Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day--More Personal Than You Might Think

In all the years of this blog, I've never posted about Memorial Day, which is rather strange looking back on it. Memorial Day is a holiday that touches most Americans peripherally--first barbecue, first day the pool's open, first day of summer. But I grew up in a military town, in a family with strong military roots. Memorial Day has always meant a little more to me. After all, growing up in Clarksville, TN which is the host city for Ft. Campbell, KY (home of the famed 101st Airborne and the 502nd Special Forces when I was growing up) makes Memorial Day more important.

Soldiers were a part of my everyday life. You can't go anywhere in Clarksville without running into the military--a fact the community has embraced and takes pride in. So, the cemeteries in my hometown are full of military graves--some of those graves hold members of my family. My father is a veteran, as is his. Many of my uncles were career military, officers and gentlemen all. And many of my friends joined, served, and died under the American flag.

But I've never posted a blog about Memorial Day, because it's always seemed just way too personal. 

When I was a young woman living in Clarksville, I remember when the 101st was mobilized to head over to Iraq. Like many citizens in Clarksville, I knew hours before the news broke. I went to Krogers to pick up either baby formula or beer--funny how those two are linked inextricably in my mind. At any rate, I walked into the store with my friend, and I remember stopping dead in my tracks. 

There was one teller line open, and there was a line of men waiting to be checked out that ran all the way to the back of the store and curved around the meat department to the dairy. Those men were patient, juggling baskets with things like gum, cookies, chips, snack mix, stationery, stamps--yes, so long ago people still wrote letters--and every single man was freshly shaved. 

I stopped and looked at my friend and said quietly, "The US is about to declare war." 

She was a fellow student of mine on the debate team at APSU from East Tennessee, and she looked puzzled. "What makes you say that?" 

I pointed at the line and said, "Because these are the guys that get deployed first. They're shipping out tonight."

She thought I was crazy.

Two days later, the entire base at Ft. Campbell was sealed up pretty damn tight, complete with razor wire and barricades at the entrances. And aside from a few token units, it was completely empty.

A week later, Clarksville was literally a ghost town. Thousands of businesses went under, dependent as they were on the military trade. Traffic was suddenly non-important. Thousands of women returned home to their families. And everyone in town was suddenly doing the same thing.


I've traced my family genealogy over the past year or so, and my line of descent includes veterans of every American war--including a Colonel in the Revolution, and a General in the French and Indian War. Military cemeteries in Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee have gravestones with my family name on them--men who have served their country and instilled in their descendants a true love of country. My daughters' grandfathers on both sides are military veterans, as is their step-grandfather, my husband's dad, who served in a particularly brutal capacity during the Vietnam War--something he rarely talks about.

And now my son-in-law is also a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient from the war in Afghanistan. My daughter lived with me while he was deployed--a year and a half of worry for him, sorrow that he was missing his daughter growing from infant to toddler, and sacrifice on her part. Now he's home, dealing with the aftereffects of his service, and sometimes I wonder when I look at his beautiful, intelligent six-and-a half-year-old daughter or the rampaging all-boy two-year-old twins if one day I'll worry about them as they carry on the family traditions of service to our country.

But Memorial Day isn't about veterans. It's about those who don't get the chance to become veterans--the heroes of our country. And when I think about those soldiers, the list gets long and sad. 

I remember the young lieutenant who was a regular at the little bar where I hung out in college, and how he ran a black market canteen while he served in Iraq--and how the last supply package I sent him arrived a day too late. 

I remember the always-courteous master sergeant who came to my dad's store every Saturday just to glean knowledge from the farmers who clustered around the desk, and how many of those farmers were in the long line of cars that drove back to Sarge's farm after his internment. 

I remember the long, lanky 18-year-old private whose guts I thought I hated, only to have him killed seven years later after we'd become friends. 

I remember the second lieutenant fresh out to his command who I'd jokingly called cannon fodder--only to find my words had been oddly prescient six months later. 

I remember the tears on the face of a childhood friend as her three-year-old daughter wept into her father's triangular-shaped flag. 

I remember a line of stair-stepped kids from fifteen to two, doing their best to emulate their father's well-known stern demeanor as their grandfather pulled his daughter off a flag-draped coffin. 

I remember a line of coffins in a row, placed with military precision on a brutally cold afternoon, while an honor guard added another to the line. Two weeks before Christmas.

I remember the day Ronald Reagan came to Ft. Campbell to deliver an address at the memorial service for 248 servicemen who died on December 12 of 1985 after an air crash in Gander, Newfoundland. The day was December 16. It was unnaturally, bitterly cold. I was a smartass college freshman, sent to cover the event for the newspaper. I was struck particularly how all thoughts of security for the President dissolved as he lingered with the families of the dead, and how human he seemed as he embraced them all and wept with them.

ALL of them.

Sometimes a President transcends his office. This was one of those moments.


Only if you were there and witnessed how Reagan interacted with the survivors of the soldiers who'd died in that horrible, strange plane crash can you possibly understand why to Clarksville natives, there is a genuine feeling of love and respect for this most sympathetic of Presidents.

Then as now, Presidents were on a tight, tight schedule, and when Reagan saw how many families were there, and how many children, he basically told his staff to go to hell and remained there until the very last mourner had known the touch of his hand, the warmth of his embrace, and the genuine sharing of his grief and his tears.

I am a cynical, liberal analyst of behaviors--as any writer must be. And even to this day, when I remember how much of himself Reagan gave to the survivors of those servicemen lost, I tear up. He won more than my vote that day.

He understood, and respected, what those families had given to their country. Their best.

