On Thursday, April 8, Vivian Lawry will be leading a discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). Time: 7:30 p.m. Place:Tuckahoe Branch of the Henrico Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and lover of candy, costumes, horror films, and shenanigans.
Amid the daily terrors of 2020, it’s only natural to celebrate additional terror by adding candy and costumes. Halloween in 2020 will (hopefully) be different than other years, but I’m sure that won’t stop the rational, thoughtful, and calm citizens of the USA from marking the occasion in a restrained fashion.
There have always been rules about Halloween, enforced to a greater or lesser extent depending on time and place.
Puritans in early North American colony towns outlawed Halloween altogether, claiming it was witchcraft and Satanic.
The state of Alabama forbids anyone to dress up like a nun, rabbi, priest, monk, or any other religious figure, on threat of spending a year in jail.
The French town of Vendargues prohibits people over age 13 dressing like a clown on Halloween or at any time in November (a very sensible rule, in my opinion).
Silly string is outlawed in Hollywood on Halloween; mischief makers can be fined simply for carrying silly string.
Before 2020, many areas had laws governing masks on Halloween. Banks and retail clerks got tired of not knowing whether the masked person coming up to the counter was on the way to a party or in the middle of a robbery.
Things are a little different this year. Instead of forbidding masks, many places are requiring them! Fortunately, many Halloween costumes are perfect for masks.
The CDC does not recommend using regular Halloween masks in place of a medical face covering. Plastic Halloween masks are less likely to prevent the spread of infectious droplets. Masked superheroes, ninjas, fuzzy animals, nurses, doctors, and fire fighters will probably be very popular this year.
Trick or treating will be different as well. Gone are the hordes of tiny monsters dressed as children running from house to house as fast as possible to get the maximum sugar haul.
Social distanced trick or treating may require a bit of creativity.
The insanity of 2020 has certainly inspired some interestingly creative displays and work-arounds. Several costume companies have been called out for selling particularly tasteless get-ups. Customers are no longer able to purchase the means to disguise themselves as rolls of toilet paper, Corona-19 beer bottles, or the corpses of celebrities and politicians. If Halloween revelers are truly determined to be offensive, they’ll have to create those costumes themselves.
For more details about Halloween safety, look at the CDC holidays website, the WHO website about the pandemic, or your local community or news website. Curfews, gathering limitations, costume regulations, trick-or-treat restrictions, etc. vary from place to place.
When it comes to holidays, some people go all out while others are minimalists—and some don’t participate at all. Even Christmas, the #1 holiday in the United States, isn’t celebrated by 4-8% of the population. For each of these most popular U.S. holidays, what would your character(s) do? And why?
December 25 (Fixed)
Christmas (from liturgical Christ’s Mass) is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Religious celebrations are marked by church services (often at midnight on Christmas Eve), singing hymns, recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth either in art or by reenacting, and observing four weeks of prayer and fasting in leading up to the holiday. Many elements of Saturnalia or pagan winter solstice festivals have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations, including decorating an evergreen tree, burning a Yule Log, making and eating special foods, and an evolution of the Holly King – Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Tovlis Babua, etc. Secular Christmas celebrations in the United States generally revolve around exchanging gifts, decorating inside and outside, singing carols, visiting family, and sharing a holiday meal. In addition to having the highest percentage of the population celebrating it, Christmas is the top holiday in the United States based on retail sales and number of greeting cards mailed. Among religious celebrations, Christmas is known for having the second highest church attendance (behind Easter).
November 22–28 (Floating Thursday)
Originally a harvest festival, the first official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States was proclaimed by George Washington in 1789. Traditional dishes often claim to have some connection to foods eaten by early American colonists, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin. Typically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of thanks for the previous year, with families and friends gathering for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. One-sixth of the turkeys consumed annually in the U.S. are eaten around Thanksgiving.
May 8–14 (Floating Sunday)
Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions that they make to society. Florists and restaurants have their busiest sale days on Mother’s Day and the days before and after, even higher than Valentine’s Day. Many churches experience spikes in attendance, following only Easter and Christmas.
March 22 – April 25 (Floating Sunday)
Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The highest church attendance happens on Easter. Most Christian traditions observe 40 days of Lent, fasting and repenting before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Many traditions associated with Easter originated with pagan celebrations of Spring Equinox, including the name (Eastra was a Saxon goddess of spring). Like Christmas, it has become a widely celebrated secular holiday, and customs observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades.
July 4 (Fixed)
Independence Day, also commonly known as the Fourth of July, marks the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. The Continental Congress actually voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd. The holiday is best known today for fireworks and barbecues. In addition to watching civic displays of fireworks, 45% of American celebrate the 4th of July by setting off their own fireworks, accounting for about $675 million in fireworks sales.
June 15–21 (Floating Sunday)
Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The first official Father’s Day observation in the US was in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd was raised by her single father and wanted to recognize him and others in his position for their contributions. Inspired by the official celebration of Mother’s Day the year before, Dodd petitioned the government to set aside a day celebrating fathers. It accounts for the highest sales of ties and neckwear annually, around $12.7 billion.
October 31 (Fixed)
Halloween (Hallow’s Eve) celebrations are marked today by costumed children knocking door to door asking for treats, and costumed adults attending parties (or costumed adults borrowing the neighbor’s children to have an excuse to beg for candy). Historically, Halloween was a Christian adoption of pagan Samhain traditions, burning lanterns (in turnips or pumpkins) and wearing frightening costumes to scare off restless spirits. It is the most popular holiday for candy sales, amounting to $2.6 billion in 2015. The same year, $6.9 billion was spent on candy, costumes, and pumpkins, all of which are directly attributed to this holiday.
St. Valentine’s Day
February 14 (Fixed)
St. Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love. As I’ve discussed before, there are also many tragic events associated with the 14th of February. It accounts for 224 million roses grown annually; 24% of American adults purchased flowers for Valentine’s Day in 2015. The holiday comes in second in terms of annual restaurant sales, behind only Mother’s Day. In recent years, florists, chocolatiers, greeting card sellers, and other associated romance retailers have been encouraging non-romantic displays of affection to increase sales.
St. Patrick’s Day
March 17 (Fixed)
St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) commemorates life of Saint Patrick, a Welsh shepherd brought to Ireland as a slave, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is also an opportunity to celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is generally a quiet affair; most people attend church services and perhaps wear a shamrock on their lapel. American traditions of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day stem from Tammany Hall efforts to recruit voters from among the newly arrived Irish immigrants in New York at the end of the 19th century. The political organization threw parades, hired bands to play Irish music, and distributed food and beer to hungry tenement dwellers. Modern celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, parties, the wearing of green attire or shamrocks, and alcohol consumption.
