Words Are Hard

Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo

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Picture time!

Yay!  Pictures!  Pop Quiz!  What do all these pictures have in common:

If you said:

  • They are all examples of awesome books.
  • They are six of yours truly’s favorites.
  • Every single character on each of these covers is white.
  • All of the above.

The answer is D: All of the above, but before breaking out the pitchforks, I’d like to point out it’s the covers I’m on about, not the content of the books.  Mercedes Lackey is pretty in your face about sexuality, Jim Butcher has characters from all over.  Ditto for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Pratchett (and I picked that book in particular for a reason) is pretty vocal about deconstructing racism in many of his books and he’s funny when he does it.  Double win.  So content is not an issue here.

What is an issue is that you can walk down the fantasy/sci-fi section in any book store and be hard pressed to find a cover that doesn’t feature that lovely Caucasian look.  We default to it.  Granted, you might find one or two and, as time goes on, you’ll find more and more and that is a good thing.  Having a white person on the cover of a book isn’t bad.  Having nothing but white people sorta is yeah – especially when other people exist in the world.  Hello!

Like I said: we default to white.  Especially if we are white (hi!).  My leading lady, Sam?  Her looks were based off of a mix of this lovely lady and this one – because I am no less susceptible to falling into the default rut than anyone else.

Then something weird and totally unintentional happened.  I sat down to write the second draft.  Joseph stopped being a priest and Sam’s hair got curly.  A person whose intentions I’m sure were pure [sarcasm tag] pointed out that an urban fantasy novel with an obviously African American lead (that’s right: curly black hair = obvious African American) wouldn’t sell easily.

Thank you Mister Fillion.

So what did I do?

Nothing, actually.  It became a quirky side-story to tell and make people laugh or roll their eyes.   I didn’t change her personality, her description, nada.  She’s pure nut-bar pixie dream girl who will mess you up if you look at her boyfriend funny.  She’s been that way since her initial makeover during that fateful November.  If people wanted to see Sam as black I was totally okay with that.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of a good reason why it would be a bad thing.  Then the time came to describe her to my cover artist, because yeah, Sam’s going on the cover.

And while I realized that it didn’t matter to me what color her skin was, I could do one of two things:  I could “correct” the assumption that curly black hair = dark skin, because that’s just a dumb assumption to make no matter what.  Or I could jump in with both feet and go, “Yes, this creative, spacy, smartass hyperactive half angel superhero who is her boyfriend’s knight in shining armor is, in fact, a black girl.”

And if it really didn’t matter to me, then why couldn’t she be?  We’ve got plenty of pretty pale girls in the genre and Sam is not herself if she isn’t standing out from the crowd.  She usually does this by wearing Rainbow Brite arm warmers, mind you, but y’know: whatever.

And if having a black girl on the cover of my self-published e-book means I don’t sell a copy to someone, then gosh I …I just don’t know what I’d do!  /sob

That may have been a lie.

This happened unintentionally.  At first, Joseph didn’t have a last name.  When I actually needed to give him a last name it took me a very long time before (and writers will understand what I mean when I say this) he just sort of sat down in my head, exasperated, and said: Singh.

Oh.

Well okay then.

I didn’t start out to make a statement with my characters.  It sorta happened and I’m good with going with the flow.  My first goal is to tell an entertaining story.  If I manage that and just one person who hasn’t had much in the way of heroes to look up to finds one in Sam or Joseph (or Ben, or Gretchen, or Theo, or Simon – have I mentioned that the majority of the cast is not white?) then awesome.

I hold no illusions.  This will never ever be my day job.  My book isn’t going to end up in the fantasy/sci-fi aisle at your local bookstore so putting characters with darker skin on my cover isn’t going to make the slightest dent there.  It makes my job more interesting because what does a white girl know about this sort of thing?  How do you write a character of color?

Gosh!  Turns out it’s not a whole lot different from writing a white character.  You give them flaws and strengths and personality quirks, just like any other character.  You make them as rounded and real as you possibly can while avoiding the landmine field that is offensive stereotypes which really isn’t that hard.  And then you hope you did it right and if you didn’t, you listen to critique and then you apologize and change what needs to be changed.  Chances are if you treated your characters like people you did mostly okay.  At least, I hope so.

I also trust that if I hit on something offensive by accident, my friends would graciously beat the ever loving snot out of me until the stupid went away.

Here, have a bunny:

BUNNY!

