagined, become (or, sadly, revert back to) something to ban, something to burn? What ignorance, what cluelessness, compels a parent, a teacher; a priest, a school board member, to decide that life, particularly as chronicled by some of our very best writers, with all its brambly edges and imperfect people, must be sanitized, censored, and shunned to protect the minds of children?

Have you seen teenagers in 2022? They are exposed to media, social and otherwise, that’s left them as savvy to modern culture, as versed in sexuality, as knowledgeable of the atrocities of bigotry and hate, as most adults… more so. They don’t need these books banned, they need these books taught.

They need to learn the truth of the Holocaust, not the dismissive denialism pushed by some. They need to learn the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth about the destructive path of Manifest Destiny, the horrors of slavery and immigrant labor, the tragedy of Native American genocide and theft of their lands to build a ” home of the brave” for white Europeans. They need to learn it all.

Because learning truth, all of it, even the gritty parts, is the only way to evolve. To raise consciousness. To prevent a repeat of those atrocities. To raise children free of hate, prejudice, denialism, arrogance, sexism, aggression, narcissism, and ignorance. To raise children who not only want to learn about the diversities and nuances of our country and the lives we all live here, but to embrace them.

Red America may believe if they close their eyes—or burn paper, binding, and torches in a show of fascism—the aspects of life they eschew will disappear, lose power, become moot. But that’s not the way it works. Smart people know that.

Hopefully, their children are smart enough. Hopefully they will reject the regression and backwardness, the censorship and shunning, supposedly being done on their behalf. Hopefully these kids will avail themselves of everything wise writers and brilliant teachers have to offer, allowing them to grow more accepting, better educated; less…stupider.

Until then, check that list, grab a book, and read.

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