The Dark Side of Intimate Relationships

dark side intimate relationships
Domestic violence—in its many forms—is so prevalent that all writers should be informedshould make conscious decisions about whether to include this common aspect of intimate relationships in their work, and if so, to represent such relationships accurately. All the statements that follow can easily be verified online.

 

So, just how common is it? 1 in 3 women and (surprising to me) 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused in the United States. Another way of looking at these numbers: if none of your characters suffers physical violence, you probably aren’t writing realistically. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are victims of severe violence by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

dark side intimate relationships
 
Know the norms and choose when to go against them with your characters/plot. 

 

  • Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical treatment for their injuries.
  • Being the recipient of domestic violence is correlated with a higher incidence of depression and suicidal behavior.
  • 85% of domestic abuse sufferers are women
dark side intimate relationships
  • 40% of gay or bisexual men experience intimate partner violence, compared to 25% of men overall
  • 50% of lesbian women experience domestic violence, but not necessarily intimate partner violence
  • A transgender person is 2.6 times more likely to suffer intimate partner violence than a non-LGBT person
  • 50% of LGBT people murdered by their intimate partners were people of color
domestic violence
Why stay in an abusive relationship? Before I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place, I couldn’t fathom why a woman in an abusive relationship—especially a physically abusive one—would stay in that relationship. At first glance, it seems to fly in the face of a basic tenet of human behavior: people always choose the best perceived alternative. On closer look, staying is often the best perceived alternative.

 

dark side intimate relationships
  • 98% of all domestic violence cases include financial abuse—i.e., the abuser controls the money, leaving the victim with no financial resources to leave. This is the number one reason victims stay or return to abusive relationships. If I am remembering correctly, on average a woman will leave and return seven times before leaving for good.
  • Fear of being killed. Three women are murdered every day by a current or former male partner. A woman is 70 times more likely to be murdered in the few weeks after leaving an abusive partner than at any other time in the relationship.
  • Threats against children or other family members
  • Such low self-esteem that the woman feels she deserves it
Staggering as the figures are, still most of us have not experienced domestic/intimate partner violence. In addition, you might just not want to go there with your writing. But you can still create tension by inserting red flags signaling potentially abusive relationships.
 
dark side intimate relationships
 
For more information or more targeted information, search the web.

 

  • Domestic Violence and Psychological Abuse
  • Domestic Violence and Economic Abuse
  • Domestic Violence and Stalking
  • Dating Violence and Teen Domestic Violence
  • Male Victims of Intimate Partner Violence
  • Domestic Abuse in Later Life
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native Women and Domestic Violence
  • Domestic Violence and Guns

When Less is More

When Less is More
I love this list, even though I now have no idea where I came across it. It beautifully illustrates the value of getting rid of flabby modifiers. “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger.

 

Closely related to this is adding modifiers to terms that have specific meanings. Consider these impossibilities:
  • very unique
  • fast/slow minute
  • quick second
Another search—one that must be done by you or your beta reader—is eliminating unnecessary modifiers. One version of this is linking two words where one would do. For example:
  • tiny little
  • great big
  • quick glance
  • slow saunter
  • quiet whisper
  • loud shout
  • low mumble/mutter
  • loud scream
Other red flag words/phrases are those that pull back or even deny the meaning weakening what’s being asserted. Examples here include:
  • somewhat
  • sort of
If something is somewhat clean, what does that mean? If something is sort of pretty, what should the reader see?

 

These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Giving First Rights

Sometimes life gets on top of you. You aren’t dead, just buried. And accidents happen. Such was the case for me once upon a time. When two on-line journals went live nearly simultaneously, I realized that I had granted first rights to both of them. My attempt to set things right follows.

To the OxMag Editorial Staff:

I am embarrassed and extremely regretful to have to tell you that I inadvertently granted publication rights to two literary journals. On May 8, 2015, when I granted OxMag rights to my short story “Trust,” I did not recall that I had previously (on March 27) granted publication to Diverse Arts Project Journal. All I can say in my defense is that over the last several months I’ve been distracted by two surgeries, daily hospital care for a persistent non-healing wound, various other health complications, family issues, and a flurry of short story acceptances. Once I discovered my error, notifying you seemed the only honorable thing to do.

