Free At Last?

Today is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, a federal holiday in the United States.  I’m still amazed I typed that sentence.  Even at the age of 51, I never really thought there would be national holiday for a black man who was neither a president, nor even held political office.  The younger generation seems to take this granted, but I don’t.  I can’t.

When I was growing up, special bulletins were truly special.  When a news program broke into a regularly televised show, it was a big deal and usually portended bad news.  So on a overcast April day in 1968 when a special bulletin suddenly cut into a program to say that Martin Luther King had been shot, my eight year old mind took notice.  I didn’t clearly understand his importance, but I knew it would be news to my parents.  I woke my mother to tell her, and watched her face closely for a reaction.  Her eyes filled with tears. “Well, the finally got him,” she said finally.  My seemingly stalwart mother shocked me.  Who was this man?  Then she learned he’d died and I learned he was a black man, just like I was black girl.  Even my naive self realized a news bulletin about a black man was a Big Deal.  My father came home early.  My parents sat grim and silent, watching riots break out that were somehow connected to this man.  My father occasionally cursed.  People on the news were sad and angry, even the newscaster.  I could tell.  Why would they want to shoot this man, I asked.  Thus began my political awakening.

Although I had been dimly aware of the civil rights movement, I didn’t really understand until MLK’s death. After all, I lived in the supposedly liberal North, not the recently unsegregated South, so my little world was unaffected. I devoured every magazine and newspaper I could find, avidly watched the funeral and every program about him afterwards.  I learned about inequality, injustice and evil in the world and the movement by many through the years to combat it.  I memorized the “I Have A Dream” speech and vowed that if even one person – me, would remember the past with an eye to changing the future, then he would not have died in vain.

Once I was ridiculed for being idealistic and naive but I cling to that vow in the face of cynicism.  Since the election of the country’s first black president, there has been a resurgence of fear and bigotry: covert and overt racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and sexism.  Some are calling it a backlash against political correctness.  I call it national amnesia.  With the passage of time and birth of new generations, there is a sense that history is dead and has nothing to do with present.  This has always been a fallacy.  We build upon the past, and if we don’t learn from it, we are fated to repeat it again until we get it right.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So today there will be tributes to Dr. King and civil rights movement, and congratulations on how far the country has come because people no longer have to fear being hosed down in the street, fire bombed or lynched, and the president is black.  People will act as the civil rights movement is thing of the past.  But it’s important to stop and take notice when somebody says something derogatory about the Muslim neighbor across the street, or the president’s heritage, or women being responsible for their rapes, or the gay man who can’t visit his ailing partner in hospital.  The civil rights movement was about justice and equality.   His work is still alive; it’s just taken on a different form.

Nina Simone performed the following song live a few days after Dr. King’s assassination.  It was used in a moving documentary called King: From Montgomery to Memphis produced in 1969.  Unfortunately, I’ve lost the tape and have been unable to find the actual segment from the film but the following  is close enough.  It makes my heart hurt but says it all.  To really celebrate Dr. King’s life, don’t let his death be in vain.

Nina Simone, Why The King of Love is Dead 0001

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I conclude this tribute with his rousing speech, “I Have A Dream.”

Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream Speech – August 28, 1963

I Have a Dream Speech Martin Luther King’s Address at March on Washington August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.

 

 

On Writing: Part 5 – Prue Batten

This is a six part series on fanfic writing.  Here are parts 123 and 4.  Joining me today is Prue Batten from the lovely and insightful writer’s blog Mesmered’s Blog.  Prue is the author of several novels including The Stumpwork Robe,  The Last Stitch and A Thousand Glass Flowers.

Here’s what she says about herself on her website at pruebatten.com:

Like most writers, I’ve written since I was a child, fiddling around with paper and pens, rather the way an artist does with brush and paints. The scale of the writing increased with my age, to the point where when my children left home, I thought I had the time and space to complete the novel I had always wanted to write.

I live in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the island bunkered down to the south of the Australian continent. Having been born and educated here and despite living in other places, my husband and I moved back about 18 years ago. The island ethos appeals to my own sensibilities – the security, beauty and freedom of living removed from the rest of the world. It makes for a perfect environment in which to write.

We farm a cropping and wool-growing property just outside of Hobart and when time and seasons permit, I load the Jack Russell terriers in the car and head to a little ‘House’ on the coast and write, swim, walk and kayak. The coast is where I’m truly at home. I feel content when I am on the beach or the water – in summer or winter and a deep sense of all that’s right with the world ensues.

I’m university educated with a media and bookish background. The scholarships awarded for an Arts degree and for a postgraduate diploma in librarianship and my later occupation as a journalist were a past history that laid some hefty foundation stones for investigation, an absolute pre-requisite for the craft of writing.