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Things I Never Expected To Do On My Days Off

I think maybe I mentioned once or twice, in passing, that I was a mom.  I have  a 16 year old son (I mentioned my age before, and if you remember then yes, you can do the math and yes, yes I was that young).  I don’t talk about my family much because my comfort zone doesn’t extend that far.  But since we’re pushing comfort boundaries here, let me tell you internets, being a parent is an interesting experience.  I’m not good at it.  My kid is fantastic and I have no idea how he ended up that way, because it’s not me.

The Universe is a tricky bastard.  I don’t think it’s out to get me and mine, per se, but it is having some fun experimenting at my expense.  The dialogue goes something like this:

Universe: I see you are turning 18 and graduating from high school soon.  I see also that you are taking birth control and antibiotics at the same time.  Did you know that antibiotics can negate the effects of the pill?  Oh, well that condom broke and you do now.

[TIME PASSES]

Universe: Motherhood is fun huh?  Well here’s a new job that pays you $50 a week.  Make it work!

Me: Yeah okay.

Universe: I see you made it.  Good, good.  Time to go back to school!

Me: Yeah okay, I’m on the deans list?

Universe: …Here.  Have a husband.

Me: I like my husband!

Universe: Congratulations on finding a decent paying job in this struggling economy!  You’re digging yourself out of debt and have a nice place to live!  Everything is going smoothly!  Your kid is doing well in school!  By the way, he’s gay.

Me: I am almost guaranteed not to be a grandmother by accident!  *happy party dance*

Universe:  Right.  Okay.  You shrugged off everything else but how do you handle your kid questioning his gender identity?

Let’s stop there.

Look, every 16 year old on the planet has gone through a period where they’re figuring out who they are, who they like, what interests them, and what they want to do.  So what’s going on here is a) normal and b) no big deal.  What makes me angry is when the rest of the world tells him that it’s a) not normal and b) a big deal.

I don’t like watching my kiddo look down, stutter, twist his hands together and nervously admit that things don’t fit.  Like he thinks he’s broken.  Like he’s wrong.  Like I’m going to get angry with him, even though he knows better.  That sense of shame is not something my kid should ever be carrying around, and yet here we are.

And I am angry.

I can’t snap my fingers and make the rest of the world fall into line, but I can make sure my kid gets what he needs.  So I spent the majority of my days off hunting down information because while I’m moderately more informed than average, I still had no idea where to even begin.  When your kid asks to play on the computer when he’s in the dog house for bad grades, the obvious answer is no.  When your kid asks to speak to a therapist to help him figure out who he is the answer is ohshitGoogle and you start making shot-in-the-dark calls.

And you have no idea how the person on the other end of the line is going to react, so you have no idea how to phrase things.  You officially become the bulwark between the rest of the world and your kiddo because you’re mom and that’s your friggin job.  I got a lot of blank uncomfortable silences when I asked about gender identity so I dropped the coyness and started straight up asking about kids who are possibly transgender (even though the kiddo isn’t sure he is at this point, it’s the word that got the most “Oh!” responses and then I got to back up and explain).  Do you know anyone who works with kids in this group?  Do you know anyone who would know anyone who would… etc etc.

And I live in a moderately rural area.  The closest metropolitan area is Green Bay (yeah, metropolitan in the loosest sense of the word) and that’s about a four-five hour drive away.  So the answer to the question, “Is there a therapist in the area who works with kids questioning their gender identity?” is a resounding nope.  There are several councilors who work with kids who identify as gay/bi/lesbian, but gender-queries are an entirely separate thing that has nothing to do with one’s orientation.  What I needed was someone who knew what questions to ask and who was experienced in this area.

Nope, nada, nyet, non, zilch, zero, go fuck yourself.

But pester enough people and dig deep enough and someone will eventually point you in the right direction, if for no other reason than to get rid of you.  I was put in touch with a councilor from downstate who gave me some good direction, a list of medical tests to get done to rule out any sort of chemical/medical causes, and the name of a local doctor to call and get them done.

So I called and the doctor works for the university and therefore won’t see anyone who isn’t a student/faculty/staff or their families.  Well bugger me then.  Their suggestion was to call the behavioral health center at the hospital.  They couldn’t handle medical requests (I don’t know) and said that the best thing to do was contact his regular pediatrician and get them to do the tests, which puts us back at square one.   I should note, in case it’s not obvious, that my faith in humanity is pretty low, so it wasn’t without a little trepidation that I put in the call to the pediatrician.  Like all my initial calls, I had no idea how they were going to react, and that made me put my guard up, just in case.