As an on-line publication, I suppose that you can—and may wish to—remove my story from this issue. Alternatively, should you choose to allow the double publication to stand, please add an appropriate footnote acknowledging the Diverse Arts Project Journal.

Again, my apologies for the error. Please let me know how you decide to handle this. And thank you for your time and efforts on my behalf.

A little more than three weeks later, I received the following response:

Thank you so much for coming forward with this issue, we appreciate it.

Because it is our policy generally to only publish previously unpublished work, we will remove your story “Trust” from our Spring 2015 issue. We did enjoy your story, and re-reading it gives us time to again appreciate why we chose to publish it initially. We encourage you to continue submitting work to OxMag, but also remind you to in the future keep us informed of the status of any simultaneous submissions. (Submittable actually has an option to withddraw stories from consideration once they’ve been accepted without you having to notify everyone.)

We wish you good health, and also congratulations on the other short story acceptances—that’s very exciting!

Avoid First Rights Blunders

There are several take-aways for writers. One, with e-publishing, this sort of error can be corrected. Unlike a print journal, where making changes of this sort would be prohibitively expensive, it’s a relatively easy fix. Two, if you screw-up—regardless of the medium—admit it. Besides easing your conscience, doing so reflects well on you. In this case, OxMag thanked me and invited future submissions. And, three, take care of the paperwork (either yourself, or through a third party). It’s much better to avoid this sort of situation than to try to repair it!


You can read “Trust” at The Diverse Arts Project

Passionate About Writing

passionate about writing
 
I’m passionate about writing because it keeps my brain working. I want my stories to be accurate and interesting, and in doing the research to make that happen, I learn new things. For example, in working on “Feeding Bella” I learned that ketamine, a veterinary anesthetic, causes hallucinations in humans; its street name is Special K. Or, again, researching the Great Depression, I learned that gasoline was ten cents a gallon and ham was ten cents a pound.
great depression gas prices
When I first retired, which I did at age fifty-two, I became depressed—much to my surprise. I‘d looked forward to more time for cooking and gardening. But filling my life with things I used to get done evenings and weekends felt hollow. And I hated to keep introducing myself by what I used to do—as in, “I’m a retired vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.” Before retirement, I hadn’t realized the extent to which my identity, and my friendships, were tied to my work life.

 

For me, writing has replaced my former career. It engages many skills—especially research skills—from my academic past and it’s enlarged my social circle. I’ve never met a dull, boring writer.
passionate about writing
I always excelled academically. Now getting a story published is like getting an A on my report card; books are like making the dean’s list or Phi Beta Kappa.

 

My writing brings in very little income, so thank goodness I don’t write to put food on the table. Instead, writing fuels my imagination.

 

I’ve always written. In high school it was plays for the student body, poems for my boyfriend, the junior class prophesy and the senior class will. In college I tested out of composition and so had only course-specific instruction, such as how to write research reports. From then through my twenty-seven year career, I wrote academic tomes.

 

passionate about writing
Now I write fiction, and with fiction, anything is possible. I’ve dabbled in historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, magical realism, memoir, and memoir-based fiction. I’m passionate about writing because it can take me anywhere, real or imagined.

 

I’m passionate about writing because it’s cheaper than therapy and just as effective when dealing with depression. My most recent depression descended in 2014-2015 during my bout with breast cancer that put me under the thumb of the medical establishment for twelve months, frequently getting treatment five days a week. From that experience I published “Beast and the Beauty” (magical realism), “Art Heals” and “Repair or Redecorate after Breast Surgery” (two personal essays about reclaiming my body via tattoos), and “Hindsight” (an essay on how my experience changed my perspective on my years with an invalid mother). Writing allows me to know myself and others in new ways.

 

passionate about writing
BOTTOM LINE: Writing is my passion because it’s my lifeline.