New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day
December 31 (Fixed)
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are usually lumped together, particularly since the actual festivities center around midnight between the two. Observed on December 31st and January 1, the last day of the old year and the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar. Many religious traditions require attendance at services on New Year’s Day. Parties celebrating the countdown to midnight are common. It is known for being the holiday with the highest alcohol consumption, evidenced by the spike in sales around between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Alcoholics’ support groups acknowledge this as one of the most dangerous holidays for people fighting alcoholism. Many parents set their household clocks ahead by several hours and allow their children to stay up until “midnight” and watch the televised countdown and fireworks in a country several time zones ahead; the kids are then sent to bed at 9pm, convinced it is midnight, and parents can go to bed early.
We have literally hundreds of national, state, and local holidays. A couple of examples of the less common ones are Patriot’s Day celebrated and observed in Massachusetts and Maine; and Yorktown Victory Day in Virginia.
Are some holidays—not among the most popular in the U.S.—nevertheless important to you character(s)? What are they? Better yet, make a list of holidays most important to your character(s) similar to the above. This is especially useful if you are writing a series character.
Bottom line for writers: how your character behaves around and on holidays can tell the reader a great deal about ethnicity, religion, family relationships, and spending habits, as well as revealing basic tendencies toward extravagance or minimalism, introversion /extroversion, degree of anxiety, etc.
When my three children were young, we always carved three Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween. (FYI: The traditional pumpkin for American Jack-O-Lanterns is the Connecticut field variety.) If my family of origin had a crest, our motto would be “Waste Not, Want Not.” Of course, I couldn’t just throw away perfectly edible food! This combination of personality and plenty resulted in lots of pumpkin for our table.
The day after Halloween, we “dealt with” those pumpkins. At the time, this meant chunking them up, baking the pieces, pureeing, and freezing the pulp in two-cup freezer bags. (Full disclosure: Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are far from the best eating ones. Sugar pie pumpkins or Long Island Cheese pumpkins are preferred by pumpkin connoisseurs.) The bounty led me to cut recipes from can labels, ask for favorite recipes from family members, and buy cookbooks like this.
Between then and now, I’ve learned just how narrow my culinary use of pumpkins had been.
In word associations tests, “pumpkin” is almost certain to be followed by “pie.” And sure enough, I have at least a dozen excellent pumpkin pie recipes. And then there is pumpkin bread, pumpkin stew, pumpkin curry, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin beer, pumpkin butter, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes… Pumpkin smoothies are a current favorite.
FYI: Pumpkin can be substituted for other winter squash in virtually any recipe. In fact, the FDA does not distinguish between pumpkins and other varieties of squash. When you buy a can of “pumpkin” from the grocery store, it’s just as likely to be acorn or butternut squash inside.
Pumpkins grow worldwide. Antarctica is the only continent that can’t grow pumpkins. (Those poor penguins…)
Blossoms cooked with duck were and are a Chinese delicacy
Small, green pumpkins can be treated like summer squash
Leaves can be eaten by themselves or dressed in a salad
Whole pumpkins stuffed and baked (sweet or savory)
As a complement to meat in stews (especially in Native American, African, and South American recipes)
Slices fried with apples, sweet herbs and spices, and currants
With corn and beans as succotash (Native American)
Dried/dehydrated; sometimes pounded into powder for baking
Popular with pre-Columbian people of Mexico and Peru; now available in most grocery stores
Oil from seeds
Butter (like apple butter)
As a hard times substitute for other ingredients
E.g., pumpkin syrup for molasses, pumpkin sugar)
Pumpkin shells can even be used a type of slow-cooker. After the stringy guts have been scooped out, they can be filled and buried in ashes or baked in an oven. Armenian rice pudding baked in a pumpkin shell is a particular holiday delicacy.
Native Americans (Iroquois in particular) had Four Sisters of agriculture: pumpkins, corn, beans, and squash, interplanted so each vegetable provided sustainability and nutrients for the others to grow. The four sisters of agriculture allowed the survival the earliest colonists. The ubiquity—and importance of pumpkins is clear in this old New England doggerel:
From pottage, and puddings, and puddings, and pies, Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies. We have pumpkins at morning, and pumpkins at noon; If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undone.
As an offering to deities in China during the season of the Fifth Moon
As a dietary supplement for cats and dogs that have certain digestive ailments such as hairballs, constipation, and diarrhea
In Native American medicine to treat intestinal worms and ailments
In Germany and southeastern Europe to treat irritable bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia
In China for the treatment of parasitic disease and the expulsion of tape worms
Hollowed out and lighted with candles, as lanterns to light the way after dark
And Then There is Halloween
The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, an important day for Druids, when the veil between this world and the afterlife was particularly thin. People would light bonfires and wear frightening costumes to ward off ghosts. All Hallows Eve (the night before All Saints Day) transmuted to Halloween—holy or hallowed evening.
Historically, in Britain and Ireland lanterns were carved from turnips or other vegetables. In the New World, pumpkins were a substitute, and even better because they are bigger and easier to deal with. Although other vegetables are still popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Britain purchases millions of pumpkins for Halloween.
In 1837, the term Jack-O-Lantern appeared in several Irish newspapers as a term for a vegetable lantern. The association with Halloween was documented by 1866. Additionally, in popular culture there’s a connection between pumpkins and the supernatural. Jack-O-Lanterns derive from folklore about a lost soul wandering the earth, searching for his missing head.
Annually, Circleville, OH holds a Pumpkin Festival, complete with marching bands, a queen, all sorts of fair foods made with pumpkin, and a prize for the biggest pumpkin. FYI, the largest pumpkin in North American history was grown by a New Hampshire man and tipped the scale at 2,528 pounds. You can find other festivals and pumpkin contests online.
Then there are contests, often including baked goods. More actively, there are games like pumpkin throwing and pumpkin chunking. Chunking involves machines like catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, and air cannons. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow pumpkins specifically to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.
Folklore and Fiction
We all know a couple of examples
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater Had a wife and couldn’t keep her. Put her in a pumpkin shell And there he kept her very well.
Cinderella’s coach for the ball was carved from a pumpkin in many versions
In some versions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman has a pumpkin in place of a head
Overall, in the U.S., pumpkin folklore tends to be light and humorous (though keeping a woman in a gourd root doesn’t sound very nice), often involving the biggest, the fastest, the most fantastic. Pumpkins can talk, or someone hit by a pumpkin thinks he’s dead. Southern American folklore often stems from tall tales told by the descendants of West African slaves in which pumpkins—and pigs—meet magical realism.
In other cultures, pumpkins are often elements of different genres of myths.
Laotians believed that all the people of Indo-China came from a pumpkin.
Turning into or giving birth to strange creatures, evil doers, beautiful princesses
Because it ripens later than most fruits and vegetables, between summer and winter, the pumpkin is often seen as a symbol of change.
