In Search of Berthe Morisot

Self Portrait, 1885 (oil on canvas) by Morisot, Berthe (1841-95); 61×50 cm; Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris, France; French, out of copyright

I assume most of you don’t know the name Berthe Morisot—although she does appear in my book, The Road Not Taken, in a scene where she discusses her own invisibility in history. During Women’s History Month, I want to do my own part to make artists like her visible again.

Morisot was an amazing Impressionist painter from the Monet/Manet era in Paris. (In fact, Manet was her mentor—and, in the end, her betrayer.)

In the heyday of Impressionism in Europe, particularly Paris, there were no women painters in any of the salons and galleries exhibiting the finest in paintings. Manet was a favorite among Impressionism fans. Famous in his own time, nice work for an artist. And he mentored a young woman named Berthe Morisot.

At one point, he insisted that a painting of hers be included in a grand Parisian gallery, or he wouldn’t allow his work to be shown. The gallery happily took Morisot’s painting—which should not be surprising, since she is a fantastic artist as fine as anybody working in her form, maybe even finer because she only painted women, although that might be my own criteria and not theirs.

As promised, a painting of Morisot’s was in the show. Next to it was a painting by her mentor. Unfortunately, he chose to exhibit a painting of Berthe Morisot in an elaborate gown (not suitable for painting in), with a small brush in her hand, as if she was dabbling. I don’t know Morisot personally, but I know she felt ridiculed for this depiction of her as a dilletante. Maybe Manet had limited tolerance for Morisot’s incredible outpouring of paintings?

Of course, we know where stories like this lead. Manet is remembered; Morisot is little-known and hard-to-find. In fact, even someone as passionate about feminism and women in the arts as me didn’t even know her name until I began researching Vincent Van Gogh for my book.

In a Villa at the Seaside, by Berthe Morisot, is part of the Norton Simon Museum’s permanent collection. 1874, oil on canvas.

Much as I love the work of the time, even the work of some of these well-known male artists, I of course find the erasure of women in all art history to be disturbing…annoying…maddening. Even worse is the futile search to see it on display where it deserves to be exhibited, right alongside the work of those well-known men. And without a dismissive little dabbling brush.

Today, Morisot’s work is on permanent exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum. I grabbed my colleagues for a first Covid-era outing to see her work, but when I asked the guide where Morisot could be found, he pointed to a partition blocking the outer edge of an exhibition space. Morisot, he explained, is part of the museum’s permanent collection, but shared her space with some Manet paintings on loan that needed to be returned. The section was closed for maintenance. Until Manet is gone, nobody can see Berthe Morisot’s work. 

I couldn’t believe it. Manet had screwed her again.

Celebrating Feminism for Women’s History Month

Women’s March 2018” by Mobilus In Mobili via CC BY-SA 2.0.

March brings with it spring, sunlight, and Women’s History Month.  (And, this year, some global conflict and a third year of a pandemic! But that’s for another blog…)

The Second Wave of Feminism didn’t get us everything—but it got us Roe v Wade, a sense of empowerment, and the ability to distinguish between good sex and somebody squirting their love juice all over their partner whether s/he is ready. And in the decades since, Roe has been a constant firestorm for people claiming to be “Pro-Life.” To my observation they care about fetuses, not children who might need childcare money, and help with child tax credits if they are from a struggling family. 

It infuriates me to see endless hypocritical attacks on women’s rights all these years later, like the new Texas abortion ban, which doesn’t allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Governor Abbot says “rape is illegal, and we will put a stop to it.” Good news indeed, except that in the millennia of human existence, rape has never been stopped. 

But Gov. Abbot may be too easy a target, because I’m equally vexed these days by the loudmouthed women signing anti-LGBT laws, restricting reproductive rights, and assisting in the destruction of our democracy. (And heckling the president. Just not a good look.)

I don’t want to celebrate those women this month. They are the antithesis of feminists. And there are millions more just like them. Instead, I want to spend the month thinking again about the future—and re-defining feminism so it can be meaningful.