Should You Kill Your Darlings?

It’s the mantra we always hear, in every writing class, from every teacher:

“[K]ill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” –Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

If you’ve never heard this quote before, what King is trying to say is that by “killing” (deleting) our “darlings” (the phrases, sentences, lines, paragraphs, and/or chapters we love the most), we open our writing up to new possibilities and let go of some of the earlier, stale work we’ve created.

kill darlings

To some extent, this is true. Holding on to old parts of your work, like parts you’re especially proud of, is much more favorable to losing them. However, in many cases (especially when you think of shorter writing forms, like poetry), deleting those darlings will pack more of a punch later in your work.

But is it always true?

kill darlings

If you’re proud of your darlings, there must be a reason. Maybe it’s the imagery you’ve invoked, a character who leaps off the page, or a line that thrills you. These things might not work for whatever you’re currently writing, but that’s not to say they need to be deleted forever!

So I would restructure the phrase to say “Relocate your darlings” (although it packs less of a punch). Save them for a rainy day! If you write longhand, keep a file folder or notebook of your darlings. If you’re someone who writes using a computer, add them to a document or folder. What doesn’t work now can work later, and it will be all the more satisfying to keep those darlings alive.

kill darlings

How Weather Affects Your Characters

weather affects characters

Just as characters affect one another in your writing, they are also affected by the weather around them. In fact, just like people do with the setting, think of weather as a character. Keep in mind that weather and climate are two different things and will affect characters in different ways. Climate tends to affect lifestyle, social structure, and culture, whereas weather affects daily choices. There are myriad ways weather can affect your characters. If you can think of more to add to my list, I’d love to hear them!

Symbolism/metaphor

This can sometimes be overdone, but think of the symbolism of some weather forms. Is your character confused or unsure of something? You could make it foggy outside. Is the plot building up to a big climactic scene? Maybe a storm is approaching as well.

weather affects characters

Foreshadowing/Mood

This could apply both to the mood of the piece or the character’s mood. Weather could either complement or contradict how the character is feeling, e.g., if they’re upset the weather could either be stormy or ironically sunny. Depending on which it is, it could deepen the character’s mood. After all, long periods of darkness may result in moodiness or depression. The build up to a storm can increase irrational behavior and sensitivity to pain.

Health/Survival

Weather can affect health in subtle or extreme ways. A walk in the rain could lead to anything from a minor cold to pneumonia. Take hypothermia, for example: you don’t need to be in freezing conditions to develop that condition. “An unfit person in wet clothes can be hypothermic in temperatures as mild as 15oC (60oF). A hypothermia victim is often confused, and can be the last to be aware of their state,” writes expert Candida Spillard.

Plot/Setting

Even a small turn or change in weather can lead to a turn or change in plot or characters’ movements. Weather is a huge factor in decisions people make throughout the day. For example, if it’s raining, fewer people will be outside, which could be a way for there to be fewer witnesses in, say, a plot involving murder.

weather affects characters

Do you have more examples to add to this list? Let me know in the comments section! And remember: depending on where your character lives, the climate (and weather) will vary based on season and location. Do your research!

The Upside of Arguing Badly

upside arguing badly
Arguing has a bad reputation. No one wants to be known as argumentative! In my opinion, that’s because disagreements become arguments when they are handled badly. If all goes well, they are more likely to be labeled discussions! Having characters arguing badly is a powerful tool for writers. Here are 11 ways of arguing badly you might not have thought about recently.

 

1 One person is trying to dominate another. A symptom of this type of arguing is shouting. Of course, it doesn’t always work. Often the exchange devolves into a shouting match. Or a non-shouter will eventually just physically leave.
2 Name-calling. Insults up the emotion—often pulling resentment into the mix, leading the insulted person to defend against the insult and veer off the topic of the disagreement and into mutual character assassination.
3 A related tactic is comparing the other person to some disliked other person. E.g., you’re just like Aunt Agatha. Here the reaction depends largely on whether the person compared to Aunt Agatha likes or dislikes her.

