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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Wicked and The Righteous

This week has been a little chaotic. First, the hackers made good on their threat and released almost 10 gigabytes of data. The second leak was almost twice as big!


The data dump includes e-mail addresses, account details (like preferences/fetishes) and logins.

The caveat, of course, is that Ashley Madison did not verify e-mail addresses upon registration, so searching simply on this criteria might get you a false positive as anyone could use a fake account to register. And some people do things like that to cause others’ problems.


When I was in college one of my professors antagonized a student who filled out all these magazine subscription cards to nudie magazines and sex toy and trashy lingerie catalogs in the professor’s name, and sent it to his office (at a Jesuit college). The nuns running the mailroom were not pleased.  

Many a husband will use that excuse too. “No, honey, that was probably one of those clowns at the office trying to be funny. Those silly bastards!”

What will be harder to explain is the credit card transactions that include names, street addresses, amounts paid, and predilections… Only those smart enough to have used anonymous prepaid cards are walking around not sweating bullets.

Already repercussions have begun. The first American casualty is proponent of family values and Christian conservative Josh Duggar; many others will follow...


The coverage has taken a variety of routes: the possibility that government and military personnel may have been compromised and are in danger of being targets of extortion.

Others are advocating data Armageddon, if Ashley Madison can be broken into, what of the Pentagon or {insert terrifying alternative here}. Of course, we are all accepting the corporate minions telling us their encryption was impenetrable. There is evidence that employees had tried to warn management there was vulnerability in their system that was never addressed or patched.

Then there is the camp that are shaming the shamers, “Ermahgerd, how dare you enjoy the comeuppance of innocent philanderers?!” Surely, this cannot be what Martin Luther meant when he addressed simul iustus et peccator!


These stories warn that marriages will break down, divorces will happen, reputations will be lost, families will be broken, and children will be forever affected by this. This may be true, but I wonder if the writers realize that the people whose lives are about to be upended are partially responsible for their possible fate.

To me, following the story and all its repercussions is mostly research and some guilty pleasure—but it is all literary. I am fairly sure that this will not be the thing that causes the collapse of western civilization.


In the meantime, I look forward to the John Grisham bestseller (both the fiction and the non-fiction versions) of the massive class action that will come of this. Although what I really want is the Nelson DeMille comedy-thriller about the collapse of Stepford. Perhaps Michael Connelly doing homage to Tom Clancy and doing the military-themed thriller! I suppose Patricia Cornwell might do a mystery about the mounting bodies of sinners and a private investigator turned serial killer with delusions of Biblical executioner. I have no idea how King would write it, but I imagine he has been giggling for a month.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Lies Beneath the Sinkhole

For those of you playing along at home, life stared us in the face, screamed, “Plot twist!” and went all Joss Whedon on us.


A relatively quiet morning became an intriguing thing when I was distracted from properly setting up a story. A philandering husband and his wife have a life-altering fight in their kitchen (while the kids have a heartbreaking conversation seated at the table and witnessing their parents’ marriage fall apart, and the dog is hiding under the very same table that saw many family meals whence it begged and received delicious morsels from all members of its pack).

I simultaneously heard and felt a truck go by. And this began a fun internal dialogue.

Hmm, that’s not a garbage truck.

Wrong day for garbage, anyways.

Trucks don’t go by here. Ever.

Well, except after it snows. Ugh, I hate snow… I hope we have a mild winter this year.

FIRETRUCK!

OMG! There’s firemen on the block!!!


The rest, as they say, is history – or at least current events – and involves a 20 X 20 X 20 massive sinkhole that brought more people to the block than have ever been on this block on the 30 years we’ve lived here!


And certainly, there is inherent drama in what is happening. A writer friend suggested that I take pictures and notes because there’s a story here. Many stories. A book!

She is right, of course. But this is Brooklyn. We don’t operate the same way other places do.
And, for the Brooklynites, you know if Marty Markowitz were still been Borough President, he would have shown up with coffee and bagels, the Monsignor, a Rabbi, and the Imam from the local mosque and had press conference, a prayer circle, and a plan before noon!  

For instance, a massive sinkhole that swallows a busy intersection in a commercial thoroughfare, in Manhattan, would cause traffic to be halted for blocks (for weeks!) barricades erected to protect the citizenry, possible evacuations, National Guardsmen to watch over us, and train their weapons on the hellmouth waiting for the Big Bad to show itself and wipe it from existence…

But this is Brooklyn. We suspended bus service for the blink of an eye, and even slowed down train service in the morning so as to not disturb the kaiju that might stir in the guts of our borough. After a thorough examination by the electric and gas utilities people, Environmental Protection and other City bureaucrats, as well as visits by media and tourists and lookie-loos who traveled here to see the thing on the first day; the second day pretty much defines how resilient Brooklyn is.