For me, feminism is about the strength to refuse diminishment or abuse. The smarts to demand real, complete, equality. I know there are plenty of us who feel this way, too—and am hopeful that, like ground cover, it will spread throughout our country, and the world. (And yes, I hope it will include compassion for animals.)

More to come on the women I’ll be thinking about and celebrating this month, and in the weeks beyond… but for now, happy March. Let’s go make history—for the better.

Creating… and Waiting

All of us who write, act, dance—create!—are familiar with the labyrinth that opens up under our feet when a project is finished and sent out for response. Currently, that’s the space where I find myself: I am waiting for agents to read my new book.

And I can’t help but wonder… is it anywhere as hard to be the Decider as the Creator-Who-Waits?

I have, many times, in these interim periods, considered ways to make use of myself that could be meaningful—or at least stop me from feeling doomed and eating too much sugar in order to cheer myself up. I’m still looking for ideas, as most of my solutions can only go so far…

I tried gardening, but we have a real gardener for all but my personal plants. And surprisingly, he doesn’t want or need my help doing the work he can do better.

Since I love cats, dogs, horses, goats, pigs, really most all animals, I have also gone to visit Wildlife Waystation and marveled at the beauty of this safe space for any living thing. Even the rats have a home there! Unfortunately, it is the ground around the only outside toilet, so I bring my own cup and tissue to dispose of very ecologically. I am glad the rats have a safe space. I just wish it wasn’t our human toilet.

The real problem with animal rescue volunteering is that if somebody furry dies, I am no longer waiting to hear the response to my book (play, blog, etc.). Instead, I become consumed with grief, and I will feel doomed. And once again, I will feel called to eat too much sugar.

Before you ask, I can’t cook. (Remember: I wrote an entire essay about it.) Any friend of mine will grimace and tell you this isn’t modesty on my part. How can a visitor not drink a cup of Keurig? Answer: Because I can very easily screw up even that. 

This leaves learning how to crochet. Or knit. But forget it. It just is not going to happen. I’m better off with a TV binge a thon. The more I’ve seen the show that’s on, the safer I feel.

Fellow writers, creators, waiters—what helps you make peace with the time in-between? How do you get through the waiting? And seriously, how the hell do you put the water in this coffee maker?

Let’s Celebrate These Women During Black History Month—and Beyond

During Black History Month, I’m also thinking of the future. I am committed to continue being part of the struggle to end white supremacy. But the past can be powerful, too—a reminder of our collective power, and the legacies that shape our lives.

Most of us know the name of Harriet Tubman—once enslaved herself, she acquired freedom and never stopped helping others who were in bondage, risking her life to do it. She carried a gun and made forays from her safety in Massachusetts back to plantations where she freed her family members, and many others. She was brave, unstoppable. I honor her memory and hope I have some of her courage.

Marie La Veau(x) and Mary Ellen Pleasant you may not know as well. (Although La Veau does appear in my novel, The Road Not Taken!) Mam’zelle La Veau was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, a stunning beauty who used that, along with spiritual healing powers, to amass great authority.

She found a partner in Mary Ellen; together, they freed huge numbers of the enslaved, bringing them to California. Both were adept at accumulating money—not for finery or luxury, but to buy freedom for those in chains, and get them from Louisiana to the free state of California. The loopholes of a racist, sexist nation abided them in this mission: Mary Ellen often passed for white; Marie was so stunning that the men of New Orleans often gave her powers in the city that were unheard of for women, and especially Creole women.

I cannot do justice here to these three heroic women here, although I want to say their names to honor them. I can just say that when I look at Stacy Abrams, Kamala Harris, Letitia James, Fani T. Willis—I know that Harriet Tubman, Mary Ellen Pleasant and Marie La Veau are alive and well, and continuing to ensure their work to end injustice is seen to completion.

Please read more than I can fit here—during Black History month and beyond—about our Black foremothers, and their many struggles for freedom and equality.

I certainly need to know more. How about you? 

Loving Wisdom from The Road Not Taken

Normally, my worst worry about Valentine’s Day is that I’ll get chocolates from somebody who doesn’t remember that I like milk, not dark chocolate. 