The Gander Memorial in Ft. Campbell, surrounded by the 248 trees that represent the servicemen lost as they returned from a peacekeeping mission in Sinai, Egypt. Their Air Arrow Flight home crashed in Gander, Newfoundland for reasons that are still a mystery to this day.
Many career soldiers stay in Clarksville after they retire. I think every retired soldier in the community showed up that day to honor the Gander crash victims. It's incredible to remember seeing the old, old men in their veteran regalia saluting as the President entered. World War II. Korea. Vietnam. Even a few World War I vets. They saluted the commander-in-chief, and even those old men who'd needed walkers or assistance to get there stood straight and proud as they saluted, and while their faces might have been wet their backs were unbowed and their legs didn't tremble. Their brothers who couldn't stand up saluted too, and they were a somber counterpart, a reminder to us all of the aftermath of war. There's a certain posture military men get, a crisp snap to attention that never fades, regardless of age. That day was the first day I encountered the permanence military training instills--a reflex that persists no matter how the strength fades. Even men of 80 suddenly stand like they're 20 when an officer walks by. That day, the posture was heralded by tears. It was a particular kind of pride and grief that impacted me so much that echoes of it resonate in my writing now. 

Even to this day, I drive past the Gander Memorial every time I go home. The memorial is a lovely place, the 248-sugar maple tree grove that was begun when a Canadian girl upon hearing of the crash decided to donate her babysitting money to plant a tree for each soldier lost. That memorial is a vital heart in my childhood community--originated by the generosity of a girl who cried when she learned those men weren't making it home for Christmas after all.

I remember the first time I saw Arlington Cemetery, with its plain white stones marking tens of thousands of Americans dead in all our wars--especially the Civil War stones placed right up against the gracious house that seemed so out of place, until I learned that the land had once been General Robert E. Lee's, and regardless of who won the Civil War the North was making certain he would never be able to return to his home. 

And I remember going to my mom's grave in the first week of June, and upon seeing the hundreds of small flags coursing through the rows of the cemetery that emphasized Clarksville's connection with the American military, I felt a surge of pride. And while my mother wasn't a soldier, I remember thinking that since she'd been a child in Nazi-occupied France and had witnessed the execution of her father, perhaps she just might deserve a little flag too.

Every American family tree has branches upon it that are cut out, short, burned from the family trunk with fire and blood and death. Mine is not abnormally laden with those tragic broken limbs. But the roots of every American family bear those little American flags. Sometimes the number of stars is different. Sometimes, those flags change to a Confederate flag for a few years, but once those roots reach the tree they are all, at their core, American. 

That's what Memorial Day is about. Not the broken limbs, but the roots. And as we all know, without the roots any tree will wither.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why Reviewing Books You Enjoy Is So Important

Being an author is difficult--at any level. Few writers--usually only the big names--are provided marketing by their publishers. Even writers who are signed by the Big Six publishers don't get marketing support. For the small press or self-published writer, any promotions have to be undertaken by the author. 

Some have the finances to buy a marketing company. But those don't always work. When I was at Musa, we hired a marketing firm for a big name author--a NYT Bestselling, Nebula award-winning, made famous by a blockbuster movie author. We invested thousands of dollars in marketing his book, which was a sequel to the book that had made him famous in the first place. 

Didn't pay off. It was like pouring that money down a black hole. And this was a reputable marketing company, one that had a portfolio of success stories longer than the list of books I've edited. 

So what drives book sales for a small-press or self-published author? Reviews. Not just the professional reviews of critics, but the customer reviews on Amazon and other retail sites. Some authors manipulate the reviews by creating sockpuppet accounts and getting friends to do the same. But most--like me--prefer to do things the right way. 

One of the right ways is to do what I did last month. I offered the first book of the series for free for a week upon release. I don't do things like that because I'm a kind person. I do that because I am hoping for reviews. Literally thousands of people downloaded my book for free--enough to catapult it into the top 25 for the genre. And out of those thousands of people, only two have so far left reviews. 


Not a great percentage. 

I posed this question on my Facebook page today, and a good friend of mine commented that he'd grown up when only professionals did book reviews, so he didn't feel qualified. And I thought for several hours on what he'd said. 

I'm an editor. I've left reviews on books many times. And I strive to make those reviews both unbiased and constructive, especially for self-published authors who may not be getting the kind of feedback they need. For example, my Amazon customer review on KM Shea's book Queen of Ice. This young writer has a lot of talent, but her book suffered with issues a strong editor would be able to correct. And so, that's what I told her--not to be a bitch, but to let her know what she needed to do to make her writing career even better. 

But I am an editor. This review is the kind of thing I'd normally include in an editorial letter to an author I am working with--an email that has attached a red-inked document with hundreds of comments and corrections. 

So maybe...just maybe, Ed has a valid point. Maybe, to many readers, writing a review is intimidating. 

See--here's the thing. Not every review needs to be an editorial critique of an author's work. Amazon gives you options--and even if you just RATE a book on their one-to-five star scale, that helps. Because the more ratings a book has, then the higher it's going to show up on the "Avg Customer Review" filter on the sales page, and that's HUGE. For example, today's Fantasy sales page based upon Average Customer Review. Obviously, the more 5 star ratings a book gets, the higher it's going to be on the page. And while the top of the page is predictably JK Rowling, Tolkien, and Diana Gabaldon, look at the bottom of the page. 221 reviews. 191. 106...

These authors are showing up on the same sales page as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Outlander. 

That's where ANY writer wants to be--needs to be in order to generate sales. Look at the second page. By page ten, the bottom book has 18 reviews--all 5 stars. 

Not many customers are going to cruise past page ten. 

Take a look now at the reviews for that last book on page ten. The top review reads as follows

Excellent story with twists and turns you don't see coming. It is hard to put the book down, because you want to see what is going to happen next and how the story ends! Looking forward to buying a hard copy and will be reading this one again!

Here's my point--you don't have to write a huge review, although there's a lot of benefits another reader can get from your extensive and detailed review. You can write a THREE SENTENCE review like this reader did, explaining what you liked about the story and give that author as much benefit as one of my 2000 word critiques. 

And if you really love a book, then help that author out by posting your feelings as a review. You have no idea how much your review is needed by the author, and how many other people will read your words and think, "Hey, maybe I should try this out." 

So review the books you read--on Amazon, or Goodreads, or wherever. Because when you do, somewhere, an author gets her wings. 

You know what I mean.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sexual Assaults and College Campuses--Not Just An Athlete Problem

All right--let's start off with a healthy dose of reality here and clear the college football issues out of the way. 

