Cassandra Ignored

 

Cassandra was a Trojan princess who caught the eye of Apollo, God of the Sun. Apollo tried to woo her, but Cassandra played coy. She agreed to sleep with Apollo only if he would give her the gift of prophecy. He agreed and granted her request. However, when the time came to pay the piper, Cassandra deferred.

Apollo was furious, but he could not take his gift back. He did, however, make it so that no one would ever believe any of Cassandra’s predictions. These included Helen being the cause of the fall of Troy, and the Greeks hiding within the wooden horse.

Cassandra knew her beloved city was going to be sacked and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

No one would listen.

Troy fell and Cassandra came to a horrible end, brutally raped by the Greek commander Ajax in the temple of Athena.

Such dark times we live in. Despite a never-ending curiosity for current events, I find myself shrinking away from news and wanting to escape reality.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

When I was a child, books were often my only friends. How wonderful it was to experience the wonders of love without ever having fallen in love. And to visit lands and times never accessible to me. I was blessed with an imagination that let me slip into any shoes I wanted, especially when the ones I wore became unbearable.

A beautiful, misunderstood princess? Done.

A weathered, traumatized assassin? Done again.

A noble martyr? You bet!

Over time, one starts to gain a predictive flair. Most books have a formula, even the ones that try to surprise us. Once we understand the world of the book and the characters involved—we start predicting the outcome with greater and greater accuracy.

To be honest, few stories surprise me anymore, movies included. At least, few good ones. I know that probably sounds pretentious, but let me defend myself. We can surprise people with terrible and abrupt endings, but that’s not the goal of good fiction. Characters, if written to be believable, will follow fairly predictive paths. If the story is to flow naturally, character-wise at least, then the plot and the interactions between characters follow a trajectory. Over time, we realize that there is one of three or so possibilities in any given plot twist.

Some might argue that I am describing only “formulaic” books or heaven’s forbid, “flat characters.”

I’m not. Books, even fantastical ones, will mimic real life in that they must follow certain rules. Even the most complex characters must “stay in character.” So those crazy, unpredictable characters— follow trends. This is the key to predicting the outcome of the story.

In fact, it is the key to predicting the outcome of any story. Including our own.

Thus, my love of reading gave me the unexpected ability to predict the conclusion of a storyline oftentimes within the first few pages of the book.

I had become a Prophet.

I do have examples to back up my claim. For those who know me, I am something of a love guru in my narrow circle.

So half a year ago, I had drinks with my friend who was introducing me, for the first time, to her new boyfriend. He was lovely. He was charismatic. She was glowing. They shared their food. Finished each other’s sentences, all that cute stuff.

I watched their mannerisms, I listened to their dialogue, I understood their goals, I learned their values. I spent time just listening, laughing, bantering. I had a great time!

I foresaw conflict.

Whether you agree or not, I say nothing. I almost always do when I get my weird premonitions. Couples go through lots of things, none of them are perfect. But I had inside information on my friend, I knew her character extremely well, I knew what she could tolerate over time and what would grate on her like a hangnail.

But that night, I was just a friend meeting a lovely boy for the first time. They both seemed mostly happy and I wanted to maintain that happiness.

Just like the ending of that nail-bitingly exciting movie, I keep it to myself.

Of course the hero will have to kill himself in order to prevent his future self from killing the woman he loves. It’s the only way to prevent the boy from growing up and destroying the world. Duh! (Instead, I just stuff my face with greasy popcorn.)

I continue to spend time with the pair and take mental notes here and there, but I try not butt in. Months later, my friend really does ask me if I thought she and her boyfriend were right for each other.

I was no longer wearing my friend hat just then; I was called in to be a Prophet. I told her what I thought. She was unhappy with me. She did not speak to me for another month.

They did, however, break up.

Did they break up because I said something? I highly doubt that. Did I speed up the break up because I said something? Perhaps, but I could have just as easily slowed it down. I’m a character myself in every story, and so can affect trajectories.

If I lived in ancient times, would I be considered a prophetess? Honored and revered or burned for witchery?

The truth is, there is no witchery or magic to predicting the future. Only reading. Lots and lots of reading. And recognizing the telltale signs of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing exists in the real world as well. It’s not as obvious as a storm brewing in the distance. It’s not as direct as the red hand of a clock ticking ominously.

Oftentimes, it’s in the movement of the masses. It’s in the repetition of something that was said before, done before, in almost the exact order. It is a pattern that only those who have looked through thousands of patterns recognize.