I was actually very impressed.  After the initial blink blink, the receptionist put me over to the nurse who also had a very brief blink blink moment before shrugging and getting into the nitty gritty.  She took the list of tests and the name and number of the councilor I spoke to so she could call and make sure they were getting the right labs ordered.  Then she made sure we got an appointment with kiddo’s regular doctor.  That was it.  No judgement, very helpful, and after the initial brief confusion (which I can’t fault them for, honestly, because I’m a wreck at explaining things verbally), got down to business and got things done.

So until then we’re in hover mode.  The appointment isn’t until January, so there’s time.  After the initial rush, the kiddo’s fine with waiting, because things are actually happening.  It’s just slow, which is life.  Once we get the test results we’re on to phase two which is…

…You know what.  I have no idea.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ack!

Since I started this blog last month I had a good buffer of posts ready to go, but it appears time has finally decided to get down and truly be a terrible, fleeting thing so that buffer has run out. You may have noticed that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are post days generally. Oh noes! It’s Thursday already and I have nothing for Friday!

So here, because the proverbial black eyes I asked for are starting to roll in: a rant on feedback, inspired by one too many writers going off the way wrong way after getting constructive criticism. Also notes to self because I’m going to need it in the coming weeks here. I cannot swear enough, people.

After reading the feedback our “friends” gave us: I HATE EVERYTHING

Getting feedback – real, very critical feedback – is a lot like working out (I imagine – I’m sort of allergic to working out). It can leave you feeling like you’ve just taken a good crowbar to the gut. You get the wind knocked out of you because you find out you’re not half as clever as you thought you were and all those funny little moments that you thought were genius actually weren’t. You want to curl up into a ball and cry and never, ever let anyone read anything you write ever again. In fact, you don’t even want to write anymore because OBVIOUSLY WE’RE JUST NOT ANY GOOD AT IT.

The reality is more complicated. Stick with me here. The beta readers are on your side. Unless they’re total asshats in which case they’re not going to be helpful and need to be ditched ASAP. I wish I had an easy to spot solution for finding out who is trying to help and who is just worthless, but I don’t.

And after the workout you’re sore. Your ego hurts. It hurts because this is your baby. You have spent days, months, years, a lifetime of anguish to get these words onto the page(screen). We suffer for our art. Even comedians are drawing the funny from a very dark well. These words are a part of who you are. The story is, in some primal way, your life and to have someone point out that maybe it’s not quite as solid as you thought hurts in an almost physical way.

But hey, we’re all adults here. We’ve been hurt before – it’s what led us to do what we do. I hate being told that, as a writer, I need to have a thick skin. I know this get off my case and let me sob into my beer gawd!

Ahem. Let’s assume that people are generally good. This is difficult for me so you’ll have to bear with me. I’m sort of a misanthrope. So somehow I have to convince myself that getting critical feedback is a lot less like getting beaten to a bloody pulp by a gang of forty and more like this:

After the sore, if you keep at it, you start seeing results. You’re story starts toning up. It starts building muscle. And it starts lookin’ good. Your beta readers are the gym baby and after awhile you start to feel like dancing because you have all the energy and there’s a healthy glow about you and you’re ready to face the WORLD!

HERE IS MY BOOK WORLD! READ IT! READ! ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

And it all comes crashing down after one stupid review on Amazon, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet, so my delusions, let me keep them.

Anyway! Coming up on Sunday I actually do have a post, in honor of Father’s Day. I’m not a fan of this day, generally speaking, but I do have a minor character who is a dad and the idea for the drabble was a cute one (shut up it is) so two plus two equals special post!

Note to self: go through said post and remove spoilers from said drabble, dummy.

Also incoming is a review (!!!). While I’ve definitely done some heavy-handed critique (my snark can get pretty epic, but I only break that out for people I know very well because generally speaking, they ask for it and give as good as they get *see above creys*), I’ve never done, like, a review before. I finished The Pull by Rob White last night at work, enjoyed it, and I’ve got some digesting to do before I get some thoughts together about it but really quickly: if you’re looking for something fun to read in your down time, definitely check it out.

I think that’s your lot.

Wait no. Have a Sassy Dancing Ood:

Now we’re done.

