Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sports, New Orleans, and the Psyche of Cities

During this school year, some of my students researched British football teams for their term papers. In English IV, we were analyzing all things British.  The students who selected British football teams discovered players like David Beckham, controversies such as the Hillsborough incident, and rivalries between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester.  I explained to those young researchers that to many of the people in those cities, much like New Orleans, their teams represented more to them than a winning team.  They often carried the spirit of the city with them.

In New Orleans, our Saints certainly carry the pride and soul of our city, and we embrace them for it.  God knows that New Orleans has undergone drastic changes over the years, and since the late 1960's, the New Orleans Saints have been part of our history.  At times, the relationship was ambivalent.  The team boasted some players of note, but we lost like poor gamblers in the 1980s, and many fans wore bags over their heads.  Nonetheless, we still flocked to the Dome on Poydras Street, forever hopeful.  We loved them even when they were the "Aints." When Katrina struck, we feared Mr. Benson would move the team to the bowels of Texas, but the final move didn't happen, and Benson's Saints became our city's greatest supporters. We stopped fashioning voodoo dolls in Mr. Benson's image and embraced him as a jocular Pere holding an umbrella in the second line.  Who knows?  Maybe our faith and love united the Saints.  They started to play as a team, and we were Super Bowl bound! "Kick that ball through that f-ing fleur de lis, son, you belong here."  Wow, we know Payton's words by heart.

In the past year, we've suffered through the bounty scandal.  I'm not excusing loutish behavior, but if the NFL bigwigs think we're the only mad dogs in the NFL, they're wearing blinders.  We took our punishment as we must, but the Saints good behavior outweighs their bad behavior.  Our boys visit hospitals, schools, and children's homes bringing cheer to patients and students.  Drew Brees and his fellow players have donated to charitable organizations.  They are visible in the community, shopping at local markets and stores.  We'll be back with our coach next year. (You know, that guy with the good Irish first name). Bless you, boys.

So, yes, I understand the passion people in Liverpool, Manchester, and other English and/or Irish towns feel for their teams.  Teams are often close to their cities because they speak to the cities' hearts and souls.  I understand why Liverpool doesn't like Manchester. We don't exactly love Dallas.  (Sorry, Texas, you guys are nice neighbors, but we don't like your Dallas team!) I understand why the city of Liverpool, its officials, and its club wanted justice after the disastrous Hillsborough incident because their fans were maligned and killed after that terrible event. Katrina inundated our city, killed many of our citizens, and forced us from our homes.  That catastrophe wasn't the result of a football incident but a systematic industrial and governmental failure. But--the Saints gave us a ray of hope in the midst of despair, rescuing us from the terror of loss and the hopelessness we felt as we rebuilt.  Our Saints are close to our hearts because they helped with the resurrection of our city and our psyche in the most damaging of times.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sex and Intimacy

Recently, a colleague of mine--very much in her cups--said she admired me for writing stories with sex in them because I taught high school and was "unapologetic" about writing my "steamy" romances.  What's ironic is that I don't see my novels as "steamy."  Oh, they contain sex.  I don't deny that, but they are studies in intimacy--spiritual as well as physical--because what makes a truly romantic scene is that union between two people when their bodies, minds, and hearts are in perfect sync.  Call me a diehard romantic, but it's something I've searched for and found elusive.  I believe there can be intimacy without sex, but when the intimacy is a complete union of body and soul, we find true bliss.  Okay, call me a dreamer, to paraphrase John Lennon--but I'm not the only one.

My books contain characters who search for and find that intimacy of body and soul.  In Buried Truths,  a couple reunite after a long, devastating and forced separation that almost ruined their lives.  Never did they find true happiness with anyone but each other and only their reunion could bring them real contentment.  In Pirate Woman, my editor said, "This isn't a strictly boy meets girl story."  She was right. It wasn't. It's the story of Grainne "Grace" O'Malley, the Irish pirate.  It wasn't a straightforward love story because it's the tale of a woman who forges her own life (which I also find important) but who works to find common ground with the men in her life. Her relationship with a handsome Scottish gallowglass is passionate and intense, and her later relationship with her second husband Richard develops into a marriage of body and soul.  In The Doctor and the War Widow, Harley Michel must learn that love can find her again with a man who is not like her first husband but every bit as noble.  Their love affair culminates in the rugged port city of Liverpool.  Probably the characters who embody this marriage of minds, hearts, and bodies are Nuala and Keith in Love at War. So deep is Nuala's love for her husband that she ventures into enemy territory to avenge what she believes is his death, and Keith forgives what some would call her betrayal to hold her in his arms again.  (Check out my books at

I wasn't offended by my colleagues comments.  She meant them as a compliment, and they were uttered with admiration.  What I pray for all of my readers and friends is that they find this kind of fulfillment that my characters do because intimacy can lead to bliss only when the emotions intertwine with the pulsing blood of physicality.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Teachers and the not-so-starry path

I've written too often about tragedies involving violence. Nutty people killing innocents is sadly becoming all too frequent, but today, I'm going to write about teachers.  The adults killed in the Newtown, Connecticut incident were teachers who died trying to protect the kids in their care.