That night at the bar, I saw him disagree about some small detail of a story she was telling. He was exasperated that her memory was not as accurate as his and so insisted on telling the story “right.” It was cute, she laughed it off, but she was mildly annoyed.

They were both storytellers, they loved to be heard. And I sensed a clash of personalities too similar to last.

Reading gives us condensed experiences. We can live a lifetime in just a few days or even a few hours. After a while, we develop an instinctual knowledge of human nature, and how fate is not predictable, but character is.

Transformative change is incredibly difficult to achieve so the likelihood of getting a “surprise” ending would require a deus ex machina that is equivalent to a miracle. These are discouraged in literature because they are not believable and fairly non-existent in real life.

 

Being right often is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it can help us with choices in our own lives, and gives us the ability to give and receive great advice. It is a curse, because with success comes a yuge amount of hubris.

I’m not kidding.

It is one of the main reasons I keep my thoughts to myself. If I start telling people what they should do all the time and prove again and again that I’m right, then roll my eyes condescendingly to those who don’t believe me, people will despise me.

As they should. They will keep their stance just to “prove” I was wrong. They are cutting off the nose to spite their face, but they are still spiting me a tad too.

Giving advice with condescension can backfire. And those with a proven track record of being right… a lot, find it difficult to “soften their tone” and above all, remain humble.

If knowledge is indeed power, then why do I feel so powerless? Like Cassandra, I fear the voices of wisdom will be drowned out, made useless because we don’t know the perfect formula to communicate our knowledge effectively.

Intelligence is only powerful if it is sandwiched with likeability. Being smart isn’t enough. Being a prophet isn’t enough.

Being right isn’t enough.

All we can do is watch helplessly as beloved Troy falls.

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Guns n’ Power

Through tears, a president appeals to our humanity. I’m shocked by the seemingly cut and dry topic. In order to reduce the number of sharp corners that toddlers can bang their heads against, child-proof the home. Reduce gun violence, reduce guns/gun access. Seems pretty straight-forward, even rational. But so much passionate resistance from the other side.

Why the obsession for guns? What does it symbolize and why are people willing to risk so much to retain the right to possess not just one or two deadly weapons, but many?

The truth is, guns even out the playing field. A person with no power can suddenly have the power of a god. A man cannot give life; he needs a woman for that. But a man can take lives, and guns give him that ability with, literally, a flick of the finger. Power is no longer obtained through merit. It can also be obtained through brute force, in this case, a weapon that can reduce even the most powerful person in the world, be they president, boss, or billionaire, into food for worms.

In reality, power has rarely been obtained through raw merit. People are born with head starts, sometimes laps ahead of everyone else. This can be frustrating when you’re trying to catch up. Were you born wealthy? Were you born with superhuman intelligence? How about just well-balanced, mentally sound parents? Even our diets as children can determine our future IQ. So some are given excellent hands in life and some were damned before they even took their first breath, pumped with alcohol and meth before they were even considered viable humans, surrounded by a world structured for failure?

The argument for guns is not about guns at all. It’s about power. Its making victims feel less like victims and more like equals, and eventually, like superiors. “You are better than me, you are more powerful than me, you can take my house, my job, my family and throw me in prison and take my freedom, but guess what, I can shoot you, so… you should be a little scared of me as well.”

And guess what? I kind of am. So the argument works.

A weapon becomes a new way to obtain power and evil becomes a means of obtaining, though temporarily, Absolute Power. When you hold a loaded gun, you feel it. It’s like standing near the edge of a cliff. The potential energy just radiates through your very being. A nobody becomes a somebody; a 110 lb girl becomes a deadly vigilante assassin. “Take back the night? No worries (click-click), it’s all mine.”

Power is addictive. It has always been. Especially for people petrified of victimization.

So why do I write and read so much about gods and goddess? Because I think deities have so much in common with every day people. We are more powerful than we even realize. We have the power to give or end life. We have the power to save or destroy the planet. We are each one of us, Demeters, Eros, Hades, all rolled into our little hands. If we see ourselves as we really are, perhaps we can admit that we need to have accountability, that we all need a checks and balances system… Within ourselves and without. Every one of us has potential for something; life, death, or some medium in between, but never, ever are we truly powerless.

With or without guns.

