Monthly Archives: April 2011

Judy Mays followup

Recently I’ve been devoting Thursdays to writing about something I’m thankful for. Today, it’s the outpouring of support for author Judy Mays, an English teacher for 25 years who was recently “outed” on TV news for writing erotic romance novels.

Watching a cause go viral is an amazing thing. Word spreads fast, people alert their friends, blog posts appear. People take action. In this case, support seemed to grow as quickly as the word got out. Look at all that’s happened in the past 24 hours:

  • Yesterday, the creators of the Judy Mays support page on Facebook hoped to get 100 likes on the first day. As of right now, more than 5,100 people have shown their support by liking the page.
  • WNEP-TV News, which ran the interviews with disgruntled parents, has interviewed local supporters of Mays and will air a follow-up story tonight. According to someone who was there, about 10 people were interviewed.
  • Supportive emails have flooded Judy’s inbox. (According to her Facebook page, she’s reading and answering as many as she can.)
  • Hundreds of people have bought her books—whether or not they normally read her genre.

Although some anger has been directed at the parents who started this and the TV station that aired the story, most of the response I’ve seen has been overwhelmingly positive and focused on supporting Judy Mays as a teacher and an author. It’s been an amazing thing to watch.

ETA: The news station has posted its followup story on its website. This time, they spoke to supporters, including parents and former students.


Support Judy Mays

A television news station in Pennsylvania has broadcast a non-story about a 10th-grade English teacher who, in her spare time, writes erotic romance novels under a pen name.  If you follow any romance authors on Twitter, you’ve probably already heard about this incident, but if not you can view the “report” here.

Apparently some parents found out that Judy Barunich, who’s taught at a small high school in rural Pennsylvania for 25 years, writes racy romance novels as Judy Mays. These appallingly small-minded parents believe that this makes her unfit to teach their children. One of the mothers goes so far to suggest that the teacher might look at her son inappropriately in the classroom—just because she writes romance novels. I’m no lawyer, but that sounded like slander to me.

Mrs. Barunich does not assign these books to her class. She does not have her students write erotica for homework. By all accounts, she’s an excellent and inspiring teacher. So what business is it of anyone what she does outside of school?

There’s not much can be done if local, self-righteous busybodies decide to spread smears through local gossip. But it was grossly irresponsible for WNEP to join in that smear campaign. Seriously, where’s the story here? Writing smexy novels is not illegal. There’s no hint of impropriety in Mrs. Barunich’s professional conduct. The station claims at the end of the story that it tried to contact the teacher for comment, but she didn’t respond. Why should she? Why should she have to justify her second career because of a few dirty-minded parents who wanted their few seconds in front of a TV news camera? So the station ran a hideously slanted story for nothing beyond its titillation value.

News flash for WNEP and the disapproving parents: Teachers have lives outside of school! Often, those lives include sex! Some teachers even go so far in their sex lives as to have children! (To listen to them, you’d think these moms never did anything that smutty themselves. 😛 )

I don’t read much erotic romance, but I’m buying the work of Judy Mays to support her as she deals with this mean-spirited bullying. Here are her author pages at Ellora’s Cave and at Amazon in case you want to do the same. There’s also a Facebook community formed in her support that you can join.  And many people are letting WNEP know what they think of the station’s poor judgment in running this non-story on the WNEP Facebook page. (If you don’t see the messages of support, click Most Recent above the wall posts. You have to like the page to leave a comment.)

The story left me nearly speechless. But here’s one thing I can say: “Go, Judy!”


Thankful Thursday: Readers

I’ve had some good interactions with readers during the past week. I got word of a couple of good reviews, over 70 people entered my Peace, Love, and Murder ebook giveaway on Library Thing,  and several people took the time to let me know they’d enjoyed one of my books.

This got me to thinking about what an amazing thing it is that people read my stories. When I started writing seriously about eight years ago, it was with the hope—but not the expectation—that  some day people would read what I wrote. It’s such a gift when someone enters a story world I’ve created, giving it their attention and time, adding their imagination to what I’ve written in an act of co-creation. Today I just wanted to say I’m thankful for that.