Bus service is back on schedule. “Just drive around it! Watch out for the gaping hole to the left…”

The first day every single neighbor was out, trying to figure out what was happening. The second day, those who could, slept in. The kids played but no longer noticed the men in neon colored jackets.

Reminds me of this bit by Colin Quinn where he explains why there are no ghost stories originating in Brooklyn. It’s because here, after the rattling of chains and other blood curdling sounds, a Brooklynite would come out of their place to confront the ghost.

“Hey, yo! You the one going ‘woo woo woo’ up and down the hallway? Stop that shit!”

We write our own stories here. And we don’t let the world define them for us, either. I mean, your Good Night, Moon is our Go the F*ck to Sleep.

We once voted a dead guy into office because we didn’t like the choices left by his demise. We've stared down hurricanes and tornadoes and epic Nor’easters, given 'em all the finger, and gone right back to our bagel and coffee.


Our roads may buckle under and be swallowed into nothingness, but you can’t break us! Still, the stories that this episode will influence ought to be interesting.




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ashley Madison Schadenfreude


I have a real evil streak.

All writers do… It’s a consequence of absolute power. We can create worlds, universes, and the rules contained therein. We have absolute power over life and death for our characters.

That’s not strictly true all the time, mind you. Sometimes stories develop on their own and get away from you, and you find yourself writing a scene and finding out as you write how it develops. 

But writers sometimes display a bit of a sadistic side that may not be obvious in everyday conversation.

I am in the midst of writing and researching a collection of stories on the aftermath of infidelity. Some stories are easier to write than others. It isn’t coming as easily as the stories in Because She Was A Woman.

Then the security breach at Ashley Madison happened and things changed.


A rush of adrenaline and giddiness hit me all at once, and I was light headed and giggly.

I find myself rooting for the hackers and hoping they follow through on the threat to release the data that has been compromised; that it is true that the parent company has not been deleting personal and financial information for their subscribing adulterers; and that chaos shall meet the lying horndogs!

Sordid? Yes. Ah, yes, but it makes for great reading.

In reality, I cannot approve of stealing private information – not even from morally corrupt people. I approve of ethical hacking, but this is akin to a terrorist act in cyber security.


Although I will say this for the hackers: if they have caffeinated my Muse into overdrive, they will also prove to be excellent for the national economy. I predict a significant increase in the sale of expensive candies and chocolates, flowers, and even more expensive jewelry. (There may also be a rash of divorce actions and then the money will go to the lawyers, but let’s treat one demon class at a time, shall we?)

Having seen the very real aftermath of infidelity – in wives and husbands, lovers and partners, children and in-laws – I know that this is nothing to make light of it. That’s the empathic, human side recognizing that there is actual pain and grieving involved.

I know the demoralizing horror when you realize someone you loved and trusted has betrayed you. Even as your heart sinks, it doesn’t kill the love right away, and that struggle between your dignity, the truth, and the end of your commitment has no amusing parts to it. It’s all tragedy!

The writer in me, though, reading between the lines, she immediately is inspired by schadenfreude. I'm having a ball imagining the panic. I'm not sure if I can do it justice in writing just yet, but until I commit it to paper, I'll repeat what I keep hearing in my head: bwahahahahaha!


It's tremendous fun to imagine that caged rat look liars get when they feel they are about to get caught and there is nothing they can do to save themselves. Ultimately, if the hackers don’t, I have a strong feeling that I will be personally taking quite a few cheaters down.

All for your reading pleasure… That’s right, I will surrender to my inner evil witch just to entertain you. You’re welcome.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

History Drops The Mic

The last few weeks have been epic in many ways – historic, brutal, joyous, heartbreaking…


So many truly dramatic things have taken place that any of them could well be fodder for fiction.

We had a prison break that involved an unrequited threesome, and a three-week run – on foot, no less – through the woods and almost clearing the border.  (I could almost hear Tommy Lee Jones begging, “Send me in coach!”)


A misguided young man walked into a church and opened fire on the people, during Bible study, let him join them. He killed nine people and, at his arraignment, each and every family member simply forgave him for his actions.

Talk of what is racism and what constitutes heritage stall even as a rash of church burnings revisit the South.

The highest court in the land settled the biggest civil rights question of the 21st century, allowing same-sex marriage and giving the LGBT community the same privileges and advantages that other families are allowed.

The simple fact that couples that have been together for decades no longer have to worry that if one of them falls ill, that family members who may disapprove of their orientation can keep them apart when they need each other most.

It’s little things like this that makes marriage a social contract that protects all members in the family against petty prejudice. (Please notice I kept it civil.)