 

upside arguing badly

4 Physical violence or the threat thereof—e.g., punching the wall or throwing things. This doesn’t settle a disagreement, it just stops the expression of it, leaving the threatened party to stew silently—and perhaps plot revenge.

5 Kitchen-sink fighting—i.e., throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the argument. This often involves bringing up past grievances, failures, or misdeeds that have nothing to do with what originally started the argument.

 

upside arguing badly
6 Not letting it go. Once the parties are stale-mated, instead of agreeing to disagree one or both parties bring up the issue repeatedly, nag, and/or sulk.
7 Trying to gain allies in the argument. This is simply trying to get others to take one’s side in an argument. It could be friends, neighbors, co-workers, or—perhaps most damaging—family members, especially children.

 

upside arguing badly
8 Interrupting. Not waiting for the other person to finish a point is another great way to up the emotion.
9 Not listening. This is similar to interrupting but not so active. One person is trying to make a point and the other person is reading, watching TV sports, texting, etc.

 

upside arguing badly
10 Make things up. One party simply asserts facts that aren’t. These sound authoritative, informed, and relevant—as in 89% of people do X, or as Abraham Lincoln said in 1873…. They backfire when the truth comes out—as in, the other party knows Lincoln died in 1865. Being caught in a lie escalates the argument.
11 Last but not least, add alcohol. Alcohol disinhibits, meaning that people speak and act more freely. And depending on the amount of alcohol, one or more of the parties may not be thinking clearly.
upside arguing badly
People are creatures of habit. For your characters, establish a pattern of arguing based on his/her typical weapons. Conflict is a beautiful thing!

The Best Time of Day to Write

best time day write

There are manuals about how to write, what to write, and where to write, but a bigger question for me is WHEN to write.

Often our lives get so busy that even when writing is a full time job, it’s easy to set it aside to take care of “more pressing matters.” Enough procrastinating like that and the work never gets done, so it’s important to find your best time of day to write, block it off, and try for as few interruptions as possible. (Yes, that means logging off of Facebook!)

But when is the right time?

Most people say that it’s best to write first thing in the morning. You have more willpower (your energy hasn’t been diminished by other tasks), the creative part of your brain is more active after sleep, and that time of day is quieter and less hectic than the rest of your day.

But writing in the morning might not be the best move for everyone.

best time day write

What if you’re not a morning person?

As Kevan Lee writes, Mareike Wietha and Rose Zacks conducted a study where they found that morning people best solved problems in the evening, while night owls were the reverse. Lee adds,

The theory goes that as our minds tire at our suboptimal times then our focus broadens. We are able to see more opportunities and make connections with an open mind. When we are working in our ideal time of day, our mind’s focus is honed to a far greater degree, potentially limiting our creative options.

What’s the bottom line?

Even if you don’t know what time of day works best for you, just try to be consistent. By training your brain to be in the writing mindset during a particular point of time, you’ll be able to jump back into writing quicker.

What time of day has worked best for your writing? How do you keep yourself consistent and focused?

best time day write

Setting as Character Notes

setting character notes
 
Some of you will remember that last week I spent a day in Savannah, GA, taking a NOGS (North of Green Street) Garden Club tour of “Hidden Gardens.” They do one about this time annually. These gardens were small and walled. And as we toured, I thought about what theses gardens  said about their owners/creators.

 

setting character notes
Of course there were flowers. We could, perhaps, talk about the language of flowers and what the selection of plants might reveal. But, frankly, that seems a bit esoteric. instead, I want to focus on what people chose to put in their gardens in addition to the flowers.

 

setting character notes
Below I have grouped pictures of artifacts by garden. For each grouping, consider the character/s of the people who created and/or enjoy these gardens. As you page through, just jot down your first impressions.
Garden One
 
Garden Two
 
 
Garden Three
 

setting character notes

Garden Four

Garden Five

 
At this garden, the Garden Club woman hosting made a point of mentioning that this bronze fountain was imported from France in 1830.
Garden Six
 
In addition to the chandeliers in this garden, there was a gas grill, a bar, and a half-refrigerator.
Garden Seven
 
 
Garden Eight
 
 
Using setting elements as character notes is a fine old tradition. Consider Jane Austen’s Rosings Park, Pemberly, and Cheapside houses. Although these pictures emphasize garden ornaments, but objects reflecting character could equally well apply to paintings, bric-a-brac, furniture, Hummel figurines, etc. Think about it.

