Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thanking Molly


     Usually, when I begin thanking people for helping me through a novel, it is a bit like a curtain call, saving the star for last. That person is always my wife, whom I thank the universe for every day. That has not changed, but the one person I have to give the most thanks to for this novel, Molly: House on Fire, is Molly Kincaid. You might think it odd that I would thank a fictional character, but then you may not know how Molly and I became friends. She appeared during the writing of my first novel, Out on the Sound, when it was just the wife reading what I wrote. I needed a lawyer for my main characters, Decky and Charlie. Suddenly, this image of a Jodie Foster look-a-like, strolling into a courtroom, leapt into my brain.
     It was a joke, really, between my wife and I. When I was much younger, I was asked often if I was the famous little girl actress. We had the same hair and freckles and I must admit, the resemblance was striking at times, as we both went through changes. I do not look at all like Jodie now, but for those early years, I wore that label with pride. So, when I needed a lawyer, this Jodie-like woman popped into my head, Molly Kincaid. I do not know where the name came from. It was what she whispered to me and I just wrote it down. From the first time she appeared on the page, Molly basically told me who she was. I knew in that moment, one day I would have to tell her story. I had no idea what that story would be, but I knew she had one.
     Molly appeared in each successive novel, if only for one line, even if I did not identify her by name. After all, who does not need a high-powered defense attorney occasionally? In some novels, she revealed more about her character. Harper, Lauren, and the Sweet Carolina Girls called on Molly to get them out of a jam. I never had to think when I wrote scenes with Molly. She simply told me what to say, where she worked, how she lived. I was as surprised as anyone, when Lizbeth dialed the phone in Waking Up Gray and Molly answered. Who knew Molly’s best friend was a socialite divorcee? I certainly did not. We, the readers and I, found out more about Molly’s personal life, the kind of friend she was, and that she liked hot blonds.
     Then came Before It Stains. The moment came when Molly appeared. She said, “Hey, I want in on this one.” I had no intention of giving Stephanie an old flame, let alone knew it was Molly. I sat back from the computer and their entire relationship played out in my head like a movie. I sat back up to the keyboard and let Miss Molly tell the tale. Again, we learned so much more about her. I realized somewhere along the way, that I was creating a whole world of characters and they were all tied to one person. The time had come for Molly to tell her story.
     All I knew about Molly was what I had written in the novels. I set about the task of searching every book for anything remotely connected to her. I walked the floor, talked my wife’s ears off, and waited. I asked the walls, “Who are you Molly Kincaid? Where were you born? What brought you to this time and place? What is your backstory, Molly?” One day she told me the prologue, pretty much as it is written. I wrote it and turned to my wife, asking her to listen. I did not make it through that first reading. I gasped in the middle of it and could not continue. I looked at my wife with tears streaming down my face and said, “I did not mean to write that. Oh my, that’s painful.” I weighed the heaviness of that scene against the lighthearted romance novel I intended to write. Molly insisted I start from there and then she laid out the rest of the book, piece by piece. I did persist in having my romance, with which she, begrudgingly at first, complied.
     So, thank you, Molly. I have enjoyed our friendship. I cannot imagine writing without you. Your story was fun to write, even if it had its dark moments. Your courage, integrity, and yes, your heart inspired me. I enjoyed every moment and am glad to finally know you, all of you. Until we meet again, good golly Miss Molly, that sure was a ball.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Let me explain.

     I have recently been accused of being anti-male, because of some posts on Facebook that drew attention to bills being discussed and voted on in the US Senate and many states. Let me first state that I have no bias toward men. I raised one that I am extremely proud of. I do have a bias toward the treatment of women. That does not make me anti-male. If I am anti-anything, it is a government dictating what should be a doctor’s decision, not a legislative one.
     There is so much going on right now that I will narrow this discussion to the Blount Amendment. This amendment will give employers the ability to decide what will and will not be covered by an employee’s insurance. A poster (full disclosure; he was male) stated that insurance coverage was not a “right.” Okay, for the sake of argument, I’ll buy that. He was correct. Nowhere in the Constitution am I guaranteed the right to insurance or health care, but I am guaranteed equal protection under the law.
     I responded rather emotionally to the man’s post on my page. I regret that, but this is an emotional issue for me. I’m going to address a few of the issues I have with the Blount Amendment and other bills being passed in the states. First, there is a bill that would require a woman to tell her employer why she is on birth control pills. Under the HEPA law, no one has a right to know why you see a doctor, without your consent. How can they pass a bill that violates a federal law? Second, as Senator Bernie Sanders said in his opposition speech on the Senate floor, the Blount Amendment would make it possible for an employer to deny coverage based on “religious beliefs and moral convictions” for well-woman visits, mammograms, birth control, and anything he/she doesn't want to cover. (Please keep in mind that birth control pills are used to treat other ailments, and are not solely used as a contraceptive.) If this is so expensive an employer cannot afford the coverage, then why did my insurance company send me a coupon every year to have tests run. You see, the insurance company knows it is far more expensive in the long run to ignore the tests and treat the disease after it has taken hold, rather than prevent it or catch it early enough to avoid expensive long term care.