The road to the next American general election is already looking like a circus act, the kind generally written by Federico Fellini and populated by the casts of thousands like a Franco Zeffirelli production. It is funny and tragic, as well as heavily surreal.

There have been terrorist attacks, and unbound individual acts of kindness and heroism. Shark attacks! Natural disasters! Volcanoes erupting! Rockets exploding!


For weeks now, there has not been a single boring moment. It's like the Universe is practicing yellow journalism on us.

Everything here may shake a character or a whole story to the core. The Muse we all look for can be in the quotidian as much as in magical moments. Being observant of the world feeds the artist within!

What’s feeding my own creativity? The idea that there are parallel universes and they may interact at the quantum level. That’s right: this week I find poetry and music and images of colors and textures and the nuance of everything fueled by physics and cosmology.

This is partly the basis for one of my stories, and the research alone is fascinating.  The writing goes slowly, but getting there is still a joy: the repercussions are endless.

The heartaches we have to endure as we live, they help us grow, but just because their news (over)saturates every media outlet – from print to broadcast to web-based – doesn’t mean we need to pour all of our emotional or intellectual being into it. Excitement can quickly turn into something monstrous and overwhelming.


The year 2015 will be one school children memorize in future, just like the year 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It has already cemented its place in history.  (What rhymes with 2015?)


You cannot live it and analyze it at the same time, speaking of quantum physics, so I look for magic in the minute to enhance my own writing. I do, however, look forward to these events making their way into epic stories for decades to come and changing the landscape of our storytelling because the events of the last few weeks look like the foundation of a remarkable literary movement once it catches on, you grok?

Child, history dropped the mic and walked away...





Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fictionalizing the Truth


Last night I finished editing the final version of The Kite (one of the stories that will be included in the aftermath of infidelity anthology). Its working title is still Bloody Trail of Disenchantment, though I admit that is quite a mouthful.

The Kite is a vignette, as it does not tell a whole story. It hints at parts that are still largely unknown. The story was a little problematic as it has been a source of some internal wrangling.


Last year, I started writing a few pieces and The Kite was one of three delicate pieces that I wrote and set aside. The stories, it turned out, included sensitive material. Painfully, it occurred to me that they also had a theme of unconditional love and betrayal.

These were not just any stories. These were my stories. To my horror, they aligned perfectly for a new memoirs collection only half-mockingly titled Daddy Issues


Each story included a relationship with a father figure who strayed. In each story, I witnessed the infidelity or became aware of it in unexpected ways, and it certainly colored my interaction because it went against everything I'd been taught about love, respect, commitment, and truth.

Beyond the trust issues, there was a lot more that these stories had in them that bothered me greatly. More importantly, I was unsure if I wanted to write another memoir collection of stories.

I put the stories aside and got busy with other projects, but found myself questioning whether to pursue the stories. I decided to try to fictionalize them just as The Mistress took shape, and later the idea for the upcoming anthology.

In one instance, the two people whose marriage I reference have passed on and I never spoke of what I knew – as I was sworn to an uncomfortable silence (part of the theme of the story).

In the second story, I used all the characters with only minor tweaking because he is long dead and she is lost to Alzheimer’s. I wonder how she would react to my writing the story (fictionalized or as a factual memoirs). I know she’d be secretly proud of my writing, although I doubt she’d praise me – she would boast to others, though.

She would be, however, vigorously displeased that I put out her business "out there."

I would, probably, counter that I only spoke the truth. And she would, just like her mother before her and her mother’s mother, dismiss my lack of propriety by sucking her teeth and giving me the silent treatment for an hour or two (maybe longer).

She’d be annoyed but she would grudgingly admit I told the truth, as I remembered it. As things stand, she may not even remember the incident itself any more. She’ll never see the story.
What I have left is a telling of the events that strip it of melodrama and trauma, and only hint at the emotional damage without wallowing in it.

But if it’s the truth, why include it in a fiction anthology? Because I firmly believe that truth, as much as I herald and respect it, as much as I consider it a higher principle – almost a religion – is relative. 
My truth is my fiction because memory is selective, even in the ethical and well-meaning.
When your truth is a memory seen through the eyes of a damaged child, it’s no sin to call it fiction. It may just be the more humane way to deal with it.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Expectation of Privacy and Social Media

Life offers the truly observant an opportunity to experience a variety of circumstances, emotions, flavors, and things that sometimes defy definition. This is how we grow and learn. It is how we make sense of our world and our specific role in it.


Who among us writers hasn't found herself furiously taking notes in public -- because you've thought of a great story idea or overheard a fabulous bit of dialogue or seen a feature that screams CHARACTER -- and had people give you the evil eye as they suspect you are violating their privacy?