In many West and Central African cultures, pumpkins stand for rebirth, when a pumpkin grows from a dead mother’s grave.
In Ukraine, a pumpkin was traditionally given to a suitor to symbolize that there was absolutely no chance of marriage.
Some sources, like Wikipedia, claim pumpkins are native to North America (northeastern Mexico and southern U.S). This assertion is based on evidence paleobotanists offer of cultivation as early as 7,500-5,000 BCE. Clearly, the use of pumpkins preceded the cultivation.
The Chinese grew pumpkins in the 6th and 7th centuries. Africa claims to have a pumpkin variety that preceded European or American contact. Pliny the Elder, in first century Rome, described something that seems to have been a pumpkin. Pre-Columbian Peruvians made pottery in the shape of pumpkins—suggesting that pumpkins were both prominent in their gardens and important in their culture. Conclusion: pumpkins were everywhere, very long ago!
Bottom line for writers: surely your plot and/or characters can use some tidbits about pumpkins!
Spinster? Life-long bachelor? Being dead is no excuse for not getting married. If you are dead and looking for love, there is a dating website for you! Check out: http://www.ghostsingles.com/(I am not affiliated in any way with this website; please do not perceive this as an endorsement for necrogamy.)
Ghost marriage (a.k.a. spirit marriage or necrogamy) has been practiced in some form in various cultures around the world for millennia. The first records appeared in Chinese legends more than 2000 years ago and has been part of the culture ever since. Although the practice was less common in China in the late 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, it’s made a comeback.
Reasons for marrying the dead vary among cultures and in different time periods, but there are a few recurring themes. The examples listed in this blog are not comprehensive, but the motives could easily be applied in many fictional scenarios.
Appeasing the spirits of those already dead
Fulfilling an agreement made before one or both parties died
Maintaining social decorum
Ensuring the legitimacy of children and inheritance rights
Ghost weddings are most common in China. Minghun is, essentially ghost marriage in which the bride and/or groom is dead and has not left behind a widow(er). A Chinese ghost marriage is usually set up by family members. The preferred ghost spouse is recently deceased.
Writers note: Because, in China, men outnumber women in death as in life, ghost brides can be big business. At least two cases have been reported (2007 and 2013) in which men killed more than a dozen prostitutes, housekeepers, and mentally ill women and sold the bodies to undertakers for about $2000. The undertakers then sold them to prospective “in-laws” for $5000.
But why would dead people marry? In China, and among the Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore, ghost marriage ceremonies are performed primarily to appease unhappy ghosts and to maintain social order or stability. The importance of marriage in Chinese society means that the ghosts of those who die unmarried are assumed to be unhappy and can wreck havoc on the birth family, the family of its betrothed (if engaged), and the married sisters of the ghost. This can take the form of any misfortune—financial setback, illness, etc.
Benefits for Women
Spinsters can gain social acceptance and cease being an “embarrassment” to their families (by being old spinsters at age 20!)
An unmarried daughter must gain a patrilineage so she can have a spirit tablet. With a tablet, the husband’s family will honor and care for her spirit after death.
Living unmarried women are not allowed to remain in the family home, nor are they allowed to die there.
A living woman marrying a ghost husband lives with his family, participates in the funeral ritual, abides by the mourning customs regarding dress and behavior, and takes a vow of celibacy. She also cares for her husband’s aging relatives.
For some women, particularly during the nineteenth century, marrying a ghost was their ideal social arrangements. A rising class of silk merchants, primarily comprised of women, were not eager to give up their independence and relative freedom by being tied to a husband. Being married to a respectable ghost would provide such a woman with the social protection of marriage without the hassle of raising a family. For more details, check out Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, a fascinating look at the history of marriage.
Benefits for Men
Dead sons were honored by giving them living brides.
The practice ensured the family line and name would continue. The groom’s family could adopt a grandson, usually a son of a male relative, who behaved as a son and inherited his deceased “father’s” share of the family wealth.
The groom’s mother would have a daughter-in-law to wait on her and care for the house.
It was considered unlucky and sometimes shameful for a younger brother to be married before an older one (even if the older brother was dead.)
Finding a suitable spouse is a varied business. Sometimes it involves a marriage broker who finds a family with a recently dead member who has a favorable horoscope. Some families use a priest as a matchmaker. Some families approach an undertaker/funeral director.
Sometimes the family assumes that the ghost will identify his or her preferred spouse. The potential bride or groom will reveal him or herself. A restless ghost may also express a desire to be married by appearing in a family member’s dream or while being channeled through a spirit medium during a séance.
Financial arrangements also vary. Often there is an exchange of bride wealth and/or dowries between the two families, but more often paper representations of wealth are exchanged. Houses, cars, servants, food, and furniture are all burned in offering to the deceased. (Often, money made to be burned will have “Bank of Heaven” printed on one side and “Bank of Hell” printed on the other. Wherever the happy couple wind up, they’ll have plenty of spending power!)
A ghost marriage ceremony is as similar as possible to a regular marriage ceremony, but with the dead person(s) represented by manikins made of cloth, bamboo, wood, and/or paper. The bride and groom wear real clothes but costume jewelry. A living groom would wear black gloves instead of white. The effigies are typically treated as though alive—being ‘fed,” talked to, and moved from place to place—until after all the festivities, when they are burned, and the bride’s ancestral tablet is added to the groom’s family’s tablets. If the bride and groom were engaged before he died, the groom is often represented on the wedding day by a white rooster.
Some regions of Japan, particularly the northern islands and Okinawa Prefecture, have a very long tradition of posthumous marriage, probably because of centuries of Chinese influence. Here, again, the reason relates to the placing of spirit tablets and continued honoring of ancestors.
The main factor distinguishing Japanese ghost marriage from its Chinese counterpart is the type of spouses married to ghosts. A deceased person is not married to another dead person, nor to a living one, but to a doll. The most common ghost marriage is between a ghost man and a bride doll, but posthumous weddings can go the other way, with a ghost bride marrying a groom doll. During a Japanese doll wedding ceremony, a photo of the dead man or woman is placed in a glass case alongside the doll to represent their union. The tableau stays in place for up to 30 years, at which point the deceased’s spirit is considered to have passed into the next realm. The symbolic companionship is designed to keep the ghost husband or wife calm and prevent supernatural harm from coming to the living family.
Persons who die early harbor resentment toward the living. Denied the sexual and emotional fulfillment of marriage and procreation, they often seek to torment their more fortunate living relatives through illness, financial misfortune, or spirit possession. Spirit marriage, allowing a ritual completion of the life cycle, placates the dead spirit and turns its malevolent attention away from the living.
Throughout the Korean Peninsula, it used to be customary for a person to marry the soul of a betrothed who died before the wedding. The living spouse would then remain celibate for the rest of his/her life. Currently that tradition is not binding.