I do not care which school it is. I'm not 'anti-Baylor'. The university I am loyal to with athletics is also under an investigation and has been sued under Title IX for 'creating a culture that promotes rape'. If during the course of that investigation the University of Tennessee is found to have created that alleged culture, my narrative in this blog will not change one iota and I will DEMAND that any UT official that participated in or colluded with the deliberate protection of star athletes, the shaming and ignoring of victims, and selling their souls to win football games like Baylor obviously has, should be IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED and subject to criminal prosecution to the fullest extant of the law. 


And if that loses me some followers from Vol Nation, that's just fine by me. You can read the Pepper-Hamilton report about the Baylor situation here.

However, all that being said, the allegations involving sexual violence and college athletes isn't the problem. It's just a symptom of the problem, which extends far beyond the athletic department and touches every single university campus in the United States. 

College campuses are a happy hunting ground for sexual predators, and overall universities are at the very least dilatory and frequently delinquent in working to solve this problem. According to the US Department of Education in 2015 (Huffington Post, July 25, 2015):

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating 124 colleges and universities and 40 elementary and secondary schools over how they have handled sexual assault among students. 
As of July 22, the federal agency was conducting 140 investigations at 124 higher education institutions for possible violations of Title IX in their handling of sexual assault, according to information the Education Department provided to The Huffington Post. Meanwhile, 41 similar investigations are taking place at 40 local K-12 schools and school districts. 

And then from Know Your Title IX, an informational website educating students about on-campus sexual violence, this litany of disturbing statistics on gender violence:

Approximately 19% of women will be sexually assaulted during their time at college. (Study published in 2007) 
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s campus climate survey (which measures prevalence of and attitudes toward gender-based violence) found that 17% of female students had been assaulted while enrolled. (2014)
But that's not all:
5-6% of men will experience sexual assault during college.[1]  (2014 and 2007)
90% of campus sexual assaults are committed by perpetrators that the survivor knows.  (2000)
84% of female survivors report being sexually assaulted during their first four semesters on campus. (2007)
The majority of undetected college rapists are likely serial perpetrators, committing an average of 6 rapes each. (2002)
13% of women report being stalked during their time in college.
80% of survivors of stalking know the person who victimized them.  (2000)
43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, technology-facilitated, verbal or other forms of controlling abuse. (2011)
More than 57% of college students who report experiencing dating violence report experiencing it while in college. (2011)

And let's be real here--these are older numbers. The most recent numbers are even more disturbing. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports this for 2015:

One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college   
More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault 
63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes 

Those last two figures are the ones I want to concentrate on for the moment.

NINETY PERCENT of victims DO NOT REPORT THEIR ASSAULT. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Law Enforcement Agency Report reported in 2015 some reasons for this issue:

Of those victims who have called the cops, 2 in 3 were afraid to call the police in the future.
Only 1 in 5 victims actually felt safer after calling the police, and 1 in 3 victims felt less safe.
Of victims who have called the cops, nearly half felt police discriminated against them.
Of victims who have called the cops, 1 in 4 report being arrested or threatened with arrest. 

And for the idiots who called in to the Paul Finebaum Show this week talking about "how many times the alleged victims made false reports of sexual violence" ponder on this False Allegations of Rape Study that provides analysis of ten years worth of reported rape cases at an American university for a moment:

Of the 136 cases of sexual assault 8 (5.9%) were coded as false reports, 61 (44.9%) did not proceed to any prosecution or disciplinary action, 48 (35.3%) were referred for prosecution or disciplinary action, and 19 (13.9%) contained insufficient information to be coded (see Table 2). It should be noted that in no case did the research team “override” the classification of a false report made by the police department. The eight cases that were described as false reports by the police investigators were also categorized that way by the coders.
 So yeah, you moron with the 'false allegation' and 'cleat-chasers' comments. You are reading that correctly. 5.9%. Some additional data:

Let me be perfectly plain here. Yes, what happened at Baylor is absolutely atrocious and unconscionable. But that's not the entirety of the problem. Like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, 90% of the problem is hidden from view.

We have held a societal ideology for--well, pretty much EVER--that blames the VICTIM of sexual assault rather than the PERPETRATOR, an ideology that is borne out in the modern day by victims who are unwilling to expose themselves to the 'she was asking for it' tactics used still by some defense attorneys, the indifference (or in Baylor's case, collusion) of law enforcement to assist victims and protect then during the investigation of sexual crimes, and the mythology that women falsely accuse their attackers in order to cover something up or retaliate against someone.

THAT is the problem with sexual assaults on college campuses, and it is universal. And while Baylor is dominating the headlines, schools with the same issues and no ostensible athletic department involvement are dealing with the same issues and are NOT getting the same media attention. If we're just talking about Title IX complaints, then we need to consider athletic departments more specifically:

But again--Title IX does not equate the REAL problem, which is sexual violence on college campuses. It is just a symptom, like athletes as alleged perpetrators is legitimately represents just a fraction of sexually violent offenders at US colleges. And even though Baylor is scrambling to preserve itself with a rash of firings and 'reassignments', I have to ask--what are they doing to resolve the issue they share with every other college in the country?

What steps are Baylor or Tennessee or 124 other institutions taking to end sexual violence on their campuses?

That's the question that we, as students, parents, educators, and taxpayers need to be asking--MUST ask if we're going to really take a stand on sexual assault. We must DEMAND that law enforcement actively investigate EVERY sexual assault equally, without consideration for the power a university wields in the community. And we must broaden the scope of our inquiries to the universities even where the athletic department is not the focus of these claims.

And you, as an individual, need to check this list. See if your university, alma mater, or a state school your tax dollars fund is on this list--a list I would normally never post on a blog because of its length. If your school is on this list, then you must pursue the truth in these claims as strenuously as possible, because it's your duty, my duty, our duty to make certain that we do.

As I said. Normally wouldn't post a list this big, but this list MUST be posted because it demonstrates the scope of the problem much better than I could. So I have to ask you--how many schools are on this list that you are associated with?

Time to ask some questions, my friends.