But that’s not the real sweetness in today’s isolation: My life partner and I find ways to be together and apart within our shared home. We work, exercise and share meals with ongoing gratitude that we have each other, two pudgy tabbies, and one very old tabby grandma.

Friendships have deepened. A lot. The zoom chats, though hard on the eyes, make me remember to brush my hair. The conversations on any medium—online, on the phone, by text—have a staying power because they are so precious now. 

In my novel, The Road Not Taken, there is a friendship between two women from different worlds. One woman guides the protagonist into living her life more fully after she has been widowed. Following this friendship, the undercurrent of their story, provides perfect models for friendships today as we change together: Be kind and generous. Have compassion for the tight box that many people live in.

Financially, romantically, socially, I am safe and warm. Not everybody is that lucky. The Chinese proverb is right: Crisis is a two-part figure, one part Danger and the other Opportunity. COVID is the Danger. But there is great Opportunity in the depth of feeling I have found for all living things.

“Great love” includes friends, the earth’s animals, and the people who treat the sick and dying. I love them. I wish I could send them chocolates, every person in the pandemic trenches. It isn’t a romantic dinner, with maybe a little slap and tickle back at home, but it’s a powerful love for my fellow creatures. 

So happy Valentine’s—and Galentine’s—Days. May your hearts stay open even as our doors stay closed!

About That “Last” Anniversary of Roe…

Happy Anniversary to Roe v Wade. (One that some experts warn could be the last.)

I wonder if shouting that is an exercise in despair? Despair hidden as denials, guesses about how bad SCOTUS’s decision will be, despair that the current law in Texas allows no abortion even in cases of rape or incest?

How did this happen? Is this really the end of this valuable, mostly simple procedure?

Some rights reserved by FreeVerse Photography. via Creative Commons.

We live in a world where birth control effects some bodies and not others—often, women’s, and not men’s. Unless the condom gets stuck in a guy’s underwear, but that’s not the same as taking hormones to prevent pregnancy. Hormones can do some unexpected things to a body. Never mind, some birth control is better than none.  Especially if Roe is about to get a total hysterectomy in the upcoming ruling (that’s a metaphor).

When I was younger, before Roe was law, I went with a friend to a then-illegal abortion in Manhattan. I will not disgust us all with details, I will just say that the doctor had no pain killer for my friend, and the procedure is not much fun. Also, I’m not sure the last time he had washed his hands: the general sense in the filthy little room was not one of cleanliness or care. But she got her abortion. And then I grabbed the cash and paid the “doctor” then I woke up my friend’s Baby Daddy who had slept on my lap during her ordeal. 

When Roe became law, the relief was fantastic. I ended up taking a different friend for a legal abortion at a nice clinic on the east side of Manhattan. It was smooth, it was clean, she was treated like a person. It was like we had jumped forward 5 centuries into Modern Times. This friend didn’t want the Baby Daddy with us, so nobody napped on me during her abortion. 

I am sad about all this. Sad is such a beige word. I am devastated to have to enter this fight again. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one. But leave other women to make their own decisions. Kind of like voting—which I wish I had not mentioned, because these days it brings up images of a country torn into shreds and trying to sew itself back together with one knitting needle and some dental floss.

We deserve better than this. Voting rights have been fought and died for, our whole presentation in the world is that we promote democracy. How the hell do you do that with all these restrictions? Why don’t they just say: “Only white men can vote.” With abortion and Voting both under attack, it’s clear that’s the goal!

Abortion rights and voting rights are part of the same fabric. They share a central reality that is essential to a free society—choice, power, agency. And there is a lack of subtlety on the part of the ghouls tearing up hundreds of years of work to create this country. The Governor of Texas promotes a law that doesn’t allow abortion even in cases of rape or incest. “Rape is a crime,” he bloviated proudly. “So we’ll put a stop to it.”

What great friggin’ news. Texas is going to outlaw rape and then nobody will do it anymore! Sometimes I wish I was that smart.

At the end of The Road Not Taken, my first book, the protagonist is asked this major question: “Is the planet earth worth saving?” I will not allow a fictional character, even one that I wrote, to outspeak me on this question. 