Modern law in South Korea allows posthumous marriage in cases where one member of an engaged couple dies because, according Unification Church beliefs, only married couple can enter the highest levels of heaven. Another reason for postmortem marriages is—again—if the prospective bride is pregnant.
In Kasargod, India, children are often engaged to be married at a very young age. If the children pass away before they are old enough to marry, their families may hold in a Pretha Kalyanam. After consulting an astrologer, the two families will hold a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony with dolls in place of the bride and groom. The dolls are dressed in traditional wedding clothes, horoscopes are matched, and a wedding feast is served to guests.
After the ceremony, the dolls are buried under a sacred tree, submerged in a lake or river, or burned in a ceremonial pyre.
Posthumous or Postmortem Marriage is a legal form of marriage which originated in the 1950s. The story behind the addition begins with a disaster: on December 2, 1959, the Malpasset Dam just north of the French Riviera collapsed, unleashing a furious wall of water that killed 423 people. When then president Charles de Gaulle visited the devastated site, a bereaved woman, Irène Jodard, pleaded to be allowed to marry her dead fiancé. On December 31, French parliament passed the law permitting posthumous marriage.
The President of the Republic may, for grave reasons, authorize the celebration of the marriage where one of the future spouses died after completion of official formalities indicating unequivocally his or her consent. In this case, the effect of marriage dated back to the day preceding the death of the husband. However, this marriage does not entail any right of intestate succession for the benefit of the surviving spouse and no matrimonial property is deemed to have existed between spouses.
Article 117 of the French Civil Code
Ways to legally show intent include having posted an official wedding announcement at the local courthouse and written permission from a soldier’s commanding officer. Grave reasons include the birth of a child, and to legitimize children is a primary reason for such marriages. If the couple had planned to marry and the family of the deceased approves, the local official sends the application back to the President.
Writers note: One quarter of the applications for posthumous marriage are rejected.
During the ceremony, the living spouse stands next to a picture of the deceased fiancé. Instead of the deceased’s marriage vows, the mayor conducting the ceremony reads the presidential decree.
Money: The law does not allow the living spouse to claim any of the deceased spouse’s property or money. No matrimonial property is considered to have existed. However, the living spouse is considered a widow for purpose of receiving pension and insurance benefits.
Pro or con: A posthumous marriage bring the surviving spouse into the family of the deceased spouse, which can create an alliance and/or emotional satisfaction—or the opposite! The surviving spouse is also subject to the impediments of marriage that result.
The German government did not allow Jews and non-Jews to marry under the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Charlotte Kaletta and Fritz Pfeffer lived together without marriage. In 1950, Charlotte married Fritz posthumously, with a retrospective wedding date of May 31, 1937.
Within the Nuer ethnic group of southern Sudan, ghost marriage happens in a very particular way. “If a man dies without male heirs, a kinsman frequently marries a wife to the dead man’s name,” writes Alice Singer in Marriage Payments and the Exchange of People. “The genitor [biological father] then behaves socially like the husband, but the ghost is considered the pater [legal father].”
This arrangement, Levirate marriage, is conducted in order to secure both the property and ongoing lineage of the dead man. The woman receives a payment at the time of the ghost marriage—a fee known as the brideprice—which may include “bloodwealth” money from those responsible for the death of the man as well as payment in the form of cattle that once belonged to the deceased man. The Dinka (Jieng) and Nuer tribes of Southern Sudan most commonly practice this form of ghost marriage. Women will also marry a deceased man so they can retain their wealth and property instead of losing it to a living husband.
The term Levirate is a derivative of the Latin word levir meaning “husband’s brother.” Instances of Levirate marriage have also been documented in Judaism, Islam, Scythia, Central Asia and Xiongnu, Kirghiz, Indonesia, Somalia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and England.
THE UNITED STATES does not legally recognize ghost marriages.
Bottom line for writers: Marrying dead people is rife with possibilities for tension, romance, murder, and conflict. Real-life examples are often tragic. Wikipedia has a list of posthumous marriage in fiction—TV, film, and novels. Feel free to go for it, even if you will not be the first!
Coverage of the pandemic is all over the media. Every day we get the latest tallies. Local and national news feature the tragedies that are all too common. A family of 6 all of whom have tested positive, and only two survive. Sometimes someone being discharged from the hospital after weeks on a ventilator. So why this blog? Because people suffer the virus in ways that never catch the attention of the media. Writers need to be aware of these variations.
Many of you are familiar with the name of Kathleen Corcoran, my friend and colleague and occasional guest blogger. She has graciously agreed to share her experience with us all.
It started with a headache, a pretty bad one, like something was sitting on my head. Or maybe it was the insomnia first. Or maybe the headache was caused by the insomnia. Or maybe I couldn’t sleep because my head was hurting. Or maybe I was just doomed to be caught in this chicken and egg loop of which came first for all eternity or at least until the sun came up.
But I didn’t think anything was wrong. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a kid. My posture is terrible, which causes headaches sometimes. I took a couple of painkillers and eventually was lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter.*
(Neither Vivian Lawry nor I are affiliated with or Stephen Fry or with J. K. Rowling. But if anyone knows how to get in touch with Stephen Fry, let me know, and I’ll do my darndest to become affiliated!)
In the morning, my husband went off to work, I drank about ten cups of tea, and everything was normal. Perfectly normal.
I was pretty tired, but that was to be expected after being up all night.
Joints aching? Must be a storm coming. Stupid arthritis.
Skin hurts like I’m wrapped in sandpaper? Probably just didn’t rinse all the soap out of my clothes last time I washed them.
Too hot and too cold and too hot and too cold again? Eh, it’s July. The air conditioner is weird.
Can’t stop coughing? Gee, I must need to sweep under the bed. It’s obviously really dusty down there.
Sore throat? Well, duh. That’s what happens when you cough a lot.
Eventually, the combined efforts of my husband, my sister, and my mother convinced me that I was probably sick, it might be the COVID-19, and I definitely needed to do something about it. The first thing I did about it was to consult Our Lord and Master, The Great Google. My husband left work early, and we tried to find a testing site.
And that’s when things got really… boring. Following the instructions laid out by The Great Google, I didn’t bother going to a doctor. I answered a bunch of questions online to determine if I was worthy of receiving testing and then to determine if I was worthy of receiving fast testing. The pharmacy told me I could stop by the drive-thru the following afternoon to poke a stick up my nose, and that was it.
Labs are really backed up, so I could expect my test results in about two weeks. Maybe longer. Probably longer. In the meantime, I should assume I had The ‘Rona (as my brother insists on calling it) and behave accordingly. Oh, and don’t bother going to a doctor or a hospital unless I turn blue or have a seizure. And it better be a pretty big seizure.
