28 December 2016

So Many Forces

A few years ago I noticed that all of my novels feature strong female characters. I never set out intentionally to do this; it’s just something that happened. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to strong women, successful women, smart women. I guess without a sexual attraction to women, that was next in line. I was surprised when I realized this, and wondered what possible influence could have been responsible.

And then Carrie Fisher died.

Of all the horrible things that have happened in 2016 (including my cancer diagnosis) this upset me the most. Why would that be? People die all the time; death is a part of everyone’s life.

Then I started seeing clips from Fisher’s films on the news.

Perhaps the appeal of strong women stems from her portrayal of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” which I saw as a teenager when it premiered in 1977. She was sure plucky, and smart, and strong willed. I’ve always enjoyed the movies of strong female actors: Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino -- but those all came after. It must have been my subconscious working when I began writing my novels featuring strong female characters. 

Whatever the inspiration, I was impressed by Fisher and her performance in “Star Wars” and am very sad that she died so young -- even after living such an adventurous life.

07 December 2016

All Our Todays

Today is notable for which of the following reasons?

A: It is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
B: It is the day NBC will air “Hairspray Live!”
C: It is the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis

All three are correct.

It’s kinda hard to believe I’ve already made it through my first year of cancer. When I look back at everything that’s happened in the last year, I’m amazed: diagnosis (on Pearl Harbor day, of all days), kidney biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, chemo, chemo and more chemo, edema swelling my legs like an elephant’s, debating with my doctor about reducing my chemo levels, having the low blood numbers go higher and the high levels go lower (both good things), reducing the amount of water I drink each day, reducing the amount of sodium I consume each day, emerging from it all “technically in remission” yet knowing all of this will be part of my life until I die.

I’m constantly amazed when people say “I’m sorry” when they find out I have cancer. “Don’t be,” I tell them. “It could be worse.” At least I didn’t die in a plane crash; I have a heads up. I had one doctor recently tell me I had a cynical/positive attitude about my cancer. “I’d rather think of it as a ‘shit happens’ attitude,” I said. We all have our problems and this is mine.

Many people say their first year of cancer was the worst. If I look back on my situation in the years to come and find that to be true, then that's okeh. It's been a bad year (that could certainly have been much worse); but maybe the "worst" is behind me now and we'll run the course on cruise control. I certainly hope so.

02 December 2016

Shoe, Meet the Other Foot

At a recent family-in-law gathering, one guest (noticing that our anniversary was a few days away) asked how Matt and I met. I explained that I was working for a newspaper as a theater critic reviewing a musical and Matt sat next to me. The usual questions followed: do you remember the name of the show (“Crazy For You”), did you like it (**** out of *****), etc.

She then asked me if I had ever written a bad (i.e. negative) review. I told her I had, but even for the worst shows I always tried to include at least one good thing from the production. It might be a specific performance, the production design (which, honestly, can make or break a show), or a moment in a scene. I never wanted my readers to say, “He hates it, we won’t go.” I wanted them to say, “Hey, he says this one actor was really good. Let’s go check it out.” I never found pleasure in writing a negative review; it always pained me. I had been active in theater for many years prior and I knew first hand how hard people work to put on a show. Productions might fail for a variety of reasons, but I doubt passion is ever one of them. 

Now, twenty years since I stopped reviewing theater, the tables have been turned.

Five years ago I began writing novels with the goal of writing them and getting them published. Anything that happened after that was just icing on the cake -- except in the case of negative reviews. Most of the reviews for my thirteen books have ranged from average to excellent. Only on a few occasions have I gotten a negative review -- a couple of them pointedly mean. I try really hard not to let the negative reviews bother me, but they do.

Each time it happens, I think back to my years working for different newspapers and the various types of subjects (theater, books, social events, dance and opera) that I reviewed and the fact that I always tried to be nice. I might not have always succeeded, but at least I was never intentionally mean.