I think if the debate could have less emotion and more understanding as to the true nature of the gun argument, we can attack it more directly. Holistically, as a society, what are we saying when we agree that guns are a fair means of obtaining power? There are darker reasons behind the need for guns that must be addressed:

Fear. Distrust. Love for power.

What does this say about us? What does it say about our country? What does it say about humanity– that ever evolving, and ever-expanding group of powerful, intelligent, master beings? How we answer determines where we go from here.

Wet and dry, equity in contradiction

Now that I am a successful writer, meaning that I have at least two fans somewhere in the big wide world who don’t think I’m an utter failure, I am prone and ready to blow everyone’s mind with my final installment to my Origin of Love Trilogy, Rupture. That is, until I am not.

Because there are a few scenes that are just not ready. More details can enrich them. A little more wit will finalize them. It has to be the scenes, it cannot be anything else. Definitely not fear. Fear of failure or disappointment, or any of those clichés that I must, by now, be immune.

A thick skin is one of the most vital tools of the trade. For a writer, one needs pen, paper, and six layers of armor before meandering through that dark forest of creative exposure. This is completely counter-intuitive because honestly, our sensitivity and empathy is what makes us good at our craft.

So you get these polar opposite needs in order to persevere as an artist. It’s like someone telling you that you have to be wet and dry simultaneously. As writers, we must have the ability to feel all of our characters, all of their demons, even the small characters, especially the villains that nobody likes, but when it comes to real life, we are not allowed to be hurt by criticism. We need to ignore the cruel voices in our heads and in our lives.

Easy right? If only there was a way to prevent one from feeling during those moments when emotion is the enemy. Ah, but there is! Says the demon in the closet. I understand now, why so many talents are driven to self-destruction/self medication. Perhaps alcohol and drugs assist with enduring the raw pain of feeling too much during the “wrong” times.

Fortunately, this is not the only way. Coping mechanisms get established over time and there are ways to prevent the downward spiral of self-destruction, no matter where we might be in our careers. Even the most successful people experience that darkness. Writing is an isolating process, in so many ways. First, we are alone much of the time, in a world that few can understand or relate. We push away our loved ones so that we can focus on our craft, forgetting birthdays and missing crucial life events, ignoring phone calls for days on end. We feel a sense of righteousness when we snap at people for interrupting our precious flow. Then we wonder, when the darkness hits, where all our friends went and why no one wants to soothe our wounded egos.

Community is important no matter how much we value the persona of the lone wolf. Lone wolves die in the wild. The pack that has warm bodies to huddle with in the night, and brilliant stratagems to hunt and share prey eats the lone wolf. Even the strongest, most talented lone wolf cannot compete with well-organized groups.

So why isolate ourselves? Nurturing the relationships in our lives is as vital as nurturing our craft. Where would we be if it weren’t for the people who love and support us and occasionally have to put up with that self-absorbed diva? I suspect, somewhere in rehab, if we’re lucky?

So there is a way to be both wet and dry at the same time. When we swim in the cold arctic of our tortured emotions, it is vital to have a loving person, or people, waiting by the glaciers with warm blankets.

So where are you Tryst, and where is that third book, you flakey girl! Believe you me, it is coming. It is coming! This is my life’s work we’re talking about; I want it as much as you do.

But seriously, my husband and daughter miss me so much. I’ve been traveling a lot for work, you know, that thing that actually feeds that precious family, and I need to be swallowed up by them again, and immerse myself in the healing presence of their sanity. And let’s not forget all the gossip I’ve missed from friends! They really are candy for my soul.

Don’t worry, the arctic continues to call. I squeeze what time I have between flights to get the work done, just don’t tell my boss! I will never give up on writing and that third book is howling for me. Someday, I hope, creating stories and characters will be my only career and main focus, but I’m still a work in progress.

Greek Mythology is everywhere!

Greek Mythology is everywhere!

I get a lot of questions as to why I chose to start my writing career with a retelling of a not so famous Greek Myth. Isn’t Greek Mythology dead? My friend cringed when I told him, saying that he skipped that class in middle school because it was so boring. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one.

Yet, time and time again, I’d run into references to Greek Mythology in pop culture. I’ve even found it in children’s entertainment. I was watching My Little Pony with my four-year-old when I recognized Discord, a wily, mischievous villain in the show. He was named after the demi-god Discord in Greek Mythology who started the Trojan War by dropping a golden apple at a party with the words “To the Fairest.” Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera argued over who would have the apple, eventually leading to the tragic and historical Trojan War. (TMI? I can’t help it, it’s a sickness.)