Contact tracing was easy. Two phone calls. I warned my parents that I was (allegedly) highly contagious with (allegedly) an infection of (allegedly) COVID-19 and thus I may have (allegedly) contaminated my mother and she may have (allegedly) passed on the deadly (allegedly) infection to my father. Allegedly.
Thus, I am now in quarantine. I can’t leave the bedroom except for bathroom breaks. My husband can’t leave the house, just in case I’ve contaminated him. He has to sleep on the sofa, keeping an eye on the turtle. We both have to wear masks anytime I open the bedroom door, but my husband covers his face just about any time time he’s not sleeping. Pippin the Wonder Dog has gone to stay with my parents until we’re all allowed out of the house again. Fourteen days of staring at the bedroom walls, unless I’m still sick or my test results come back negative.
My husband put food and tea next to the bed for the first few days, carefully not touching anything and showering immediately after leaving the room. When I could get out of bed, he left the food and tea on the floor outside the door and picked up empty dishes with gloves. For about a week, I couldn’t keep anything down except tea. It’s a good thing I like tea.
But then I started feeling better. I could sit up, the cough subsided, and I managed to stay awake for more than two hours at a time. My fever hung around for a bit, but it eventually went down. At one point, the thermometer informed me that I had a temperature of 107.3F. As I was staring at the read-out, wondering why all my internal organs hadn’t shut down yet, my husband reminded me to wait until after I drank the hot tea before sticking the thermometer in my mouth. Smart man.
Now, I wait. There’s not a whole lot to do in here. I can video chat with the guy on the other side of the door. My goddaughter sometimes reads me stories or demonstrates her spectacular spinning skills over the phone. I spend way more time than I will ever admit on sites like BoredPanda and BuzzFeed. Occasionally, I try to get up and walk around, but it’s only a step and a half from the bed to the door and only half a step from the bed to the wall. Not very conducive to calisthenics.
The neighbors lead fascinating lives, as I have discovered by not being creepy at all. I spend a lot of time staring out the window, and I’ve gotten to know everyone’s habits. If the dog next door isn’t out for his morning yard time by 7:30, I worry. Where’s Roscoe? Is he stuck inside? Is he still asleep? When the kids down the street start their evening basketball skirmishes, I keep score. Darren cheats, but Michael is taller and older… I haven’t decided if that evens things out, but Keisha always wins anyway. Yesterday, the recycling truck came by. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like Rear Window, but without the murder!
In the meantime, my husband has missed two weeks of work and pay. His boss isn’t sure about letting him back in the shop until all his colleagues are comfortable that he isn’t poisonous. My parents have had to isolate in their house, missing my father’s birthday dinner. All the careful planning my sister did to set up a safe birthday celebration for my father is down the drain (along with all the ingredients I’d just bought to make Beef Wellington for them). My other sister has been stuck watching five kids by herself because I can’t help out. And I had to reschedule an appointment with the DMV. Their next opening isn’t until September.
Don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled beyond belief not to be in the ICU, hooked to a ventilator in a medically-induced coma. But I don’t even know if I have COVID-19. Barring some catastrophic development, I will be free to leave quarantine and resume my normal activities tomorrow. If I did have it, I’m no longer carrying anything that could infect people. If I didn’t, I just put a bunch of people through a bunch of disruption and financial hassle for a sniffle.
Oh hey! An email just popped up with my test results….
Finding the right message…
If I tested positive, does that mean I passed or failed? Also, is this going to be on the final exam?
Thanks to Kathleen for sharing her experience. Writers take note: She is living, breathing (thank goodness) proof that the worst case scenario isn’t necessary for one’s life to be turned upside-down.
During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote. As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America.
Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once. With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807. Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.
During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.
Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America. Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them.
Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.
The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.
The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.
Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s. Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.
Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.
Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.
The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.
Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.
P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.
Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
Marching against injustice or striking for improved work conditions, pressing for suffrage or civil rights, playing music or writing books to increase public awareness—throughout history, all sorts of causes have moved people to seek change. The definition of a protest is both vague and nebulous, depending on the speaker. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to limit my definition to a conscious attempt by people in a society to change some part of the status quo.
The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a protest by William the Conqueror against the policies of King Harold of England. A toddler throwing mashed peas on the floor is not protesting in an attempt to change the household policies on vegetable consumption.
A protest is an expression of objections, disapproval, or dissent regarding an idea or action, typically a political one. The intention is to publicize opinions in an attempt to influence public opinion and/or government policy or to alter conditions so that the change results directly. The categories listed below can have a great deal of overlap: a rally may include protest music; a hunger strike may be accompanied by a vigil; a march may end with delivering a petition, etc. Nearly any type of protest can end in violence, either on the part of the protesters or from opponents trying to stop the protest. Today’s blog will be limited to protests intended to be peaceful.
Rally: People in the affected group gather together, often with other allies from the community, to improve solidarity, boost morale, and demonstrate the size of the affected community.
Rallies often include speeches, speakers, singing, preaching, and other attempts to raise awareness in the general community and encourage people to continue to campaign.
Crowds of people rallied together are more likely to attract media attention, providing a platform for the message to be spread further.
Roman plebians were occasionally allowed to gather in a few public spaces to make their grievances against behaviors and unmet expectations of the princeps heard, primarily outside theaters, bathhouses, and the circus.
Students rallied at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to call for more freedom and government transparency.
Turkish women rally to protest violence against women and police apathy
Georgians rally in Tbilisi to legalize marijuana
The M’ikmaq people of the Elsipogtog First Nation took a stand against fracking in 2013 in New Brunswick.
March: Affected people and supporters move from point A to point B, often beginning or ending with a rally. Marches often include prayer walks, chants, and singing, as well as signs and banners detailing demands.
Though most protests are relatively short, a few miles or circling around and around the same area, some are extremely long.
In 195 BCE, Roman women came from all over the country to march on Forum in protest of the Senate refusing to repeal the lex Oppia, a law funding the Punic Wars by forbidding women wearing jewelry.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led the March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to New York in 1903 to protest working conditions, especially child labor conditions.
Marches for racial justice and equality have taken place around the world in the past few weeks
Opal Lee, who is 93, is walking from Ft Worth, Texas to D.C. to protest for racial justice and deliver a petition to Donald Trump.
Vigil: Banners, placards, candles, and/or leaflets are displayed quietly so passersby know what the vigil stands for even if those standing vigil say nothing.
Many vigils are accompanied by music and symbolic lighting or extinguishing of candles or lights to symbolize lost lives or spreading hope, among other statements.
A vigil can also be held to raise morale for someone who is unable to be there, to let someone confined in hospital or prison know that others in the community are aware of their plight, or to bring awareness to authorities or the community at large.
Vigils have been held outside prisons to ask authorities too release at-risk, nonviolent prisoners so they won’t die of COVID-19.