Does this school enable athletes to be protected from criminal allegations?
Does this school actively investigate sexual assault?
Does this school assist victims of sexual assault to the fullest extent?
Does this school cooperate with law enforcement?
Does law enforcement engage in collusion on the university's behalf?
Does this school have a support system in place to assist victims of sexual crimes?
Does this school immediately protect victims from their alleged attackers?
Does this school devote time, personnel, and money into protecting its students?
Does this school actively educate its students regarding sexual assault?'

There are a lot more questions you should ask. These will do for a start. It's my opinion that no matter what university you ask, not all of these questions will be answered to your satisfaction.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Little Controversy Over Intolerance--Stop Acting like Idiots Please

Author's note--if you are strongly anti-gay, anti-cursing, or anti-common sense, stop reading now.

You know--I try and try to keep politics off this blog. I really do. I talk about writing and my books and football and old legends about paranormal events and asshattery (lately at least). Got into a bit of a discussion last week on the uses of the First Amendment and the doctrine of free speech. 

But today, I'm throwing caution to the wind. It's time to speak out frankly about prejudice and bigotry in America and how that's negatively impacting our political system which is, frankly, broken. This presidential election is a good example of how broken it is. 

Over the past few years, I've noticed a disturbing trend. There's a growing surge of intolerance in our country--bigotry is being fueled by political opportunists and boy, have they found a surprisingly fertile ground to operate upon. I never thought that the issues of race, gender, and orientation would still be such pressing problems in the 21st century. But I think this election has proved my expectations wholly off-base. 

For example--this whole specious debate about transgendered persons using the bathroom. Are you kidding me? Here's what bigots want you to believe--transgendered individuals are now stalking public restrooms so they can attack and rape other people in the bathroom. 

Let's break that down logically. A transgendered male who self-identifies as a WOMAN is hanging out in the WOMEN'S bathroom to attack/assault/rape a WOMAN even though that transgendered male is attracted to MEN.

So a transgendered person went through all the bother of reassigning as a female so that she could rape women even though she physically cannot.

Okay. Riiiiiiiiiiiiight. 

Now to me the logical issue for a homophobic idiot to obsess over would be the opposite--meaning that transgendered people who identify as FEMALE are using the MALE bathrooms because of a stupid law in North Carolina, and now are urinating in the same space as the gender they are physically attracted to. But no--and this proves how ignorant these idiots really are. These homophobic men don't seem to be smart enough to put THAT together--no. 

Let's get something straight here. There have been exactly ZERO cases of transgendered people perpetrating assaults in bathrooms. Don't believe me? Let's go through a couple of definitions first. 

A transgendered person is someone whose gender identity doesn't correlate with their gender assignment at birth. 

A transvestite is a person whose gender identity correlates with their gender assignment at birth but who assumes the dress and manner of the opposite sex.  Transvestites are usually male, since women already wear pants, cut their hair short, etc. 

A faux transvestite is a person who assumes the dress of the opposite sex for the purpose of gaining access to potential victims. And that's who the legislators claim the law is really about--in order to catch sexual predators who pretend to be transgendered, they're going to discriminate against ALL the transgendered people.

That's like saying that in order to prevent a white male from becoming a serial killer--which most serial killers ARE white males--all white males will be forbidden to purchase, own, or carry firearms of any kind.

Yeah, that law will pass. It's a safety measure, right? Whatever. 

Transgendered males who identify as women aren't going to head into the women's bathroom to find someone to rape. To put it crudely--women don't turn them on. They literally can't get it up for a chick. Need I be plainer? I worked as a singer in multiple gay venues for years, and dressed in the same dressing room with drag queens--some were transgendered, some were just gay males entertainers. Trust me--they weren't interested in anything about me aside from borrowing my shoes. All the female impersonators were gay men--interested only in other gay men.They aren't wired to get it up for a girl. In fact, I think most straight men would be surprised at how few gay men are attracted to them.

Gaydar isn't a myth, girl. *snap*

And someone who is truly transgendered and can afford to go through the hormonal and physical upheaval involved in a sex change operation absolutely isn't going to risk all that trying to grope some random woman in a bathroom. In fact, the opposite is more likely, as you can see in this from ABC:

The lawmakers’ justification does not take into account that men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment in public bathrooms and changing rooms. Transgender men who have had to use female restrooms due to such laws “experience a ton of violence in women’s restroom and are told they don’t belong there,” Strangio said. “It usually leads to people not using the bathroom.” 
Palumbo said she believes people “must understand the facts about sexual assault,” adding that in 8 out of 10 cases the victim already knows the person who sexually assaulted them, citing Justice Department statistics. However, 64 percent of transgender people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, she said, citing a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality.

And this from USA Today:

 A study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that when people are denied access to a school bathroom for being trans, they are more likely to attempt suicide. A paper by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that in Washington, D.C., 70% of trans survey respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. 

The sad fact of the matter is that transgender bathroom laws are designed not only to create a fear that's wholly unjustified, but is forcing the actual victims of bathroom assaults into situation where they will be more easily targeted, harassed, assaulted, and injured. A national survey by GLSEN determined that "75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who are able to persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education. 

A study by the Journal of Homosexuality determined that in a study of 2,325 transgendered persons that 46.5% had attempted suicide. Almost half.

Those who had been denied access to gender appropriate campus housing due to being trans* are 1.54 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had not been denied housing, controlling for the “not applicable” respondents. Interpersonal victimization by students in college or graduate school is a statistically significant predictor of suicide attempt: those who had experienced harassment, bullying, physical attack, or sexual assault from other students are 1.36 times as likely to have attempted suicide at some point in time compared to those who had not experienced such victimization in college.
 On top of that, the US Department of Education has determined that these types of laws are, in fact, in violation of the law themselves. 

With such evidence mounting, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has increasingly found that refusing trans students access to their gender's facilities is an instance of "sex discrimination." In December 2014, the DOE announced that gender identity is protected under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
Here's the thing--the National Center for Gender Equality estimates that less than 1% of American citizens are transgender.  And absolutely not one single rape or assault was committed by a transgendered perpetrator in the US in the last thirty-five years and only one in Canada. For some perspective, take a look at 2014 statistics.