Then there is Dora the Explorer’s, Pegaso. (I still have that song in my head.) Let’s not forget Harry Potter had multiple references to monsters of Tartarus, including Cerberus.

Greek Mythology is far from dead and I enjoy these modern references so much because I know its roots. I have a feeling it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Eros and Psyche is a myth that’s been retold and redressed so many times, very few remember the original. In fact, Beauty and the Beast was based on this myth. As much as I love the fairytale, the original gives us interesting input on the history of Western love. Eros and Psyche are supposed to be the quintessential pair, the combination of Heart and Soul, the root of the very phrase heard ad nauseum in pop songs (good and bad). What does the phrase even mean? Why does “heart and soul” even matter?

It does matter, because whether we realize it or not, we seek it out as we date, break hearts, and get our hearts broken. Even when everything looks great on paper (or on an online profile) something might be missing. We hold out for that intangible feeling, taught to us by our culture, felt by our instincts: perfect love. Does it really exist, and if so, how rare is it?

It existed in Ancient Greece, and it exists now. The more we know about love, the better we can be at finding it. So why Greek Mythology? Because it still holds a lot of answers to important questions. There’s a reason it sticks around.

Also, the monsters are just awesome.

Quality over quantity… a delicate balance

As I research what makes a successful writer, I continually come across the advice that quantity is the key. “Still not done with the first book? Start the second and meanwhile, market, market, market!! Oh, and don’t forget to read other authors, and don’t forget to network. And that whole family you have, screaming for your attention, just ignore them. They are not important!” That last part was hidden in code, but I heard it loud and clear.

While juggling all these balls in the air, it’s a wonder that I haven’t passed out from concussion based on how many fell on my head. How am I supposed to produce quality work if I’m multi-tasking?

Now, I know there are some of us who struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionism, experts say, is just an extension of insecurity and anxiety. If our work is not perfect, then it won’t be loved, right? Yet love, true love, is appreciating something despite its imperfections, be it man, woman, or writing.

A wonderful fan recently sent me a list of typos that she had found on my second book. There weren’t that many, about four, but I was mortified that they existed. I was certain I had hired the right people for editing. I even read my entire book backwards (yes, backwards) in order to find any extra errors. It apparently forces an editor to scrutinize the sentence and not get too caught up in the story. Maybe I should be flattered the original editors missed some of these typos. They must have just been too engrossed in my story. Here’s to positive spins!

Still, this very special fan went out of her way to help and she still continues to support my writing with kind and encouraging messages. For her, the book was still good even though it wasn’t perfect.

Of course, I went back and corrected every mistake and thanked her profusely for her help. Maybe she should be my new editor?

However, if I spent more time editing and looking for tiny mistakes, it would have slowed publication. Could I have lost her and other fans simply because I didn’t produce books fast enough?

Is it better to just put the novels out there and correct them later?

Of course, everything is a delicate balance. A handful of typos shouldn’t hinder the pace of a story. For those of us who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on top quality editors, you just have to grit your teeth, pour yourself an extra cup of black coffee and be prepared to read how your characters get to “unknow” each other. It’s the driest, most painful process ever. But I’m willing to go the extra mile. Because, honestly, I don’t want to frustrate my readers. I care about their experience delving into my world and I want that experience to be incredible.

You see, I’m one of those “re-readers.” When I find a book I truly love, I can easily read it ten times. As I grow (and yes, even though I’m well in my thirties, I never stop growing), I love rereading the books I enjoyed as a teenager or as a twenty-something and noticing little details that were overlooked the first time around. How honored I would be if any of my books made it to someone’s “re-read” list!

So I guess, in the end, the question is one of definition. What makes a “successful” writer?

Usually, the metric is wealth. Everybody hopes to achieve a certain level of financial reward for all his or her hard work, but it’s still too early to gauge at the moment. A common saying among writers is that becoming a successful author is a marathon, not a sprint. If one perseveres long enough and continues to work on their craft, success if more likely. Oh, and let’s not forget the many talented writers who became famous post-mortem! Not anyone’s ideal, I’m sure, but late is better than never! I just hope my daughter won’t spend it all on My Little Pony dolls.

However, when I think of the real reason I love writing, I come to a warm realization. I have a fan, at least one, who loves my work, and told me that she plans to reread two of my books before the third book is out so that she could refresh her memory. She loved them despite their imperfections.