When I look at the Former POTUS on a screen, my answer is sometimes “NO!” Look at him, grabbing pussies and threatening elected officials. It’s hard to even want to save a species that not only produced this Swamp Thing, but some millions of whom think he is a Messiah.

But I think he is a Call to Action. So is the frustration and rage we feel now re-litigating the battles we already won. I have fought all my life for social justice, world peace, an end to poverty and brutality. I have seen We the People win many important issues.

I know that it’s time to stand up, dust off the toxins and as human beings make the next Leap Forward, landing where All People Are Created Equal.

In spite of the darkest, worst efforts at destroying our culture, we are still mostly a fine society, and unlike Humpty Dumpty, we can be put it back together again.

So, Happy Anniversary, Roe. We’ll meet again. Somehow. No matter what.

I promise.

My New Year’s Resolution

Here we are in the last precious days of one of the most tumultuous years of my life.

As 2021 puts on its overcoat and opens the door to Tomorrow, the last five years of absolute hell cross my soul… the cruelty we have witnessed, the disgustingness of a president who talks about grabbing “pussies.” And steals election.

I fight every day to remember that We the People is not some arcane idea. We the People beat back an ugly attack on everything precious to me: human rights, rights for people of color, women’s rights, LGBTQ Rights, even animal rights. (It is a big deal that the numbers of cats and dogs killed in shelters in this country is down “hugely.”)

My strategic brain goes to work when my cosmic brain gets an overload of information: Nancy Pelosi, who I have asked to marry me, that’s how much I respect her. (My husband, Charlie, doesn’t care—he says if she agrees to the marriage we can just become polygymous. And yes, I see the irony!) Pelosi is the greatest fund raiser on the planet, but her pleas are often listed in my email one on top of the other, in a confusing way:

  1. It’s Nancy Pelosi, I have never been this desperate.
  2. It’s Nancy Pelosi, a miracle has occurred!!

I don’t read the emails. I give the $3 and find more Democrats to contribute to. Or an Animal Rescue group. Since I don’t go out as much, I save money on crap like Starbuck’s and I feel okay giving all my money to Democrats and four legged furry things.

Looking tentatively at the sliver of 2022 I can see, I am buoyed. We can keep fixing the ugliness that has been created. And we can do it together. There are so many good people, there are so many people waking up to the death rays we’ve been breathing in. I can see the Good People, taking hands and starting another endless march towards Social Justice. We’ve faced harder stuff and won. Together.

We stopped the Spanish Inquisition, even though we’re still fighting colonization. We stopped slavery, even though we still have a sickening amount of abused sweatshop laborers and domestic workers that we must continue to fight like hell for. We even stomped the AXIS powers with the help of the (soon to turn despicable) Russian government! (Stalin, nasty, cruel and without many brains, sweetly invited the invading Nazi army into Russia in the winter of 1941. The invasion lasted 5 months before the Nazi’s were frozen and starving and that theatre of the war was over.) 

I believe that with the Internet, the consciousness of the world after Trump, the time in history, the pendulum is ready to swing away from Reaganism to a real form of democracy.

I believe we can join hands with John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Reverend ML King, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks, William Kuntsler, Angela Davis, Frida Kahlo, Valerie Demmings, Frederick Douglass, and all the valiant humans on earth and their ancestors, and head down a shiny road to a new Day Dawning for All of Us.

I believe it in all parts of my brain and my soul.

And I believe we all have a part to play—and mine, over and over, has been with words. I’ve written documentaries about misogyny and plays about breast cancer. I’ve written comedy and political tragedy. And I’m not ready to stop.

I will write (more) feminist stories in 2022. That’s my resolution—and my part in the revolution.

What are your goals for the new year? How will you change the future? Tell me in the comments…

Happy New Year. And remember: The People United, Can Never Be Defeated. Take my hand, and let’s start marching.

‘Tis the Season: Five Books to Give to Your Feminist Friends

Here we are, comfortably situated between the end of Channukah and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Being with friends, eating, drinking and helping each other through the fact that the darkness comes over us at three in the afternoon this time of year means so much to me during the holidays—but this year, gatherings are once again being complicated by new COVID variants.