For sake of context, the FBI reports that over 84,000 rapes were reported in 2014 alone, none of which exploited gender identity inclusive NDOs to commit sexual assault. To put the relative risk of people misusing NDOs in perspective another way statistically, five Americans have been shot by dogs in the past five years. Similarly, 450 people per year in the US are killed by falling out of bed.

So here's the deal, because the facts don't lie. The transgendered laws that multiple states are attempting to pass are the result of an extremist faction on the far right creating an imaginary threat--not as a preventative measure against violent crimes--since there's not one single incident in 35 years that falls under the criteria of this bill--but to drive people to the polls this November to vote for their party. The entire hysteria is nothing but smoke and mirrors, some glitter and pink spray paint added to disguise a big pile of horseshit. The laws are unenforceable unless you have a government official posted in every public restroom to conduct a genitalia check. The laws will drive the actual victims of violent crimes and assaults in bathrooms into a situations designed to victimize them more.

And at its core, this is an effort to deny 1% of American citizens the protection of the law which should apply to all of us equally.

Wasn't too long ago when we had segregated bathrooms--one set for the whites and one for the blacks. (Their lingo, not mine, and I cannot bring myself to use the word 'colored')  And segregated schools, restaurants, sections of buses or other public transportation. The justification for those laws was much the same as what we're seeing here--fear-mongering so that bigotry could be reinforced by the ballot box, and a legislative dehumanization of a portion of our citizenry that leads to hate crimes, increased harassment, suicides, and violence. At the root is a tiny fragment of the far right who don't have the ability to interpret the Bible they purport to be following and are using their absolute ignorance to force this nation to revert to a prejudicial environment that should have died in the 1960's.

It doesn't matter if you don't like the LGBT community or disapprove of homosexuality and all its designations. In the end, this is a civil rights issue, perpetrated by politicians who instead of trying to ensure our laws are applied equally to all American citizens are instead using government at the state or local level to circumvent the Constitution and the ideology that states "all men are created equal".

It's disgustingly transparent for anyone who cares to actually look, but the people who really NEED to look are refusing to do so. Instead they're hopping on the bigotry train without stopping to think about how quickly that train will be going so fast it derails.

And it will.

I am of the generation that grew up after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am of the generation that first attended desegregated schools--and never realized how new and dangerous our elders might have thought that to be. I am of the generation the first came to adulthood without seeing any difference in people whose skin was a different color, who drank out of the same water fountains, sat in the same classes or the front of the bus or the same restaurants with friends of all races, all religions, all creeds, all political affiliations, all genders, all orientations--and laughed in the faces of old people who looked disapproving. I am of the generation that came face to face with the horror of AIDS, who protested for governmental assistance to its victims, who fought against the surge of fear created by ignorance, who spoke up against the idea that the 'gay cancer' was some kind of moral judgement, who held the hands of the dying and comforted the sick and educated the healthy. I am of the generation that saw the glass ceiling for women begin to shatter--in all professions.

I am of the generation that should have been the absolution of American's bigoted history. I am of the generation that saw straight, white, educated, vocal men and women stand up for not only their rights, but the rights of others as well. I am of the generation that should have stomped this prejudice into the dust. I am of the generation that when our families said "it's us or them" chose them and never looked back. I am of the generation that watched as African-American and gay culture gained status and popularity among the 'majority'--the straight, white, well-to-do kids who listened to rap and danced at gay bars.

I am of the generation that must band together now to protect the rights, dignity, and lives of our brothers and sisters--and it doesn't matter a tinker's damn what gender they were on their birth certificates.

I am of the generation that will stand up and protest egregious violations of American civil rights especially when generated by our own government.

The real question is--are you?

Friday, May 20, 2016

First Excerpt up from The Redemption of Asphodel!

The second book in The Asphodel Cycle, The Redemption of Asphodel, will be available for pre-order on May 30 on Amazon, and will go on sale June 6. Check out my website and Amazon author's page for more details!

Chapter One (partial)