How not to call a funeral home at midnight

I mentioned on Monday that I work for ten hours a night answering other people’s telephones.  This is true.  I’ve been doing this for almost three years now, and working almost exclusively at night for over two.  What this means is that when dealing with the funeral home accounts that make up the majority of our business, I’ve talked to my fair share of nurses.

Let’s be blunt.  Nursing – especially hospice nursing – is a very difficult, and mostly thankless career and you definitely don’t get paid enough for it.  About 95% of the nurses I talk to are nice, professional, and know exactly what needs to be done and when.  They may not like being called out at 4am to pronounce a patient, but they are wise enough not to shoot the messenger.  To these nurses I say: I love you.  You are, in every sense of the word, a hero.

To the other 5% I say: How the hell did you graduate from nursing school?

Seriously.

I have spoken to hospice nurses who didn’t know what the phrase “next of kin” means.  Who didn’t understand why I would ask for something as silly as a contact number for the next of kin.  Who didn’t understand what I was asking for when I asked for the time of death.  Yes.  Those nurses.

So for the 5% who need a crash course, stick around and I’ll try to make it informative.  If this all seems like common sense, I agree with you.  Go ahead and enjoy the complementary wine and massage by our very own cabana boy, Antonio.

Pour vous.

What to do when reporting a death to a funeral home.