Over twenty years ago, I entered the teaching profession.  My career began as a teaching assistant at the college level, and I had no idea what teaching really entailed.  When I began teaching high school, I was an idealist, and I wrongly believed that I would stand in front of my students pontificating like some guru.  They would sit in rapt attention as I dispensed my knowledge and wisdom. Needless to say, I had a rude awakening. Students were sometimes unruly and did not think me wise, but as the job grew more demanding, my commitment to teaching increased.  Students provided me with a challenge, and I found ways to reach them and teach them.

They pushed me, and I pushed back.  On this rather bumpy journey, I learned about my students as individuals.  Their strengths, flaws, and special needs made them unique people.  I'll remember some of my students forever, and the most memorable were often the ones who required my attention more than did their peers.

Teaching isn't always easy.  In fact, it sometimes is a contact sport. Some students challenge us verbally and/or physically.  Parents sometimes see teachers as adversaries.  So why do teachers enter the profession of low pay and frequent insults?  Teachers show up every day because the rewards cancel out the negative moments.  I continue to teach because students I once taught still trust me enough to ask for my help on papers they are writing for college.  I teach because my students have said, "I hated how hard you were, but I'm really glad now you were.  I aced my college English classes."  Some of my students have told me, "I'm a teacher because of you."  I entered the profession of teaching as an idealist.  Now, I'm no longer idealistic, and my approach to teaching is as a hardened warrior who has seen the horror of war but still loves the fight for right.  I'm now a writer as well as a teacher, but the profession never leaves me.  Two of my protagonists are teachers.  In THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW (, Harley is jaded and disillusioned until love helps her reclaim her desire to fulfill her mission.  She leaves her comfortable job to pursue a path even more demanding than the one she has.

Why do I teach?  I teach for the reason many teachers do.  There was some teacher who inspired them. In grade school, I was  a fat, shy kid with buck teeth until Mrs. Linda Pappalardo made me think I was special.  In high school, I was a bookish but uninspired student until Sr. Martha Maguire ignited my love of literature.

So, why do I and many of my fellow teachers continue to work in a profession too often like a contact sport?  We teach because we remember those inspirational people who moved us, and we hope to move others as we were.  We want to help young people reach the stars, but that path is not always a star-filled sky.  We sometimes must discipline our students. We sometimes are called to protect them even when they don't want our help.  More and more, teachers are even required to lay down their lives for their students.  The pictures of the dead children in Newtown, Connecticut were devastating, but  I was most moved by the picture of the dead teachers.  Victoria Soto was around the age of many of my former students who now teach.  She died protecting the children in her charge. Her young life is also cut tragically short.

The path to helping students realize their goals can be a dark, starless night, but then, the stars emerge--the stars that beam youth and beauty.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas: The Spirit of the Season

In the novel A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a miserly soul whose only concern is money and gain.  Ironically, Scrooge does nothing with his vast wealth, not even making himself comfortable until he is visited by three spirits who show him the error of his ways.  Of course, some would argue in this era of crass commercialism that some cynicism is in order.  After all, we are bombarded with ads for expensive goods at the holiday season, and all of these ads seemingly only want our money.  Any of us would have to be millionaires to afford all of the products pushed by vendors. I, too, become disillusioned with the commercial aspect of the holiday.  At times, Christmas buying has resulted in violence, even death.  Remember a few years ago in the States when customers at a Wal-Mart pushed through the doors before the store officially opened? A security guard was trampled, and the shoppers were upset when the management closed the store so that EMTs could tend to the dying man.  Where was the true Christmas spirit in those people as they ran over their fellow human being?

It is because of the vastly commercial nature of modern Christmas that I referenced Dickens' tale.  When I feel that I am becoming like Scrooge, I think of Dickens' amazing story and its lesson.  Some people scoff at the story's piety and unapologetic mysticism, but what the story shows is that the season should be a time of generosity originating from the soul.  I don't think Dickens--or God, for that matter-- would advocate such reckless spending that we all go bankrupt, but I do think that the season is a time to give what we can to those we love and to those in need.  Often, that is not the most expensive toy or item in the store. Sometimes, it is the gift of time and of love.  If we can give, we should think of those in need who may have less this holiday season and spread cheer.  Sometimes that gift may be money but sometimes it may be a smile or an hour of our time.  Yep, this comes from me--the author of historical romances that are often violent. In fact, some people may think it's ironic that I'd be writing about Christmas cheer when Red Rose Publishing is going to publish one of my stories, a story about love gone wrong at a Christmas Eve party, but my story shows how the stress of the season can lead to hurt and humiliation.