 

setting character notes

Pets: A Treasure Trove for Writers

pets treasure trove writers
This insert with the Sunday Richmond Times Dispatch has been lying around since March 11, thoughts of ways it might be useful to writers niggling at me. It’s finally come to fruition. And I can testify—on the basis of my middle daughter—that the points made in this brief article apply to pets other than dogs!

 

pets treasure trove writers
Most obviously, you might have a character who is overboard on his/her pet. (If your character owns a cat, surely you can get comparable info online.) Indulging a pet could lead to teasing, ridicule, even ostracism.
pets treasure trove writers
But moving on: What about the pet service providers? Suppliers of pet party items. People make and/or sell pet gifts and toys. Someone who runs a pet daycare. People who design, make, and/or sell pet clothes. Any of these could provide an interesting job for a character.
 

What about pets as a source of conflict?

Last year pet owners spent almost $70 billion on their pets, approximately a 70% increase over a ten-year period. Money spent on pets could be a source of conflict between characters, or a source of financial difficulty. The American Pet Products Association says dog owners shell out about $3,000 per year, depending on the breed. But owners say they spend $8,000, $10,000, or more on everything from pet health insurance to new furniture to travel. (Nearly 40% of dog owners take them on vacation.)

 

pet vacation
And what about other heirs of the 44% of dog owners who provide for their dogs in their wills?

 

More than half of dog owners let their dogs sleep in their beds. What if the spouse/partner/love interest doesn’t like that?

 

The Emotional Upside to Owning a Pet

pets treasure trove writers
 
Scientific studies have documented the positive effects of pets on mood. Your body produces oxytocin and endorphins, hormones that lift mood and strengthen the emotional bond between owner and pet. Oxytocin is the hormone that creates bonds between mother and child or between lovers. So how dependent is your character on animal love? And at what cost?
 

Other Bits that Might Come in Handy

 
My oldest daughter trained with her rescue dog to make therapy visits. Is that something your character might do? What about a character who is the recipient of such visits? Where might that lead?

 

My youngest daughter is surgical veterinary technician. During a recent visit, she gave us a tour of her workplace.
pets treasure trove writers
Most of us are vaguely aware that animal hospitals do things similar to human hospitals. But to actually see the oncology lab, the MRI equipment, the physical therapy suite, the surgical areas, the precautions for animals in isolation, the incubator for preemies, and the site of the future serenity garden brings home the parallel.

 

pets treasure trove writers
But one unusual bit: this hospital maintains blood banks for dogs and cats.
 
pets treasure trove writers
The dog blood bank is filled by donations from the pets of staff and clients. Star donors (like Bruce Lee, above, who is a universal donor) donate blood every six weeks or so. Each donation can be used to treat more than one patient.

 

The hospital maintains colonies of cat blood donors. The cats come from animal rescue. At the hospital they are treated, vaccinated, and spayed. Even so, there are separate colonies for males and females. The cats are maintained as donors for a year and then placed for adoption.

 

  • Cat donors must be 1 yr old and at least 10 lbs
  • Dogs must be 1 yr old, at least 50 lbs
  • Both: no blood born diseases, no condition requiring chronic medication except NSAIDS, hypothyroidism, or meds for flea/tick/heart worm
  • Bruce Lee (the dog donor pictured) is 6 yrs old, has been a donor for 18 mos., and donates more than 6 times per yr. He’s a universal donor, like Type O for humans.
What if your character has a pet that is or was a blood donor?

 

I would have adopted Olaf in a nanosecond but he isn’t yet available. He’s affectionate AND has one blue eye, one green one.

 

pets treasure trove writers
Bottom line: Consider the value of pets in your writing!