I remember a writer friend getting caught overhearing a conversation and documenting it, and a child accusing her in public, "She's eavesdropping!!!" 


Enter social media and now you have a new beast to contend with...


It’s not social media per se, nor is its existence at fault – get that right. Users need to understand media, how to use it and how to curtail others’ access. We’ve turned social media into some surreal, hellish horror porn version of the universe Warhol envisioned.

In the last five years, I have witnessed love and conquest, courting and marriage, birth and death, divorce and rebirth in a way I may not have even if I were living next door to some of these people.


I have seen marital squabbles unfurl on social media and recognized the ugly monster before the couple realizes it themselves. Sometimes being in the midst of an emotional whirlwind or a tempestuous rage, they never realize that others may be privy to their breakdown. And if they do, it stops mattering and turns into a contest, as these things often do, where one must win over the other.

We’ve gone from living part of our lives publicly to living our emotional lives publicly to a no-holds-barred exposure of every aspect of living thrown into the ether for all of humanity to see.


It makes for an interesting time to be a writer or a social anthropologist, but it also means that you no longer get to imagine what happens behind closed doors. You get front row seats now. You also get to comment and put in your two cents in things that until very recently was the kind of thing only your BFF, clergy or therapist knew!

Knowing this, and knowing writers, I wonder how people remain as unabashedly oblivious to their virtual nakedness online. Have we become so accustomed to the behavior we are now blind and ignorant of its consequences?


It’s like when they first installed cameras in Congress and everyone was self-conscious and soon enough C-SPAN was a place to see otherwise stiff and suited statesmen picking their nose absentmindedly.

But back to writers and having full access to the lives of others on social media. As writers, we internalize, appropriate, and rewrite what we see and experience. There are big questions that social media open up, such as: do we change the definition for “expectation of privacy”? Or is it open season if folks do not filter for their own privacy? Is it reasonable to expect privacy when you do not protect the details of your life and put them out there for others to see, witness, experience, read, view, listen, share, and comment on it?


How exactly do people who expose every dark corner of their existence to the critical lens of social media define “privacy”? Or is privacy the thing one claims a right to when one feels the heat of exposing their own nakedness?

I just started writing a scene and it reminded of someone I know. Then I realized that this person and their partner had gone through a rough patch, very publicly. I stopped writing. In fact, it spooked me into scrapping the idea altogether – not only because it felt as if I was dragging their life across my fiction (I wasn’t, at least not purposely).


The definition of topsy-turvy: “reality” television is our new pulp fiction. How do we fit social media into the process of writing? It must be a consideration as we are all a part of it. But do we treat it as adjoined living rooms in some sort of virtual complex or a street corner in that proverbial superhighway?


Discuss…



Friday, May 15, 2015

One Last Tribute for B.B.

I emerged for some air, as I worked my way through a couple of freelance projects, to the news that B.B. King was gone. The thought brought me a wave of sadness, and then I smiled.

VO: You got the blues, girl! 
[Sound FX: distant guitar riff]

There will be endless words written about the man, his music, and his gigantic influence on blues, rock, and even pop music for over half a century in an international stage.

Every decade of my life has a handful of B.B. King songs and each adds value to big moments – from friendships to breakups, from births to deaths, from laughter to tears, from life-affirming magic to soul-crushing disappointments.


His music has been there, in my life, since I was in the womb. In fact, he had a really great year right before I made my own debut and I know for a fact that I was exposed to it.

B.B.’s passing reminds me that some people I have loved dearly are no longer in my life and it amplifies the sadness. Still, in the back of my mind, I can hear the guitar wailing The Thrill is Gone… That was the first B.B. King song I ever learned, but it means so much more to me--it links me to him in so many ways, and to people I loved, and a time when I was the happiest and the most miserable I have ever been.


I wrote a piece about meeting B.B. and listening to him play at the Blue Note in New York, one of my favorite memories. In fact, the mini-memoir was one of the first things I put out when I started publishing, and the first I translated to Spanish.


I wish I would have the opportunity to do that again, to sit in a small room and listen to B.B. make deliriously and heartbreakingly beautiful music. I wish I could have another moment with him because the last one still touches me deeply.


And so, finally, Lucille is silenced because nobody will ever touch her the same way, and I feel her pain. The sound, though, the sound remains deep inside me because it is part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am grateful I could look the man in the eye and thank him, just thank him for the music. All my vinyl, CDs and digital files aside, it was that fleeting instant that means the most to me. But I am grateful to have the music to remember him, and my own living blues. I will be blasting the blues all weekend long, that's my tribute.



If you'd care to read an excerpt of my B.B. story, you can read it here: http://bit.ly/1FozAQ3 (http://bit.ly/1IChbzY in Spanish)