A candlelit vigil is held every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Jenny Holzer staged a lightshow vigil to remember victims of gun violence and to spark conversation on how to prevent it in the future.
Art – Creativity of every kind is put to use in support of various causes.
Songs – Strange Fruit became one of the most well-known anthems of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Music -The Brothers of Brass play Louisiana-style jazz at racial justice protests in Denver.
Dance – Young ballerinas in Richmond, VA dance to protest monuments to Confederate generals in 2020.
Grafitti – Tahrir Square in Iraq has been surrounded by murals painted in support of equality.
Theater – “The Other Shore” was written by Gao Xingjian in 1986 to protest government censorship and lack of individuality. It has never been performed in mainland China.
Poetry – Sextus Propertius the poet wrote several poems highly critical of Caesar Augustus’ warlike nature, generally decrying militarism as a policy.
Petition: Having a written record of multitudes who support a cause is an effective way of getting the attention of authorities.
King John was petitioned by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in England in 1215, reducing the power of the monarchy.
Human Rights Campaign gathering signatures to present to legislature in support of a bill supporting equal right
Satire: Rather than attack an authority directly, undermining credibility or gravity by mocking is sometimes a more effective method of advancing a cause.
Vikings historically have been portrayed as uncivilized barbarians without culture or intelligence by the people who left written records of them – literate monks whose monasteries had been burned.
Lysistrata is a comedic play by Aristophanes about women trying to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until their husbands agree to stop fighting.
Environmental protesters in London protesting corporate interests putting profit over humanity.
Across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, a notoriously anti-gay religious sect, the home owners have painted their houses in the colors of Gay Pride and Transgender Pride.
PETA activists often demonstrate in public by dressing ridiculously to illustrate absurdities in the meat and fur industries.
Ester Hernandez created this illustration to express anger at the human and environmental costs of commercially grown agriculture.
“Doxxing” (or doxing) is a destructive variation of this type of protest, more common since the spread of the internet. Protesters widely publish contact details and sensitive information about people with whom they disagree in an effort to endanger their careers, social lives, families, and personal safety.
Lewis Hine’s photographs of child laborers showed the terrible conditions in which they worked, creating a public outcry
White Rose Society students in Germany protested Nazis by secretly printing anti-Nazi pamphlets and leaflets with information about prison camps and SS atrocities.
Incorrect doxxing nearly ruined the life of Kyle Quinn after he was mistakenly identified online as having taken part in a neo-Nazi rally. He was not involved in any way and was not even in the same time zone.
Lawsuit: A social movement or group can sometimes use the legal system to advance their aims.
The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the oldest recorded legal systems, provides methods for women to sue for divorce, for slaves to be set free or re-enslaved, for everyone to be punished, and for property disputes to be resolved.
Elizabeth Freeman was the first woman to win her freedom in court in America, having successfully sued for her freedom from her former owner in 1781.
Richard and Mildred Loving took their case all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1958 to defend their right to marry, opening the way for all other interracial marriages.
Symbols: Pictures are worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words… The same is true when protesting. There are many ways to call attention symbolically to a cause
Shoes left empty to stand in place of people being killed by climate change
Indian students bandaged their eyes to echo the injuries inflicted on a fellow student and to protest safety for Jamia students
Indian farmers stood in chest-deep water for days to call attention to rising floods ruining their farmlands
Puerto Rican protesters erected a guillotine against government corruption
South African women taped their mouths shut to protest community silence about rape
Chinese students against government propoganda education
Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the National Anthem before football games to protest police murder of Black people
Activists in Pamplona, Spain painted themselves red and staged a die-in to protest the Running of the Bulls
A Syrian migrant sewed his mouth shut in protest of the lack of safety or empathy in the world for refugees
Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a Black Power salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who won the Silver Medal, had his award stripped as punishment for his support of his fellow athletes.
Protesters put plastic bags on their heads to demand clean air and action against climate change
Bicyclists dumped yellow paint on the roadways around the Arc d’Triomphe, causing motorists to spread the paint into the shape of the sun, raising awareness for solar energy
Toni Smith turned her black on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest racial inequality.
Taiwan workers blocked a highway with a die-in, bodies spell out “raise our salaries”
Clothing, or lack thereof, can send a strong yet silent message. People can call attention to their message by wearing clothing considered socially unacceptable, wearing acceptable clothing in an uncommon way, or wearing clothing that is strongly linked with a particular cause.
Because women have traditionally been excluded from the sphere of public discourse, many women brought attention to their causes through fashion.
Writing on clothing allows a protester to make their voice heard without actually speaking.
Refusing to wear a particular garment or any garments at all can also send a message.
Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment allowing women more comfort and freedom
Women dressed in antique costumes to highlight old-fashioned, sexist laws
London protesters showed their almost-everything to protest the unsafe and unrealistic body standards used by Victoria’s Secret
Girls from Lincoln High wore trousers to school in 1942 to call for an end to the double standards of the dress code
Boys from Clovis High School wore dresses to protest continuing, sexist, double standards in student dress codes
Congressional Black Caucus members wear Kente cloth to display pride in their African heritage.
Saudi Arabian women wore their abayas and niqabs inside out to protest laws requiring women to be fully covered in public
During a protest against sexual assault, this woman wore clothes documenting all the ways men have touched her inappropriately against her will.
IRA political prisoners on Block H refused to wear prison uniforms and wrapped themselves in blankets to protest the British government revoking their status of political prisoners in 1978.
Burkinis on French beaches have become a contentious issue, with the French government banning them and women demanding to wear them.
Jadon Sancho took off his jersey after scoring a goal to reveal a shirt calling for Justice for George Floyd.
Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt emblazoned with the names of men killed by police
LA Lakers players wore shirts echoing George Floyd’s last words in support of Black Lives Matter
US Women Soccer players wore inside out jerseys to protest pay gap
Women dressed like Handmaid’s Tale to protest anti-abortion laws
Indigenous dress to protest racist team names like Redskins
The 2016 Women’s March on Washington featured thousands of women wearing pink hats in protest of Donald Trump.
Slutwalk to protest victim blaming
French men protest gay marriage by being… naked
Philipino naked protestors against Ferdinand Marcosa buried in hero cemetary
Strike, slow down, sick-outs to protest work issues: often follows a failure of negotiations.
Pullman car operators on strike in 1894 clashed with union-busters
Factory workers in St. Petersburg, Russia went on strike in 1905, but the Nicholas II sent in the military to break it up.
Shipyard workers in 1942 staged a sit-down protest to call for wage increases
Workers at the Oracle Korea plant on strike
Employees at Woolworth staged a sit-down strike for a regular 40-hour workweek.
Inmates in US prisons went on a hunger strike and refused to work in 2016 and 2018 to call for better conditions and voting rights.