Of course, we can still keep in touch—and send offerings of love to those who mean so much to us. Gifts to me are good conversations, or See’s Chocolates.  During this, the second year I’m not sure what the late days of December will mean, I thought I would offer my own recommendations—of books that have meant a great deal to me, and might imbue your own celebrations, virtual or not, with meaning.

New stories are always a worthy gift—because without them, we’re stuck with Moby Dick’s blubber being removed, the highly believable tale of the Virgin Birth, maybe a dabble into how Moses could turn a stick into a snake and back again. Or demeaning crap, like 50 Shades of Are You Fucking Kidding Me.

The common theme in any book I recommend will be that the women, people of color, and LGBTQ characters on the pages are treated with respect. Feminism is my word for that… but choose any you like.

And speaking of: Let me know what books YOU like to give as gifts, or what you think of my own choices, in the comments or on social media!

THE MANDARINS, by Simone de Beauvoir

Two of my all time favorites come from de Beauvoir, and neither are the “Second Sex.” I don’t need to be told about inequality. But de Beauvoir wrote novels that make your teeth dance: she takes on the post WWII French intelligentsia, the Existentialists, pseudo-Marxists, and all-purpose phonies that were her famous circle.

THE MANDARINS tells the story of a group of elite thinkers from those circles. De Beauvoir’s brilliance (which I emulate so much) is her ability to describe very flawed people who don’t know how screwed up they are. She is clear in this book that a good chunk of the French post war intelligentsia was in fact piled high with Vichy (fascist) collaborators who tried to help the Germans during the war. Naming no names, what is most powerful is the intense hypocrisy of some of these Wise Ones. They are not all tarred with one feather, but sure wouldn’t want to be any of them she really blasts open.

A fascinating novel filled with cigarette smoke, brilliant conversation, way too much booze, ditto pills, and ultimately a very human story of trying to be better than you might be as a person.

ALL MEN ARE MORTAL, by Simone de Beauvoir

This second de Beauvoir listing is my favorite book in the world.  I don’t think it’s for everybody, but it sure curled my toes. I wrote a play based on the novel and even on stage I could capture some of her magic. The book is about an actress finishing up with a company of actors doing a rural tour of 12th Night. One of the actresses who is so filled with egotism she spends the final curtain call glaring at her co-star actress. She is enraged that the audience didn’t choose her splendid talent over this neophyte actress. But the story really starts when our protagonist is in her hotel room looking out on the patio of the hotel and sees a man. A stunning, very large man. (Spoiler alert: she comes to discover than this man is actually immortal, and she becomes obsessed with the idea that if he thinks she is the Best Actress of All Time, well, then she is.)

de Beauvoir brilliantly tells the story by telling the history of Europe. Sounds dull—but try it, and you’ll be stuffing down croissants for weeks!

BRAT FARRAR, by Josephine Tey

An English mystery novelist of the mid 20th century, Tey is as canny as it gets. BRAT FARRAR is the story of an 18 boy who is turning legal age and will become the owner of his family’s huge estates. Yes. He has sisters. No they don’t get any inheritance and are forced to live off their brother’s largesse for life. Too bad he’s a killer. Enough said. No. On his birthday, his long dead twin brother shows up, and we spend 200 pages figuring out if he possibly could be alive, because that would divide the inheritance. How does this man who shows up at BRAT’s 18th investiture, know so much, and look so identical to BRAT.

Read it. Seriously. That’s the tweet.

DREAM SNAKE, by Vonda N. McIntyre

DREAM SNAKE takes place in a post nuclear apocalypse. The world has very few places left that are not so radioactive they are unlivable, so medicines are brought to people by women on horseback who carry saddle bags of poisonous snakes that they use to cure peoples’ illnesses. (The medicine women are as good as any doctor at a fancy hospital—but you do have to endure getting bitten. A lot. But it is really awesome to watch the healing.)