 

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J:   Thanks so much for joining me, Prue. I know you’ve just launched your latest book, A Thousand Glass Flowers.

PB:  It’s lovely of you to have me here. I’m honoured.

J:  This series is about helping new writers like me understand the writing process. Certainly there was a time before you became a published author when you were honing your skills.  How and when did you start writing?  Did you do fan fiction?

PB:  I’ve been writing all my life. I used to love composition at school and later, in Year’s 10, 11 and 12, I always enjoyed any creative writing in the curriculum. In the annual examinations I used to get myself into trouble with time in the English exam as there would always be a creative component and I would lose myself in whatever I was writing.

At University, I used to write prose for fun the way others might write poetry. Then I became a mum and writing disappeared out the window, but came back in when the kids reached later teen years and left me free to follow my own interests.

I never intended to write a novel. Ever. I just thought I’d try one day and ended up writing a fantasy trilogy which I have since thrown away.

Fan fiction was something I dabbled in for fun last year for just a moment but it isn’t something I would do again.

J:   Was writing difficult at first?

PB:  Because I was only writing for myself, it was fun. But when I started to take it seriously, doing a course in creative writing and then editing, some really large hurdles appeared. There is an awful lot to learn, a lot to remember. There are rules which can’t be broken if your novel wants to make sense. I’m still learning.

J:  Were you influenced by other writers?

PB:  Not so much. I read a lot and I often think I should like to write like my favourites, but then it wouldn’t be me, would it? So I look at what people do right and what they do wrong and therein lies the learning curve.

J:   How did you improve as a writer?

PB:  Firstly I joined an online peer review called YouWriteOn.com where you submit pieces for review and gain points by reviewing others’ works. I learned what worked and what didn’t and some of the review is seriously helpful. YWO.com also ultimately became my indie publisher.

I also send every manuscript to a literary consultancy called Cornerstones (www.cornerstones.co.uk) for assessment. It can take up to two years and quite a bit of outlay to come up with an ms that might ultimately be considered commercially viable. The company read the first 50 pages before they commit to working with you… it’s rather like submitting to a publisher/agent and you have to be convincing in that first 50 pages to be considered worthwhile.

J:  Did you have previous training?

PB:  No, but I’m a former librarian and also a former researcher/presenter for radio and TV, so I learned the value of a good fact. That said I honestly believe that no amount of literary qualification makes any difference. It depends on how much you want to write and how much you read. If anything matters, I think it’s whether you have a creative streak or for want of a better word, imagination. One can learn the rules but one needs to be blessed with that unique streak. People can learn the rules of art but that won’t necessarily make them a good artist.

J:   What do readers look for in fantasy/fanfic?

PB:  I confess I don’t know because I’ve only read one piece of fan-fict and have also only written one piece.

J:    What do you feel about writing erotic scenes?  How far would you go in writing such scenes and how do you prepare?

PB:  For myself I don’t write erotic scenes as such. When I wrote the various love-scenes of Gisborne, I wrote what I like to read in a book or see in a movie and believe it or not I asked my husband to help me. I would write it and then read it to him and he would review it… hard!

I dislike flagrant erotica but it might suit others. I like the idea of seeds sewn but then a reader’s imagination coming into play.

How does one prepare? Goodness, the mind boggles!

J:   Would you write fantasy/fanfic again?

PB:  I will always write fantasy. I have at least two more titles in the Chronicles of Eirie to write, making the series a five book series.

Gisborne sits between historical fiction and historical fantasy, and there are two titles in that saga so still a way to go there.

I won’t write fan-fiction again unless it is from a ‘classic’ derivative like Austen and for a very specific purpose. (eg I was one of the 50 writers who wrote an Austenesque novel on Twitter based on Pride and Prejudice and I have been invited to be involved in an entirely new concept, but can’t say anything about it till November)

J:   Would you encourage fantasy/fanfic writing as a starting point?

PB:  I think we might need to define the terms fantasy and fan-fiction from my POV. Fantasy is a specific and absolutely huge genre within the commercial market and inevitably takes place in a parallel world of an author’s own and very unique creation.

I’m sure there are many writers of fan-fict who say it too is a genre with a commercial base, but for me the difference is that the themes generally spring from someone else’s original idea.

It’s always been really important for me to use the wellspring of my own ideas and that is exactly what happened with Gisborne because Gisborne the character has mega-shifted from the Robin Hood Gisborne. Maybe I should change his name…

J:  Do you have any advice for novice fantasy/fanfic writers?

PB:  Advice for writers is always the same: read, read, read and write, write, write.

J:  Thanks so much Prue for joining me 😀

PB:  It’s been an absolute pleasure, Judi, I’m not sure I will have helped anyone make a choice to write, but it would be nice to think so. Thank you so much for asking me.

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NEXT: Final Reflections