AIIMS- doctors protest racism being treated like terrorists by going on strike for one day
Boycott: Organized refusal to buy or use a product or service in protest of the owners, the vendors, the production, or another aspect that is in need of changing.
Employees at a stocking factory opposing a boycott of Japanese goods, including silk
American consumers were told to fight Nazis with their wallets during World War II
After Rosa Parks’s arrest in 1955, the Montgopmery Bus Boycott led to thousands of people walking and bicycling to work in protest of bus segregation.
Picket: hold signs, placards, or banners and walking around circles, with or without singing, chanting etc., point is to impede access to a place or to address the people going into that place, there are legal lengths now to how long a picketer is allowed to physically impede someone trying to cross the line
Women working in clothing factories went on strike for safer working conditions and better wages following the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Sanitation workers on strike picketing to protest segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
Verizon employees on strike form a picket line.
Civil Disobedience: Deliberately breaking laws (often seen as unjust) is a way to protest their enforcement. The laws broken are typically not violent ones (such as those against murder or driving drunk) and are usually broken with the deliberate intention of being arrested, possibly causing a scene and raising attention while being arrested.
Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes going to support the Mexican American War.
Students sat at the lunch counters in defiance of segregated Whites-Only rules.
Civil Rights protesters deliberately entered spaces marked for segregation, such as the Azalea Room.
Flower arranging without a license in front of Louisiana courthouse
Protesters kissing outside the DUMA in Moscow to push back against new laws against public shows of affection in same-sex couples
Kristen Stewart was disgusted by a dress code requiring women to wear high heels at Cannes Film Festival, so she took off her shoes and went barefoot.
Irish protesters kissing outside DAIL in support of gay marriage
Lebanese protesters for government reforms used multiple means to block roads, including burning tires, practicing yoga in intersections, and setting up living space in the middle of highways.
The Kiss of Love Campaign in India is a protest against moral policing forbidding public affection.
Protesters blocked traffic to the courthouse in Kansas during a Black Lives Matter rally.
Graffiti artists are illegal in most areas, but protesters like this woman send messages of solidarity with suffering and demanding government action.
Note: Many older sources reference LGBT. I’ve taken the liberty of adding Q.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled 6/3 that LGBTQ people are covered by Title VII and cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. This ruling coincides with the 50th anniversary of the organization of Gay Pride events in the U.S.
A Brief History of LGBTQ Rights in America
The 1960s was a time of civil protest in general (you heard it here first!), including protests and demonstrations seeking civil rights for lesbians and gays. In 1965, homophile organizations started Annual Reminders pickets, reminding Americans that LGBTQ people did not have basic civil protections.
Veteran activist Scott Hix provides context for the beginning of the national push for equality. “Stonewall was not the beginning of gay rights. It was just the tipping point of our continued pushback because of the exposure from the New York Times.”
For years before the raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York, Hix worked to get respect for the LGBTQ community on the West Coast, including the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco. “Scott worked in bars as a drag queen at the time and he vividly remembers the times when the cops would raid the bars, throw everyone in jail for a night, and destroy drag queens’ wigs by setting them on fire or flushing them down a toilet, then they would make the queens wash their faces with dirty mop water.”
The seminal event for LGBTQs occurred in June, 1969. Police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn in New York City, triggering spontaneous riots by LGBTQ people there. An organized march on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This is now seen as the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history.
At the time of the Stonewall Riots, it is estimated that there were 50-60 gay groups in the country. By 1972, that number had grown to 2500, and marches took place in Atlanta, Brighton, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, London, Paris, Philadelphia, West Berlin, Stockholm, and Washington, D.C.
By now, the entire month of June is celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month. It has been recognized by three U.S. presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama via official proclamations, and Donald Trump in via Twitter. Events range from marches to festivals, nationally and internationally.
Because any realistic group of characters that are even remotely representative of the population as a whole is likely to include LGBTQ characters. Because far too many authors write gay characters who have no personality except being gay. Because, even when LGBTQ characters are included, they are often killed off quickly as nothing more than a plot device.
Because (even if you don’t know it) you almost certainly have friends, colleagues, and family members who identify somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum. Because people who identify as LGBTQ are still more likely to face harassment and discrimination, even in the US, even in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling. Because LGBTQ children and teens are far more likely to deal with bullying, discrimination, homelessness, and suicide from a lifetime of being told by media that they are not normal and a source of shame.
Because LGBTQ People are All Around
Though accurate numbers are difficult to estimate, a significant portion of the U.S. population is LGBTQ; 4.5% overall, 5.1% of women and 3.9% men. The number who identify as transgender is estimated at 0.6%. In addition, be aware that these percentages are not evenly distributed across states, cities, or countries.
The five “gayest” cities, in rank order by % of population are:
San Francisco, 15.4
Because Others Can’t Be Proud Without Fear
Major advances in equality in have been made recently in Europe, Canada, the US, and India, among other countries. However, in many countries, LGBTQ people face significant danger of jail or even death if their orientation becomes known. Still, people turn out for Pride celebrations despite the danger.
Because Pride Is the Perfect Time to Propose
Because Pride Has All the Best Fashions
There is more LGBTQ literature available than you might think. Wikipedia has a 44-page list. Here are some examples of well-known authors you may not have known are or were LGBTQ.
Sir Francis Bacon
Honré de Balzac
Rita Mae Brown
William S. Burroughs
Daphne du Maurier
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sara Orne Jewett
W. Somerset Maughm
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Bottom line: This month you can support LGBTQ colleagues by marching, celebrating, or (amid COVID-19) by reading LGBTQ literature.
Everyone reading this blog knows that reading is a good thing (I hope), but just how good is it? Let us count the ways.
1) Activates existing neural pathways in the brain. Complex poetry, in particular, keeps the brain active and elastic. For example, reading 30 pages of a book the night before having an MRI resulted in heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, associated with language and intelligence.
2) Maintains and improves brain function. Frequently exercising the brain by reading decreases mental decline in the elderly by 32%. Elderly patients who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Memory is improved at every age.
3) Reading is good for mental health. Depressed patients who read—or have stories read aloud to them—report feeling better and more positive about things. Research has indicated that reading can reduce stress by around 68%. Making a habit of reading a physical book before bed can improve sleep. (Reading on e-readers or tablets can actually keep people awake longer.)
4) Reading is highly beneficial for children. A children’s book exposes the child to 50% more words than watching a TV show. Children who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well at all levels and in all facets of formal education. Children who read are better able to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic, recognize cause and effect, and use good judgment.
5) Identifying with characters in books creates an empathic experience for the reader much like real-life. In fact, people who read do exhibit more empathy in real life.
That last bit is the primary point of this blog. As recent events have made abundantly clear, people born straight with white privilege experience the world differently from “others.” And I’m not the only one to make that point.