There is only one MAJOR law on all the planet in this book: men must please their lovers during sex. Snakes who save lives, and lovers who must be able to give pleasure. Freud would agree with us: This is fascinating.

THE ABC MYSTERIES, by Agatha Christie

Christie is considered kind of a novelist lite, which is very wrong in my opinion. She wrote more books than any living being, and each of them is distinct. If you don’t want to spend time with the murderous but charming English bourgeoisie, read somebody else!

The ABC MYSTERIES is impossible to figure out in the most amazing way. Twists that you say “I knew that would happen” and then they twist again. Christie is a feminist, that is to say, the women and the men are equally human on the page: Equally murderous and equally fun to figure out. I put Christie at the end because it is Holiday Time, and she is less deep than the four writers above. Not dumb—less deep. But her books can be incredibly fun with enough chocolate (did I mention you can send me See’s Chocolates?) or a glass or wine, a joint, or just some time to disappear to jolly old England… without having to eat their food.

I wish you all a wonderful winter—free of fear of COVID, Proud Boys, and anti-vaxxers. Keep yourself safe… and read a book and if you feel like it. And hopefully I’ll run into you on The Road Not Taken this season, too.


Hanukkah, Humanity, and Our Power to Find Joy—and Fight for Progress

The Story of Hanukkah is the story of one of the first holidays representing a specific group of believers. It reminds me of my first book, The Road Not Taken, which deals with Earth having a Time/Space Continuum, so the characters can see a broader view of their reality. It also ultimately asks a lot of questions about the state and fate of human race, and whether we can (or should) be saved.

During this time in which we come together to remember what we have survived, and celebrate the light that never goes out inside all of us, I have been picturing a celebration, a coming together of us, that I know is worth saving, fighting for, striving for. As the children call up to their home in mid winter darkness, these humans get to see that our world is still powerful and full of joy and definitely capable of change

Please enjoy all the holidays!

It was a very dark night on Earth. In the 50 million years since the Boson Particle created the earth, the plant was now half way through it’s first birthday. This was a huge turning point, and all the creatures on the planet knew it: from hence forth Time would be divided into quarters, halves, and the rare weeks when the sun rose and set more or less the same time. Until the Season Changed.

Two little boys and a girl were dragging up the hillside to their home, when suddenly out of nowhere, the windows in their little hut lit up. They didn’t know what candles were, or when Time had been divided.

The children got closer to their family hut. Suddenly they heard musical sounds. They didn’t know what music was, but they could sure hear it coming out of their family home. The two little boys walked into their home. Their mother was over their very rickety cooker, but the smell coming out of it was delicious.

Mom turned and saw them. “Hello! Welcome to our first ever Channukah on earth! You will be tasting foods that are heavenly, hearing music played by great musicians, and then we will teach each other songs and eat until we fall down.”

A little voice from the back of the hut spoke out: “Mom?”

“Yes my sweet boy, now go on and dress up. We’re having a Chanukah celebration.” But the little voice was silent. “What’s the matter? You sound so sad, and this is the Celebration of Lights.”

“I don’t belong at a Channukah party, I’m from the other religion.”

One of the big boys heard this, and walked to the little kid: “Hey! There is only one religion and we all belong to it. We’re called the Human Race, and what distinguishes us is not the god we follow but the kindness we show every living thing we share our earth with.”

Everybody in the little room was crying. Then laughing. Then, as if a cue had been given, mother began to fill the table with incredible foods nobody had seen before. Next to the food and the plates and glasses, we put huge pots of matzoh ball soup. Herosis, hard boiled eggs, there was no hunted foods, no meats, it was a joyous sharing of Earth on this very significant night.

The Questions I’m Asked—and Not Asked Enough—About Novel Writing

There are so many questions that people have asked me about my writing process—and even more that I wish people would ask, about my process, so I could clarify it for myself. I talk to friends about my way of working; even though other writers have their own ways of doing things, it’s interesting to compare theirs to mine. 

Because National Novel Writing Month is galloping on, here is some unsolicited advice from someone who has been there—and is now going back for her second round.

What inspires you to write novels?