Two hours later, I joined the men in the library, freshly clad in a warm, loose woolen gown and with my damp hair hanging down my back. As I walked in, Mariol saluted me with his glass. “Today was beautifully done, Tamsen.”
“I don’t see what was so beautiful about it,” I said irritably. “I got stuck in the middle of this entire mess, which is precisely where I didn’t want to be.”
“I think that at this point, you need to be right in the middle of it,” Mariol corrected me. “You don’t need to be some center of activity away from the Court now. Let’s keep you as the mediator and above the messy politics. That will serve us better in the long run.”
I gave him a steady look. “Mariol, if I were away from the Court, the last thing I would be is a center of activity. I need to rest, as you well know, and this will not help matters much. We can’t afford for me to collapse, especially since we have no idea where Spesialle is or what he’s planning.”
“Is your health still that bad?” Mylan asked with a frown.
I sighed, toying with the glass of wine Anner had handed me. “Magic takes a great deal of strength. Even when doing normal magic, it takes days for a mage to recover from a huge output of power. The weakness caused by the greater magics is debilitating, which is why you don’t have people blasting their way magically through the kingdom. Do you follow me so far?”
After he nodded, I continued. “During the battle of Asphodel, I performed a magical act that should have killed me. The control of the weather is a power that is normally beyond mortal ability, except for me apparently. In order to accomplish something as immense as a cyclone, I had to borrow power from somewhere. In the attempt to control what I’d borrowed, I destroyed a great deal of my strength. To this day, I have not regained it entirely. The—” I paused, swallowing the repressed lump of sorrow in my throat. “The miscarriage I had took even more of my strength, and my little trek through the forest didn’t help my situation. Kaldarte thinks I will improve, and perhaps even reach my normal strength again, but only if I rest. Any time I use magic, or I am up and active for extended periods, it causes a setback that I think we can ill afford right now. Spesialle has taken the time to heal and recuperate. He will not remain dormant for long.”
Anner frowned, first at me then at Brial. “Why are you here then? You should have remained in Asphodel while we came here.”
“It is necessary,” I said simply.
“Don’t think I haven’t tried,” Brial said, a defensive gleam in his eyes as he met Anner’s frown. “If you think you’ll have better success in restraining her, my friend, by all means: be my guest.”
Once again, the latent tension between the two men hovered in the room as they stared at each other. Mylan’s sudden laugh broke the uneasy silence.
“If Kaldarte can’t control her, there is no way either one of you two could,” he pointed out. The wary tightness of his face, however, suggested that Anner’s private confrontation with my husband was not as discreet as once it was.
Mariol turned back to me. “I had no idea it was this bad, Tamsen. If the Seer is that concerned, then you are endangering yourself by even being here.”
I waved this away with a grimace. “I’ll be very careful, Mariol. We’ll just need to regulate the Council meetings. Our herald friend is coming by tomorrow with a list of legitimate claimants to the throne. If we have our mind set on only a few of the candidates, then perhaps we can lead the Council to consider only those men.”
“Perhaps we can find somewhere a bit less formal to convene the Council,” Brial suggested, his voice still cool. “If we are someplace warm and comfortable, then the strain will less affect my wife.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mariol approved, ignoring the worded gauntlet Brial had tossed to the floor. “Several of the larger drawing rooms might be appropriate. I will contact a friend of mine in the city as well. He is an herbalist and physician, and if he attends you in Council, Tamsen, it will be a simple matter to use your health as an excuse to dismiss it early.”
“We can’t do that,” I disagreed, shaking my head. “If any word of my illness reaches Spesialle’s ears, we can expect a visit from him in short order. I don’t know how he can get from one place to another magically, Mariol. Do you?”
“No,” the mage admitted, scratching his head with a frown. “It must have something to do with visualization, but I can’t grasp the idea behind it. I know Hyagrem is looking into it.”
“We don’t know who we can trust at Court, so no one must suspect I am this weak. With any luck, I can keep the meetings short. Call your physician if you like. Perhaps he has options for me that Kaldarte didn’t.”
“Brial will be there,” Mariol said. “He’ll know if you’ve had enough, and can get word to one of us so that we can make the suggestion. With all of us working together, we’ll be able to keep your secret.”
A servant announced dinner, and we followed Mariol into the familiar dining room. We had spent several enjoyable evenings lingering over the polished mahogany table in happier times. On this night, however, we ate the delicately seasoned shellfish and game birds the newly returned kitchen staff sent for our consumption without much conversation. Brial sat at my side, eating little and speaking less.
Inwardly, I sighed. The situation with Anner and Brial was reaching the point where I must address the issue. Obviously, I didn’t want them addressing anything in private with sharp objects, so it would be up to me to see that this crisis was resolved.
Just another thing to worry about.

We were silent when we reached our rooms. I curled up in a chair with a book on Court procedure while Brial honed the edge of his sword. The repetitive shrill of the whetstone running along the blade set my teeth on edge and banged against my throbbing temples with every scrape of the sword.
“Brial,” I said finally. “Put that sword down and let’s talk about this.”
“Talk about what, cariad?”
“We need to discuss this situation you have with Anner.”
Brial set the sword and whetstone on the floor. “I would say he has a situation with me,” he replied as the shutters dropped down over his face.
I winced, but plowed forward anyway. “Anner has been a good friend to us, beloved. We should be past these petty distractions.”
“I do not require the criticisms of another man on how I protect my wife,” he said haughtily, and for the first time anger snapped into his eyes. “Nor do I need that same wife to lecture me on how to behave.”
“I’m not trying to tell you how to act,” I said as my own temper began to stir. “I am concerned for you both. Anner has a problem, yes, and I will address that with him if I must. But your response to him today only encouraged him to continue his foolishness.”
“That is not my concern.”
“Maybe not, but it is mine!”
He snatched up his sword, ramming it into the sheath at his side. As we glared at each other, he strode to the door.
“Where are you going?” I demanded.
He did not turn back to me, only hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. Then, he squared his shoulders and stalked from the room.
Damn him! In all the years I had heard about the Elves and then lived among them, I had never heard of such a foul-tempered Elf. I threw a warm mantle over my nightdress and slammed my feet into slippers.
When Brial was in a temper, there was no telling what he would do. He could either be saddling his horse or searching the library for a book. I would have to go find him.
As I stepped out into the hall, I didn’t hear any shouting or sword fighting. That was encouraging. I closed our door and sped down the dimly lit hall. My slippers made no sound on the marble floors as I hurried in search of my irate husband. As I slipped down the huge, central staircase, I heard the others in the study. The doors were ajar, and I crept to them.
“You’re acting like an ass,” Mylan’s firm voice floated out to me. “They are married. Brial is our friend, Anner. You’re treating him like he’s beaten her.”
“If he were as protective of her health as he is his own pride, she would not be here right now,” Anner growled. I rolled my eyes.
“If she were not here,” Mariol pointed out quietly, “we would not have the advantages that we do. Tamsen knows her importance in the scheme of things, and if you think that husband of hers isn’t kept involved in the decision making processes, you are a fool. Brial Ka’breona has the unenviable chore of guarding his wife, and acquits himself admirably. He is the only one who can manage her with any form of success. All he has to do is suggest an outrageous restriction upon her, and then when she protests—usually at the top of her voice –he lets her suggest a compromise. Then he agrees and places her exactly where he wanted her in the first place. No one else, save possibly Kaldarte or Hyagrem, exercises that kind of control over our young lady from Asphodel.”
My mouth dropped open. All of the arguments and struggles we had over my participation in events flashed through my head. All of the “you leave at sunsets” and the “I forbid its” were nothing but opening gambits in a game I did not even know he was playing?
“If she is so ill, she should be at home under the Seer’s care,” Anner said stubbornly.
“Anner, my friend,” Glaucon interrupted, a definite chill in his voice. “You need to get past this. She doesn’t love you.  She is married to an Elflord, and among the Elves that is permanent. You can never have her, Anner. You need to move on.”
Glaucon’s blunt comment fell into the room with a crash, and Mylan added. ”I have followed you through many things, mate, but I will not follow you on this. You are jeopardizing everything we have worked for a year to build with this ridiculous attitude of yours. It’s time, Anner. Give it up.”
I hurried away. I didn’t want to hear any more. As I sped through the drawing room, I saw Wilden. He jerked his head at the music room door, and disappeared into the darkened corridor. I stopped to catch my breath, and went to stand in the door.
Brial sat with a small harp nestled upon his lap. His long, slender fingers were brushing over the strings, checking the tone of the instrument as he turned the tiny wooden knobs that tuned it.
“I didn’t know you could play,” I observed.
He didn’t look up, which meant he had heard me coming. One of the worst things about being married to an Elven scout was the difficulty in surprising them.
“I learned when I was very young,” he replied after a moment. “My mother taught me. As I grew older, I put it aside when I began to study warfare.”
I drifted through the door. As I hovered there, uncertain of what to do next, Brial looked up at me with a wry smile. “Go ahead and sit; I won’t shout at you.”
I lowered myself into a chair as he bent his head back to the little harp. Finally, he seemed satisfied, and began to play a sweet, haunting little melody that drifted through the room.
“What is this song?” I asked. “I think I’ve heard it before.”
“Oh, you have,” he assured me. “You heard it at our vialigatis.”
“That’s right,” I agreed, remembering the harps playing as the Ka’breona maidens tucked their blossoms into my hair. “What is it called?”
“It is our traditional song of courting,” he replied, unleashing those black eyes at me. “We play it to the women we love, and at the formalization of our unions, as a reminder of the early days in any lifebond where the magic and the power mingle in the growing surety that this particular woman is the one. It is, at once, a declaration and a question.”
“I see.” I relaxed in my seat. He turned his attention back to the harp.
“You thought I was leaving?”
“I thought it a possibility.”
“I will never leave you,” he replied, his voice deep and low.
We were silent for a few minutes more, caught up in the spell of the music and the new strangeness between us. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to curl up in his arms and cry. I knew I had wounded him in some way.
He finished the song with a last, tinkling spray of notes and lifted his head to stare at me. We regarded each other as the room fell back into silence.
“I have,” he began quietly, “changed many of the ways I was brought up to be since I fell in love with you. I have forced my mistrust of humans from me and learned to befriend the men that gathered around you. I have learned to bite my tongue at your ways, none of which, I might add, would be tolerated in an Elf of your age and station. I have given up convincing you to be more aware of your safety, and instead have focused my efforts into guarding you without your knowledge. Everything that I thought I was I have given up in love for you save for one vital thing: I will not endure any interference from another in the decisions I make regarding you. I don’t care who it is, this one, last thing I will not concede. Even you, cariad, tread a careful line with me in this matter. You are my wife and I think it important that we agree on things. There will come a time, however, that I will override you and you will obey me if I see fit.”
His eyes flashed into the glittering black glare of his anger. “Anner de Ceolliune, in particular, must come to respect this. Friend or no, I will not remain silent if this happens again. I know, cariad, that you will not understand this. I repeat it now only as a warning. I no longer have the patience for it.”
“Brial, I—”
“Do not question my ability to look out for your best interests again, Tamsen. I apologize for my behavior earlier; I misplaced my anger. You need to realize that I mean what I say, and I will not change my mind.”