  1. Stop being annoyedLook, I get it.  Nobody likes being woken up in the middle of the night (or day, in my case).  In the middle of winter it’s cold.  It’s miserable.  Some poor bugger has died and the family is upset.  I get that.  So when I ask questions it’s not because I want to make your job harder.  I realize you want to get off the line asap so you can go home.  Here’s what you can do:
  2. Know where you are.  This is probably the most important bit.  If you are at a facility please for the love of puppies don’t tell me “they know where it is!”  That is not what I asked.  I asked for an address because records.  If I don’t ask for an address, it’s because we don’t need one.  Please have the address of the facility ready before you call.  If I can Google it faster than you can look it up or ask someone (which you should have done before you called!) then we have an issue.
  3. Know where you’re calling.  Several places I answer for have more than one location.  I am going to ask you which location the family wants to use.  When I ask you that question I don’t want you to tell me where you are.  We’ll get to that!
  4. Hey!  Listen!  When I ask you for a room number please don’t give me the phone number.
  5. Have all the info ready before you hit dial.  If you have a face sheet, get the face sheet.  If you are at a hospital or facility where charts are a thing, please have the chart handy.   If I ask for a piece of information you don’t have immediately the magic words are: “I don’ t have that information.”  or  “I don’t know.”  Do not waste my time and yours by digging through stacks upon stacks of paperwork to try and find a social security number when your facility/office doesn’t even keep those on record.  Note that this does not apply to information like addresses and phone numbers.  These things are pretty easy to find.  No excuses there!
  6. Let me ask the questionsI have a computer template that I use and isn’t exactly easy to jump around on super fast.  So when you’re throwing date of birth and time of death and next of kin at me in rapid succession and all out of order I’m going to have to ask you to repeat about half of it.  There is no set order every time.  Every funeral home is different and while the questions may all be mostly the same, with some places asking for more info and some places wanting less, they come at different times.  You will save time, get off the line faster, and we’ll both be a lot happier if you just let me do most of the talking.
  7. I am going to verify everything.  That’s my job.  Getting information and making sure it is correct is my job.  So yes, I am going to spell last names back to you using phonetics and yes, I am going to repeat every phone number and address.  Don’t interrupt me, and for the love of everything do NOT (seriously do NOT) wait for me to finish spelling back the name and then proceed to spell it again using a different set of phonetics.  Just say yes or no.  If no then at that time you can go ahead with the phonetics if you need to.  It’s not hard.  You know when I won’t spell things back?  When you use phonetics the first go-round.  That makes it very clear on my end and I will be very grateful.  I will have to double check all the numbers though, sorry.
  8. Please hold.  For some reason, and I don’t know why, death calls always roam around space and time in packs, waiting for the moment when we get one to drop four more on us.  Depending on the time of night there are anywhere from two to three of us here (the day shift gets a whole lot more than that, but they’re a lot busier).  Trust me when I say I hate putting you on hold as much as you hate being on hold.  I can see the counter and start twitching at the one minute mark.  This is why it’s very important that the ducks are all lined up in a nice row before making the call.  Chances are it’s not just me you’re making wait.  The faster we can get this done, the less time people have to wait listening to our awful hold music.
  9. Area codes are important.  Every time someone gives me a phone number without an area code a fairy doesn’t get its wings.  I don’t care that “everyone knows” what area code you’re in.  Most places we answer for have locations in multiple area codes.  Just gimme the freakin thing and stop rolling your eyes.  I can hear you doing that.  Also remember the template thing?  Yeah, phone numbers are required to have area codes.  If you don’t give me one it slows us both down because I have to correct the formatting.
  10. I don’t want to talk to the family.  There is absolutely nothing I, myself, can do for the family.  I am not a director.  I’m a messenger.  If the family wants to talk to a director I can certainly have the director call.  Always.  It is never a problem.  But I don’t want to talk to the family myself, because asking them how heavy their loved one happens to be is rude and a question you, as a professional, should be answering.  As a note: there is one (just one!) city that shall remain nameless whose hospitals are notorious for making the family contact the funeral home to arrange pick up from the hospital.  I have been told that this is because families will often tell the hospital one thing and then change their minds in the morning, making things messy.  Since this city seems to be the only city ever to have this problem forgive me for raising an eyebrow and thinking your nurses and staff are just really [explicative deleted] lazy.
  11. Nine times out of ten we want them in the morgue.  Every funeral home is different but the majority I work with will prefer to pick up from the morgue during business hours if at all possible.  In fact, there are several who have “tough luck pal” policies.  Morgue is full?  Too bad.  In many cases they use removal services (I’ve noticed that it’s mostly the ones located in larger cities) and night time removals cost them extra, so they won’t unless absolutely necessary (and sometimes not even then).  However, every funeral home is different and some change their minds depending on the phase of the moon so if you aren’t sure please ask.  If I don’t know (and I often don’t) I will have a director call you to let you know what they would prefer.  Pretty much all funeral homes will make removal from homes 24/7.  I have yet to run across one that won’t.
  12. When to ask for an ETA.  ETA in this context stands for Estimated Time of Arrival (yes, I’ve had to explain that so hush).  At the end of every death call my exact question, no matter what is, “Is there anything else I should let the directors know right away?”  That is the time to ask for an ETA.  If I have one, I will gladly give it to you.  Otherwise I will make a note in my handy-dandy “additional info” box and let the director know you’d like a call back.  Do not wait until I say “Thank you.  I’ll get this information to the director.  Good bye!” to interrupt me before I hang up and ask for an ETA.  Just don’t.  Chances are I’m not even in the template anymore because I’m digging up the contact instructions for the on call.  Note: That is also the time to tell me the family would like to talk to the director ASAP, or the deceased will need two people for the removal because they’re on the second floor or they’re heavy.  Anything additional that’s important.  MRSA?  That is very important (for non-nurses: don’t Google that if you don’t know what it is).
  13. If you want an ETA please ask for an ETA.  Self explanatory.  Most places won’t call you back unless you ask them too.  Some are nice and will make courtesy calls.  Don’t expect them all to.  And don’t get mad when they don’t.  Just call us an we’ll page them.  Problem solved!
  14. Be honest.  Is this your first time calling to report a death?  Is your computer/smart phone glitchy and running slow?  Don’t have the chart because the supervisor and/or doctor ran off with it?  Are you outside with a bad cell connection and no paperwork because you’re at Zombie Apocalypse Ground Zero and your patient ate the paperwork?  No problem!  Just let me know.  We can work with just about anything.  Don’t have a piece of info?  Don’t panic!  Just let me know upfront.  Things will go so much smoother and I won’t get mad at you.  I promise!  My patience is pretty infinite in those situations.
  15. Know your lingo!  Time of death is pretty self explanatory.  What time did you pronounce?  If you can pronounce the death, then there’s not much excuse for not knowing what I mean, right?  Generally speaking I want the pronounced time anyway, but if you give me that and the actual time that’s fine.  Chances are I only have room for one though, so unless the account says differently, it’s the pronounced time I go with (I know, I know the death certificate wants both depending on what state you’re in…).  Next of kin is convoluted, but generally giving us the closest able family member (spouse or kids usually) will suffice for the immediate future.  They can figure it out in the morning but they need to know who to call.

That’s it.  See?  It’s not hard.  You and I are both professionals.  I enjoy my job so help me help you and we can help make a very difficult time for a family just a little easier.

Congratulations on passing the course!  Antonio will now see to your needs:

…Ladies.

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