In my new novel, I wanted to write about the world I grew up in in Greenwich Village. There were so many contradictory messages between the ethos of the Village (“we’re cooler than you!”) and the progressive talk that went on all around me, and the reality of what I faced growing up in this hot house. I deal with two real murderers who are part of the Very Overrated Beat Poets. William Burroughs and Lucien Carr both killed people and paid no price for that. I’m a big Justice groupie. I like Justice. I couldn’t find much in my exploration of these four men. 

Then there was the injustice in being alive in the late 20th century in the “hippest place on earth” and finding some very arcane attitudes towards women. Men showed me their penises in situations which were somewhere between crazy and disgusting. Men on the subway regularly showed me their package, I thought then as I think now – “do you have an itch? We’re on the IRT local, what is anybody supposed to get from seeing your little thingy?” (I ask now, with much more anger, “what are the proud boys proud of?” Can I see it please?)

The book ended up teaching me more than I can describe here. I hope when you write you learn from yourself. You know more than anybody else can know about what’s inside of you. What’s important to you, what makes your soul rest easy.  

You’re a feminist and a writer. How do I bring my values to the page without being put in a box?

I guess I write feminist novels, but I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s just because my two protagonists have been women that I qualify as a feminist writer. My closest friends know I find terrible contradictions in the fact that many women are still decidedly not feminist, but either live in the 1950’s and go home in time for supper with the Mister, or they’re narrow in their view of the world and the cosmos we are part of. By definition for me, a feminist is smart, broad in their thinking, caring about all creatures on the planet. Not all women fit the bill—but I am not interested in Male Heavy novels about blubber on Moby Dick, or hunting. 

When I start writing anything, I ask myself what I want to say to the world. I write about women because the future I seek is one where they are more central to the stories told across this world.

I keep hearing “show, don’t tell.” How do I actually write vivid scenes?

I knew when I set out to write The Road Not Taken that I wanted my novel to be interesting, complex, and include fantasy and other world possibilities. (This is true of my next novel, too.) When I was first finding my way, I began to look at playwriting, which I did for many years, and try to see the difference in the creative process between a play and a novel. Both have characters, dialogue, conflict, scenes or chapters, movement or plot and story line, surprises, and a beginning, middle and end. 

If you want to write a novel, use any experience you have as a writer to inform your process. For me, plays and documentaries, comic sketches, blogs, I’ve written them all and they are all part of my subconscious tool kit when I write a novel. (I don’t want to sound too pompous here, I’ve written two novels, not a library full). To new novelists my advice is: Find your own toolkit based on anything you’ve written, liked reading, even TV or film can inform your story telling.

Both forms require you to show, not tell the story. Good. Both forms, for me at least, need to be about something important that I want to say. Ultimately, the similarities between the components of a play and a novel to ease me into the new form I was taking up. And that helped me a lot. The characters in a book have a lot of the same prerequisites as characters in a play. The story or plot has to remain on a trajectory toward something, and there has to be conflict, and hopefully some fun. (Sex scenes are helpful in both forms.)

How do you build a world that feels real, even though it’s entirely or partially fantastical?

I write fiction with a heavy dose of fantasy, even in the semi-autobiographical novel I just wrote. Sometimes it’s for a pragmatic reason: the person I am writing about is alive and might not like what I write about them. Mostly it’s for my own need to keep my stories exciting and complex while I pour my heart out about the things that matter most to me. 

Life is infinite, there is a Time Space Continuum on which every moment of human history exists. It is the greatest streaming device ever invented. One problem, and this is straight from Albert Einstein, who should know—you can only go back in Time. Until we have equipment that can outrun the speed of light, we won’t be able to see into the Future. That doesn’t stop me. I’m not writing science articles, I’m writing stories, and that means I can go in and out of any Time or Space I want. Also good. And a lot of fun.

The only rule? Make sure you know when you sit down that you know what you want to say next. It will make sense if you think of it like a play—the reader has to see how we got from one moment to the next, even if the in-between is a wild ride through your imagination.

If you want to know more specifics about my process, or want to share your process with me, let me know.  And then, get back to work on your work!