People of many faiths celebrate their holidays for various reasons, and those celebrations hold importance to the celebrants for a variety of secular, religious, and sentimental reasons.  Most people remember good times with families and friends at these times in addition to the sacred meaning of holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah.  (I don't mean to leave out any holiday, by the way. Those two have come to mind eaisly). Some of us hurt during the holidays because of losses we've experienced, but these religious holidays should be times of giving from the heart--giving of our love and our treasure if we can afford it.  This season, I've decided I will give to charities providing for needy children.  I'm no millionaire.  I can't give much, but  I will give what I can to help someone.  I also will be more tolerant of the people in my life and tell them I love them, and on Christmas Day, I will light a candle in church for my parents--two people no longer here but who gave me so much.

My prayer for my family and friends is that the joy of the holidays fills their hearts with peace and love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

E-publishing and the Old Guard

I've listened with interest to the debate surrounding e-publishing.  Many traditional publishers and literary critics mourn what they sometimes call the "death" of the traditional print book. They frequently look upon e-published books as the bastard sister that has stabbed her more sophisticated and desirable sibling in the back, even stealing her boyfriend.  Another scenario:  According to traditionalists, the paper novel is the $5,000 a night professional while the e-book is a pay-by-the-hour working girl, standing on the corner flashing her coarser wares.

What many people don't seem to realize is that writing and the production of artistry through writing have evolved throughout the ages.  Change is nothing new.  The earliest people wrote crudely upon cave walls, communicating their thoughts to those no more advanced than they--but maybe in their times, they were very advanced.  When we discovered how to place the written word onto paper tablets many years later, human beings' ability to disseminate their thoughts was still sorely limited.  We hear much about Medieval monks copying by hand biblical stories as well as documents relevant to their culture, but those who could benefit from such writing were a limited few--other religious and the wealthy, who could afford such masterpieces.  Johann Gutenberg's perfection of the printing press  revolutionized the publishing industry, making books more accessible to millions.  The Protestant Reformation made reading and writing essential to biblical study.  Books, however, were still costly luxuries for the few.

The book continues to evolve as does what fascinates readers.  In modern times, we've seen hardback books and softback books. The price of both has risen substantially over the years. Critics have bemoaned that people "no longer read."    Readership has declined, but many people still do read.  They simply cannot afford to buy a luxury purchase. Many have flocked to libraries instead.  Let's look at how expensive books are.  My high school paper copy of Pride and Prejudice was $.50. Such a book would now be at least $5.  Hardbacks around the same period were $8-12.  Now, those books are $25-30.  Many people want to read, but the books are not affordable. What we enjoy to read has also changed, but change is nothing new in the literary world.  For example, I looked at a textbook of poetry  produced circa 1932.  Several poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's son Hartley are in the volume but not one of Coleridge's master works.  Yet, only a few years later, Coleridge's poems are in texts but none of Hartley's.  My point is that what is considered important literature shifts with community tastes. Critics said that children no longer read and certainly wouldn't read a huge book.  A British woman named J. K. Rowling proved them wrong.  Still others said even adults didn't have the patience with big books or complex plots, but a Swede named Stieg Larsson made us care about a girl with a dragon tattoo.

How does that link to e-publishing?  Tastes evolve and so does the technology through which we produce books.  The technological revolution, as well as ecological concerns about tree conservation, have led to changes in how we read books.  In the West, we are fast-moving societies.  We travel and sometimes even take mass transit while we work  or play.  For that reason, many people love their e-readers.  They can carry a small device that easily fits into a purse or briefcase.  They can go on vacation and take several books.  With the birth of technology, authors can now reach a generation of young people reared on technology.  Technology also has opened up new avenues for authors.  Traditional publishing is highly competitive and somewhat closed.  Many people are now publishing their own books through avenues like Amazon.  I'm not saying everyone should publish a book.  Some people can't write, but some people are very good writers. They have self-published or sought out e-publishers, many of whom are more open about accepting promising authors.  Where many traditional houses only take "established" authors or "slam dunk" books, e-publishers are often more open and willing to take a risk on someone who is up and coming.  And while not everyone publishing is great, many new authors are very talented.  Their work is well-written and researched.

I am not saying that print publishing is dead.  I also like print books, but I don't think that traditional publishing can ignore the impact of technology.  Even print authors now host blogs and have Facebook pages.  Promoting oneself is essential, and the means of promotion cannot only be through print media. I think print publishing and e-publishing can grow together in healthy respect.  Long live writing! Long live the written word!