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Time To Talk A Little Volunteer Magic

Anyone who's followed my blog for the past few years is very much aware that I am a passionate college football fan. One of those annoying ones who will watch any game, any time during the season and will re-watch particular favorites on the DVR the other nine months of the year. And anyone who knows me on any level is very well aware that my LOVE is reserved for only one team and that's the Tennessee Volunteers. I come by it naturally--Tennessee born and bred with practically every member of my family sporting orange and white. And when I was a wild child, doing theater up and down the eastern seaboard, I perfected my love of the Vols through two things--understanding the game of football in a way few women back then did, and bartending at a sports bar in Florida, where for one week every fall I was the most unpopular girl with the busiest bar in the Florida Keys. 

No matter how long I tended bar or where, I have never worn any colors but my own school's.Every bar owner who interviewed me for a job, I told two things. First, I will double your Saturday day shift business from August to April. (Like college hoops too--who doesn't?) And second, I will never wear any gear other than Volunteers gear. The last bar owner was skeptical, seeing as Ohio State is only a few minutes away. But after the first two weeks of football season, he bought in--just like all the others did.

Unfortunately, being a Vols fan hasn't been easy, especially over the last decade. After a series of epic and abysmal hiring decisions by the University of Tennessee AD, the Vols' two biggest rivalries have unprecedented losing streaks. We've lost nine in a row to Alabama, and eleven in a row to the Florida Gators. Not because those teams are always so vastly superior, in my opinion, but because of the miasma of depression and failure that seeped like Legionnaire's disease into the sanctum sanctorum known as Neyland Stadium. 

But suddenly things are different up on the Hill.

Any real football fan who isn't blinded by mindless team bias knows that Butch Jones has been building a monster on Rocky Top. And while some Vols fans and the sports media were hyping Tennessee last summer, I went on record with Ryan McGee at ESPN during a substitute gig hosting Paul Finebaum`that I thought the Vols would go 9-4, but a couple of lucky breaks could take them to 11-2.

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

But I also told Ryan that THIS year would be the Volunteers' coming out party. And man--it sure is starting to look that way. Seventeen starters return from a team that last year was too inexperienced to make certain those couple of balls bounced their way. That includes probably the strongest overall backfield in the SEC, a veteran defensive unit that's chomping at the bit under new Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop, and the top special teams unit in the country in 2015. The schedule is favorable with both Florida and Alabama coming to Neyland, a major out of conference matchup with Virginia Tech slated for the 'neutral site' of Bristol Motor Speedway, just up the road from Knoxville. and the SEC East currently in coaching flux.

In the words of Rod Gilmore as Evan Berry sliced up Northwestern with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown with 8 seconds to go in the Outback Bowl a few months ago: "2016 is going to be a good one for the Vols if it keeps rolling like this!"

Why thank you--yes it is rolling...rolling...rolling, and I don't mean the Tide.