Writing in The Washington Post (4/24/15) Sunili Govinnage wrote, “I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.” Finding books by nonwhite authors wasn’t easy. “Research shows . . . a systemic problem in the literary and publishing world.” (See also my blog from Friday, When You and/or Your Characters Are Not White.)
Campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books, launched in 2014, are making a difference. Annual lists of POC/BAME lists are published by The Guardian, The Telegraph, Bustle, and others. But making something available isn’t enough.
I recently heard a sound bite from a protestor who objected to white protestors being called “allies” because everyone should be just people protesting a common problem. But whatever the label, straight white people who want to work against prejudice (the attitude) and discrimination (the practices) that have unfairly and harmfully impacted minority and LGBTQ people need to understand at a gut level what it’s like to be “other.” They need empathy.
And that’s where reading comes in. Individuals still must make the effort to diversify—one might say “normalize”—their own experience through conscious reading choices. Author Gail Carriger credits Mercedes Lackey’sHeralds of Valdemar books with validating her experiences as child and influencing queer representation in her own books. On her blog, Carriger writes, “Her books were/are important because in them queer wasn’t a big deal. It just was.”
Sadie Trombetta at Bustle Magazine recommended 23 LGBTQ books with a person of color as the protagonist. She writes, “We need to share, read, and talk about diverse stories now more than ever. There is an entire population of the country continually underrepresented or misrepresented, misunderstood, and straight up discriminated against, and we need to hear their voices.”
And it is tough. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, in an exchange with a friend from college—i.e., a friend of decades—I said that he (my friend) had the benefits of white male privilege. He claimed I’d insulted him. Even though I elaborated—said that I was not saying he hadn’t worked hard, hadn’t deserved what he earned, etc., only that he hadn’t had to overcome his gender or his skin color to be successful—he hasn’t spoken to me since.
And while we’re at it, let’s go international. The U.S. doesn’t have a lock on racism, discrimination, and oppression. Several times a year, The New Yorker publishes short stories by international authors. Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posts suggested reading lists of Canadian Black and First nations authors several times a year. These themes can be explored around the world, as shown by the rallies in cities around the world.
As everyone should know by now, given recent events and news coverage, who you are and how you look makes a difference across the spectrum of American life. Writing (and publishing your writing) is no exception. I want to thank Kathleen Corcoran—friend, colleague, and occasional guest blogger—for suggesting this topic. In case you missed the photos on the header of my blog, I should clarify that I am a white woman and thus am relying on outside resources.
Surprise, surprise! (Hear the sarcasm dripping.)
Black Authors Get Fewer and Smaller Advances Than Their White Counterparts
Take a look at the author photos on the shelves of just about any bookstore, and you’re likely to be confronted by an overwhelmingly pale gallery. The science fiction and fantasy shelves tend to be even more monochromatic.
The disparity in pay is one reason Black authors are less likely to be full-time authors. Through the magic of Twitter, people were shown just how wide that disparity is. Here are a few instances from #publishingpaidme, started by Black fantasy author LL McKinney.
White American sci-fi author John Scalzi wrote that to the best of his recollection: he received $6,500 for his first two books in 2005 and 2006, then several five-and six-figure advances before a $3.4m deal for 13 books in 2015.
In comparison, Hugo-winning Black sci-fi novelist NK Jemisin said that she received $40,000 for each book of the Inheritance trilogy, $25,000 for each book of the Dreamblood duology, and $25,000 for each book of the Broken Earth trilogy, each of which won a Hugo award.
Black American literary novelist Jesmyn Ward said that she wrote her second novel, Salvage the Bones, before securing an advance. “Even after it won the [National Book Award], my publishing company did not want to give me 100K for my next novel.”
Black American author Roxane Gay’s opinion: “The discrepancy along racial lines is very real. Keep your day job.”
Possible explanation: according to a survey earlier this year by Lee & Low Books (publishers of children’s books), 76% of workers in U.S. publishing identified as white.
In that podcast Wilkinson noted that in spy novels, from James Bond and John le Carré on, the super spies look very male and very white. So she wrote American Spy featuring a Black woman, Marie Mitchell.
Japanese American author and literary critic David Mura has written extensively about the race, gender, and identity the world of publishing. In his article about changes in the traditional path to publication, Mura identifies another challenge facing Black science fiction and fantasy authors.
The divide between the way whites and people of color see the social reality around them is always there in our society…. Creative writing involves the very description of that reality, and so the gulf between the vision of whites and people of color is very present right there on the page. And so, conflict ensues.
Traditional wisdom held that making a main character a person of color will change the focus of the story. The advice was to substitute some sort of alien for the minority human. These things were actually taught in creative writing classes! Butler maintained that if a writer can see minorities for all their humanity—faults, skills, problems, aspirations—writing minority protagonists won’t derail the plot. Butler’s essay still seems spot-on to me, and I recommend reading it!
[R]emember when men represented all of humanity? Women didn’t care much for it. Still don’t. No great mental leap is required to understand why blacks, why any minority, might not care much for it either. And apart from all that, of course, it doesn’t work.
Ramón Saldívar is a professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University whose scholarly work is with ethnic literature. Stanford News, January 17, 2017 profiled Saldívar prior to the publication of his book The Racial Imaginary: Speculative Realism and Historical Fantasy in Contemporary Ethnic Fiction.
He studied works by African, Asian, Mexican, Dominican, and Native Americans. All were born after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His overall conclusion is that these writers find new ways to imagine and talk about race through fiction. “They are combining representations of race and racial identity with the wildest literary experimentations one could imagine.” And this is across all genres.
If you want to read what he’s talking about, here are examples of authors he studied, including several prize winners.
African Americans: Colson Whitehead, Perciival Everett, Touré Neblett, Darieck Scott
Asian Americans: Sesshu Foster, Karen Tei Yamashita
Native Americans: Sherman Alexie
Latinos/Latinas: Marta Acosta, Michele Serros, Yxta Maya Murray, Salvador Plascencia
Dominican American: Junot Diaz
April 17, 2018 The New York TimesMatch Book replied to the following query: “I’m hoping you can save me from the literary doldrums. I’m looking for black authors who can both get me excited about reading again and inspire my own writing.” The writer then gave examples of writing she likes, following with, “I need to know that there is an audience out there for mystery, suspense and science fiction written about black characters by black authors, so I don’t feel like I’m writing in vain.” Here are The New York Times recommendations. If you want descriptions of each, check out the post online.
Bottom Line for Writers: the time is long overdue to break the molds and end systemic bias in publishing.
Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?
Always the same, sweet hurt, The understanding that settles in the eyes Sooner or later, at the end of class, In the silence cooling in the room. Sooner or later it comes to this, … And she has to know, if all music Begins equal, why this poem of hers Needed a passport, a glossary…