     The poster stated that I could still see my doctor and pay for the tests without insurance coverage. He also stated there were other ways to have the tests run and places to get birth control at low costs. Many of these outlets are under attack as well and bills are being submitted to end these programs. I love it when people with insurance and a comfortable existence speak for the masses. (A recent study showed a person in the northeast must work over 120 hours a week at minimum wage just to pay rent.) I would like to point out that without insurance coverage for these tests, they are much too expensive for the single mother who can barely make the rent and keep food on the table. (There are lots of reasons women are raising children alone, so let's not get into a debate about single mothers.) She makes too much money for help from welfare, but barely enough to keep a roof over their heads. What happens to her children when she dies from cancer, because she couldn’t afford a simple mammogram? If the children become wards of the state, who pays then? Those are real choices for real families. Feed the kids or have a mammogram? The kids get fed, as they should, but she shouldn’t have to make that choice.
     Suppose this woman goes years without a well-woman visit to the doctor. The poster stated he shouldn’t have to pay for something that did not relate to him personally. Well, if this woman scrapes together the money, goes to the doctor, and is found to have cancer for example, her doctor will say, “If we had caught it sooner, it would be a simple procedure.” Now, the woman goes to the hospital. They schedule surgery, radiation, and chemo. Guess who is going to pay for that expensive treatment. If she can’t, the government will pay the bill and she will be hounded to her grave for the money. In this scenario, the poster is most definitely paying more than he would have, had the woman undergone regular screening. If she had insurance that did not cover the testing but covers her treatment, I guess that’s okay with the poster. Get really sick first and then we’ll cover you. The employer loses the employee for long periods of time during the treatment. What’s more expensive, a simple well check or cancer treatments and lost employee work hours?
     I lived that scenario. My wife developed cancer in between full time jobs. (At the time, she was working two jobs, neither of which offered insurance.) It took us ten years, but we finally paid off the hospital and doctors. It was not our choice to be without insurance; it was just the circumstances we found ourselves in. We both have always worked. Our son had insurance, food, shelter, and clothing. Our medical problems took a back burner to his needs. She now goes for a mammogram religiously and her insurance company happily pays for the visits. Again, they see prevention and early screening as cost cutting, not costly.
     The Blount Amendment is not just a danger to women’s health. What happens when the employer decides colon and prostate cancer screening isn’t necessary? Will that change this man’s opinion? What if he suddenly found himself without a job, his family income cut in half? His wife’s employer says no to cancer screening and well-woman visits. She gets sick because they can’t afford to pay for those tests anymore. Who pays then? Will I be paying through my tax dollars to save his wife’s life? I don’t mind. In fact, I’m glad my tax dollars can save lives, but I’d rather pay for preventative care than treatment. I’d also rather save lives with my tax money than pay for a Senator’s top of the line insurance, inflated salary, and outlandish pension.
     It may not appear to be this poster’s problem that insurance coverage will be denied based on “religious beliefs and moral convictions,” as stated in the Blount Amendment. He may not see that down the road his own healthcare and that of his family could be compromised. Employers playing doctor is a no win for everybody, male and female. The poster was correct, insurance coverage is not a right. What is a right, is not to work for someone who would deny you essential healthcare coverage. If this bill passes, I would hope that each potential employee would ask what is covered and what is not, before signing that contract. Having your insurance coverage dictated by someone’s religious beliefs and moral convictions harkens back to the Stone Age. People who have never faced the reality of feed the kids or have a mammogram are the ones writing these bills.
     I’m not fighting this bill just for me. I’m fighting for my son and his wife, my potential grandchildren, my friends, and you. I am not anti-male. I am a woman concerned about a government that seems to have lost sight of one important part of the Constitution: The establishment clause is the First Amendment provision that prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing an official religion, or from favoring or disfavoring one view of religion over another. I am also concerned that people, male and female, don’t see the ramifications of such a bill. I have a feeling there is a lot of "Why should I care?" going on out there. I’m reminded of the old quote from WWII:
First they came  for the communists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
     I for one do not want to be that person who didn’t see it coming. Don’t take my word for it. Read the bills being presented around the country. If you don’t see a problem with them, then let them pass. Don’t worry Mr. Poster, when they come for something that does matter to you, I won’t remain silent - if there is anyone left to listen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thank you, Dr. Brown

     Have you ever wanted to thank someone, but you couldn’t? Has someone had an influence on you, helped you see the path, pointed you in the right direction, and they have no idea? I have one of those. I’m sure if I wrote to her, it would be just another fan letter in a pile, but to me it would be a heartfelt thank you. I remember that when I’m reading my own fan mail. I had no idea how my words would change the lives of others. I needed only to remember how Rita Mae Brown changed mine.