I have a lot of friends. Many--okay, most--of them are football freaks like me. The cornerstone of our friendship is based on and around football. But there's a catch. While we all love our respective teams, we try to keep the fangurl blindness out of it. Do we backslid into 'my team is better than yours'? Of course we do. But we don't lose our minds over a little 'Alabama sucks' or "Vols choke again'. We can discuss each other's teams and players knowledgably and without prejudice. And I gotta tell you something--

The rest of the SEC is starting to take notice.

Don't believe me? If you've never met LSU Dad, you should. His videos are both insightful and hilarious. And this is what HE thinks:

Sports media makes fun of Butch Jones and his cliches, and I have to admit--I got a little tired of "brick by brick" and "analytics" and some of his other favorite sayings too. But it's funny--this year, Butch Jones doesn't seem to be as hung up on those cliches. It's like he used them to mask what was really going on behind the scenes, and now he knows that...well...he doesn't have to. Because he can't. Offseason moves so far have been huge. Keeping Alvin Kamara, Cam Sutton, and my hometown, same high school (Northeast Eagles in Clarksville!) favorite Jalen Maybin-Reeves was a HUGE win for UT--bigger than signing some of the new recruits, frankly. Hiring Bob Shoop was another massive power play.

But here's why things are different on the Hill.

Today is UT's graduation. We are literally sixteen weeks away from opening kickoff. Sixteen weeks and seven hours from now, the college football season will begin. I've been a Vols fan for longer than I will admit--birth, most likely--and I have to tell you: it's been painful to root for UT the past ten years or so. Literally PAINFUL. Even the past couple of years, when our way-too-young team started to close in on the season, the doubts would begin--not only for the fans, but the players. And why not? Eleven losses in a row to Florida. Nine losses in a row to Alabama. These teams are arguably our biggest rivals. And as those circled dates drew closer on the calendar every year, the same feeling began to churn in all our guts.


But not this year.

This year, when Florida players started mouthing off--looking at you Jalen Tabor--no one was scared. No one was angry. Everyone was like--knock yourself out, pal. Jalen Hurd, our running back, summed it up best.

6'0. 190. Just talkin' for attention. Not going to end well buddy. 

Considering that he's a 6'4", 240 lb running back who delivers hits like this--

--perhaps Jalen Tabor should reconsider poking the beast with a pointy stick. Especially when that beast has fifty pounds on you and runs 19.1 MPH on an elevated treadmill and 23.1 mph on a flat one. I'm no physicist, but I'd be willing to bet that the Jalen vs Jalen collision will favor the big guy in smokey grays. 
Yes, I said smokey grays--and probably a Checker Neyland triumph as well. 
Senior captain Jalen Reeves-Maybin (again--MY hometown and high school)in his response to the Tabor brou-ha-ha displayed something else I really like. 
Reeves-Maybin said he prefers to let his play do the talking.“We’re not gonna feed into that,” Kamara said. “We’re not too thirsty for attention.”
“Just play the game,” Reeves-Maybin said. “Play the game. Let it speak (for itself). You don’t see great players out there saying stuff like that. Just play.”
As for Alabama, my friends who root for the Tide are a little uneasy about the Third Saturday in October--which this year actually IS on the Third Saturday in October. October 15th, in fact--the day before my milestone *mumblemumble* birthday. A group of Finebaum callers are renting a cabin in the Smokies for that weekend and all going to the game. I'm looking forward to meeting them in person as they've all become such dear friends of mine. And nothing would be a better birthday present than driving back to Gatlinburg in a car with five Alabama fans who just watched the Tide get beat in Neyland Stadium.
I'd be able to cross one thing off my bucket list. Happy birthday to me.
The great thing about college football is that you never know what's going to happen. Regardless, though, I'm starting to see a quiet confidence creeping up Rocky Top. Silly fans--the kind who always think their team is going to go undefeated--don't count. But the knowledgeable fans, the sports media, the coaching staff, and the players--they do. While the returning veterans, the favorable schedule, and the feeling that everything is in place cannot be discounted, the main difference I see between the Vols of 2016 and the Vols of the past decade is in the mindset.of the players. Not just the seniors, but the new guys as well. Ever hear of Jonathon Kongbo? 

You will. 
 Is Tennessee's struggle back to the top of the heap over at last? I don't know. Maybe. Sure is starting to feel like it. The important differential is, I think, that the players don't believe UT is back. They KNOW Tennessee is back. The traditions are back. The power is back. The joy is back. The confidence is back. And it's infectious.

I'm not going to predict a record for the season, or wins over the Vols' biggest rivals. I'm not going to predict All-Americans or Heismans or playoff spots. After all, we are talking about the SEC--anything can happen. But it's foolish for anyone to deny after watching the progress UT has made over the past three years that Butch Jones wasn't kidding when he said he was rebuilding the whole program. The Vols just posted their highest collective GPA in the history of the program. Players are matriculating. And some of our guys, like Josh Dobbs, find ways to make a difference in both small ways and big. All of these things are WINS. The Vols are just better all-around, both on the field and off. They're committed to their path--and that kind of commitment doesn't just show up one day out of the blue. Commitment comes with confidence.

Confidence leads to wins. And if the Vols are winning in the classroom, winning on graduation day, winning in the realm of life, then they have learned how to win on the field as well.

It's good to see Rocky Top with its swag back.

So I'm planning to go to several games--the Battle of Bristol, the Florida game (where I fully expect to see smoky grays and Neyland checkered), and Alabama. Planning to drop off some orange roses on the General's grave, and tailgate with all the Volunteers I know and love online. Probably will bring some gator fritters in September and wear my gator boots. In October I'll dig out 'the' sweatshirt--the one I've only worn to the Third Saturday in October games I've attended since I bought the shirt in 1999--'the' sweatshirt is undefeated in three games in Knoxville and two in Tuscaloosa. I may chuck a couple of things at Lane Kiffin if I get close enough. And I'll be certain to be there with signs that will show up on TV if either Gameday or SEC Nation does their pre-game show at Neyland on those days. But for now, Team 120 has inspired me to deliver a line I haven't delivered since Phillip Fulmer was the coach.

See you in Atlanta..And if UT quarterback and senior captain Josh Dobbs is right, see you in Tampa too.

Because THEY believe, they've made a believer out of me.