About those reviews: On Thrills, Chills, and Romance, J.R. Turner wrote, ”
I loved Deadtown and now Hellforged has found a spot on my keeper shelf! I hope they make it to your bookshelf, too!”

And the ebook edition of Peace, Love, and Murder has received its first review: 5 stars from Good Book Alert! “I highly recommend Peace, Love and Murder whether you like great characters, a well-thought out plot or fast paced adventure. This is the book for you.”

It’s always a lift to get a good review. But I truly appreciate everyone who’s given my books a chance. Thank you.


Starting a new project

I’ve been working on a couple of new projects lately, including Deadtown #4 and a side project that invaded my brain one day—and the only way I can get it out seems to be through my fingers and onto the page. 🙂

Starting a new project is hard. It’s one of the times when that inner editorial voice shouts the loudest, just when the new project is most fragile. That editorial voice is indispensable in later phases—but not at the very beginning. To go with a spring analogy, it’s kind of like yelling at a shoot that’s struggling to emerge: “YOU CALL YOURSELF A FLOWER? WHERE’S THE BLOOM? YOU’RE HARDLY EVEN GREEN! YOU’RE JUST A THIN, PALE, SICKLY STRAND OF NOTHING!”

Or, to use another analogy, it feels a bit like this old Monty Python radio sketch on novel writing as a spectator sport. (Thanks to K.A. Laity for the link.)

When I start, I’m aware of everything that a beginning has to do: grab readers’ attention, introduce the characters, set the tone, provide an entry into the novel’s world, and draw the reader into the story. The writer has to accomplish this as quickly as possible, and without confusing the reader, because we know we have only a few sentences to convince someone to read on.

That’s a lot of pressure. And tons of pressure is exactly what you don’t want weighing you down at the start of a project. That kind of pressure can lead to endless procrastination: tweaking the outline a bit more, doing a little more research, writing pages of notes and ideas instead of scenes.

But a story unfolds only in the telling. So at some point you have to figure out how to get past the internal voices and worries and just start.

Here’s how I do that: I don’t try to start at the beginning. I look for the scene I can write, and then I write it.

That scene doesn’t have to be the opening. In fact, at this point I can just about guarantee that it won’t be the opening. In all of my novels but one so far, I’ve had to go back in the second draft (or later) and completely rethink/rewrite the opening scene. So I look at my outline and see where it feels like I can get a toehold into a scene, and start there.

When I used to teach academic writing, I always advised students to write an essay’s introduction last. Why? Because when you sit down to craft your argument, you don’t yet know what you’re introducing. Once you’ve got a draft of the argument, you can figure out the best way to introduce it. Writing the intro last also makes it easier to link the intro and the conclusion, which creates a satisfying sense of closure.

The same reasons apply to fiction. I can best figure out how to invite the reader into a story once I’ve got the story drafted. And a story really feels like it’s come full circle if there’s a connection between the beginning and the ending. Once I know where the story ends up (I do outline, but that doesn’t mean the story sticks to my initial ideas), it’s much easier to craft a beginning that points there.


Thankful Thursday: Spring comes to central NY

At Oasis for YA, the suggested topic for this week’s “Thankful for Thursday” post is spring break. I live in a college town—we’ve got two colleges and enough students to double the local population during the academic year—so spring break is always a welcome breather when everything slows down. Students are great. They energize the town and bring in speakers and concerts that otherwise wouldn’t find their way here. This place wouldn’t be half as interesting or as thriving without them. But sometimes it’s also nice to leave the town to us townies for a bit. 🙂

But I want to write about a different kind of spring break—that moment when you know winter is over and even if the temperature drops again or we get some more snow, it’s irrevocably spring. The moment when spring breaks.