     When I came out and started living the life I was meant to, I asked around about Lesbian Fiction books. I was 26 and had some catching up to do. I researched being a lesbian just like any other subject I was interested in. My wife, who had been out for a while, handed me her worn copy of Rubyfruit Jungle. I read it and found myself on most of the pages. It really helped me see things from my new perspective in a positive light. Rita Mae gave me the power of understanding. For that, I will always be grateful, but that isn’t how she changed my life.
     I went to the gay bar with my new girl. I had been before, but as the straight friend. Boy, did it look different from my new perspective. Anyway, I picked up the gay newspaper on the way out of the bar. In the back was an advertisement for Naiad Press and a list of lesbian books. I got busy ordering books. My next lesbian book was Katherine Forrest’s Curious Wine. After that, I read a bunch of lesbian books. Okay, so there were other women out there who grew up like me, came out late like me, and found the love of their lives like me. Good to know.
     In the meantime, I hunted down everything that Rita Mae Brown had written. I read it all, even the ones that didn’t interest me that much. (I haven’t read all the fox hunting books, but some of them.) Finding a copy of In Her Day was difficult, but I finally found it in a used bookstore in Richmond. I fell in love with the Runnymede series, Bingo, Six of One, and Loose Lips. High Hearts is a historical fiction novel and well worth the read. Whenever I drive through Virginia, I can see the cavalry jumping the fence. Rita Mae gave me that. Still, that isn’t why I owe her a thank you.
     I’ve always written. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I just never sat down and completed a full manuscript. After my initial devouring of Lesbian Fiction and Rita Mae’s books, life happened. I was in grad school, raising a toddler, and beginning a new life. Writing and reading outside of schoolwork just didn’t happen. I read maybe one or two books a year for fun. Even after grad school was over and I had a job, I still only read job related things. I was a drama teacher, so my reading was mostly plays or research for those plays. My writing was for the stage also. I wrote a play and it won some awards. That was it, the extent of my reading and writing.
     Then one day, my lovely wife came home with a book she saw while perusing a second hand store. She loves thrift stores. She hands me a copy of Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual, by Rita Mae Brown. It sat on a shelf for a year and then one day I picked it up. My life changed that day. I sat down after reading that book and wrote my first novel in 14 days. Although the book wasn’t what induced me to write the novel, what Rita Mae gave me, again, was the pat on the back and the “you can do it” I felt when I first read Rubyfruit Jungle.
     When I came out, it was not a pretty thing. It was three years of happiness tainted by child custody disputes and other family drama. Had I not read Rubyfruit Jungle, I don’t think I would have handled it as well as I did. I knew I was not weird, or so different from others. I knew I was living my life finally and Rita Mae’s book gave me the strength to get through it all. If Molly Bolt could do what she did, become the person she wanted to be, then I could, too.
     Still, it was Starting from Scratch that had the most impact. Rita Mae lit a fire under me that had been smoldering for some time. My life is completely different now, and I owe Dr. Brown a million thanks for writing that book. I have returned to it many times. My first bad review trauma was washed away with her words. “The first thing I’ve learned is that very often people read their book, not your book. They read as though they were writing the book, and of course they would do things differently. Oftentimes these comments can be irritating but just as often they can be instructive. I am never bored at the variety of responses.” Brown, Rita Mae (2011-05-04). Starting from Scratch (p. 151). Bantam. Kindle Edition. (Yes, I bought it on Kindle too, so I could have it with me all the time.)
     There are many other jewels like that in this book. It’s not only a manual of how to write, but how to handle being a writer. The act of writing the novel is personal; the rest is not. I learned from her how to deal with success and failure. If you’re a writer or want to be, I suggest you read this book. It’s old now, but most of it is still relevant. I hope it does for you what it did for me. I hope you say, “I can do this.”
     So, thank you Dr. Rita Mae Brown. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your novels are some of my most highly valued treasures. Your take charge and full-steam-ahead attitude inspired me. Molly Bolt saved me and gave me courage. Starting from Scratch pushed me over the invisible wall that prevented me from doing what I really wanted. I’m a writer now, Dr. Brown, and I’m living that dream. Thank you, thank you so much.