Where I live, that moment came this past weekend.  Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the low 60s. The flowers that had been waiting to emerge (for several days, they’d remained tightly budded in self-defense against the cold) burst into bloom—daffodils especially, but also hyacinths, forsythia, crocuses, and a whole lot more whose names I don’t know. My husband and I spontaneously decided to celebrate by sitting on the front porch, having strawberries and a glass of champagne. We made a toast to spring. We ate plump, sweet, juicy strawberries that tasted like the season we were celebrating. And we had a chance to talk—not concerns about work or the everyday annoyances we tend to report to each other, but fun things. Shared memories. Plans we’d like to pursue. We laughed a lot. I felt more relaxed and in-the-moment than I had in a long time.

I’m a four-seasons kind of person. I enjoy winter: one of my favorite things is taking a walk in the snow. But there’s something about spring—the soft air, scented with flowers and the stirring earth; the birds singing; the burst of activity in nature after a long, quiet time—that makes me hopeful and forward-looking. Taking the time to notice and appreciate the breaking of spring was a wonderful way to fill the well and renew myself.


Are you on Library Thing?

I recently joined Library Thing (as in yesterday) and am waiting to be confirmed there as an author. So far, I’ve added only about 70 books from the thousands and thousands of books in my personal library. It’s kind of interesting to notice which books come to mind first: I jumped from Beowulf, Chaucer, and the Mabinogi to Ilona Andrews and Devon Monk. 🙂 I also added a bunch of books from fellow DCS authors and some of my favorite literary authors, including D.H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch, Ann Patchett, Paul Auster, and Ian McEwan. With such an eclectic collection, it’s interesting to see the libraries I overlap with.

But that’s not the topic of this post. I just wanted to spread the word that I’m giving away up to 20 copies of the new ebook edition of Peace, Love, and Murder as a Library Thing Member Giveaway. So if you’d like to win a copy (you don’t even need an ebook reader), sign into Library Thing and request my mystery.

And in a week or so, I’ll do another Library Thing giveaway, this time for signed copies of Hellforged. Stay tuned!

 


Customer service?

This morning, I called the local branch of a big box store to see if they had an item in stock. At least, that’s what I thought I did. I looked up the branch, confirmed the address, and dialed a local number. Got a phone menu. That’s to be expected, but I’m old enough to feel nostalgic for the days when an actual person would pick up the phone.

I listened to the menu options. Nope, I didn’t need to hear the store hours. Nope, I didn’t need directions. Speak to an associate? Yes, please. I pressed 3.

Which, of course, took me to the next level of the phone menu. When I heard, “To speak to an associate about pricing and availability,” I pressed the number.

Only to be assured that my call is very important to the company, which, as everyone knows, is phone-menu-speak for, “Prepare to be put on hold for an indefinite period of time.” My call may be very important to them (hah), but my time apparently isn’t worth a nickel.

I was treated to some music that sounded like the neighbor’s kid practicing guitar chords through a too-thin wall. It was almost a relief to hear the periodic ads. (Why do companies think it’s a good idea to play ads to someone who’s on hold? I already know about your company. I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t.)

After about five or six minutes of holding the phone away from my ear—far enough that the muffled chord-strumming and chirpy ads wouldn’t drill a hole in my brain but close enough that I could tell if an actual human came on the line—I heard a new voice. Another recording. Again, it asked me to press a number to check on pricing and availability.

I thought this was a little odd, since I’d already done that, but I pressed the number again. The recording promptly told me I was being “transferred to a nearby store.” Um, I thought I’d called a nearby store—dialing a local number and all that. But the store I called wasn’t the store I got. Instead of the store two miles from my house, my call got transferred to a different store 30 miles away. A branch that couldn’t tell me a damn thing about “pricing and availability” at the store where I actually wanted to shop.

So I call a local number, get transferred to an automated call center that’s who-knows-where, and then finally get to speak to a person 30 miles away who can’t answer my question. On second thought, maybe I don’t need the item I was calling about. Or maybe I can find it at a local store that’s actually, you know, local.


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