As far as I’m concerned, I am already a “successful” writer.

So without any more procrastination, pour me another cup, no sugar today, I don’t have time to run it off. Let’s put the “labor” into this “labor of love.”

Book three, last sentence, “The End.”

Looking good!

Jendela, why the pseudonym? What are you hiding?

“Jendela Tryst, why the pseudonym? Are you ashamed of your work?”

Ouch! Nothing feels more like a kick in the gut than someone thinking that you’re ashamed of your own work. But I have gotten this comment from close friends who claim they love me. What is it about love that makes someone think you are impervious to hurt?

No, people, I am not ashamed of my work. I simply feel more creative freedom in the guise of anonymity. That is what my response usually is, well-crafted, well-thought-out, and about as fiction as my stories.

So… if you catch me at a truly honest moment, sometime between that second and third glass of wine when I am incredibly uninhibited but at the same time, suspiciously lucid (I am a light-weight, two glasses will do it), I may reply this: Yes, I am a little ashamed of my work.

I’m ashamed because I’m a strong, educated, and at times, bitingly sarcastic woman who loves to debate the vices of the International Monetary Fund as well as whether Girls is a step back for feminists. I’m ashamed because I put all my strengths upfront for everyone to see but none of my “weaknesses,” like being a die-hard romantic.

Which, of course, is not a weakness. In trying to hide this absolute fact about myself, I present a true actual weakness: a fear of revealing the real me. Jendela Tryst, in many ways, is more authentic than my actual persona. She represents the sweetest, most human side of me. Her subject is always about love, her philosophy simple, with a steady core of optimism. Love is all that matters for Jendela.

My actual name, which, by the way, is very long and hard to pronounce, is one I am less proud of simply because she shies away from admitting certain truths. I do, in fact, love love. I get excited when I read, watch, and listen to stories about people finding one another. I get tingles when I read about that first, long overdue kiss!

Even as I roll my eyes, my heart sings! I absolutely love romance.

In writing these books and in telling everyone I know about these books, the real me is starting to overcome the scared me. I am proud to contribute to the promotion of romance, hope, and love. I am doing something that I’ve always been too afraid to do.

However, the intellectual me (and my core group of friends) does like to poke holes at my philosophy and ask the Big Questions. Am I hurting feminism? Is romance itself, a step backward? Does it breed co-dependency? These are great questions, ones I love discussing.

For me, the answer is “no.” At least, not my books. I, and a lot of wonderful romance authors out there, make sure that our heroines are strong and extremely self-sufficient. Love does not have to mean weakness or a loss of independence. A healthy relationship helps a person become what they’ve always wanted and were meant to be.

At least, that’s the message that I hope comes across between the pages.

However, some relationships are not so healthy, even the ones that seem to start out like textbook romance. Some novels push the envelope of decency and at times, really do make us ask, what is the purpose here? Is our heroine truly this insipid? Such novels may hurt the genre of romance and make people like me cringe at being associated with it. There was one best-selling series in particular where the male protagonist clearly sexually assaulted the heroine. Is my name to be sullied?

Unfortunately, bad romance novelists will continue to muddy the waters for the good ones because really, “good” and “bad” is all subjective. We read what we need to at the moment, not always to make us better people, but to pass the day. No need to be judgmental. In this modern day, however, we have an endless buffet of reading choices and a limited number of “genres” available to label the cuisine.

How others perceive me, however, should not effect how I see myself. I, and many authors of my genre, are doing a wonderful thing: providing entertainment, excitement, and hopefully, a little bit of self-reflection. There is so much wisdom to be had between the pages of romance fiction, if only more people would give them a chance!

I, for one, am extremely proud to be adding my name to the list of amazing authors who rejuvenated my faith in love and allowed me to embrace the warmest side of myself. Love is a worthy subject, and romance is far from dead. I, and many others, will make sure of that.

So, next time, anyone asks me why I have a pseudonym, I will simply reply this, “My name is so hard to pronounce, you probably can’t even say it three times fast without stuttering. But Jendela really is the best side of me. I hope I can introduce you some day.”

Romance Novelist and Love Expert… apparently

What is it about becoming a romance novelist that makes everyone want to come to you for advice? I’m not complaining, I just find it one of the fascinating perks about being a novelist. There have always been a certain gravitas to authors. Visions of brooding philosophers come to mind, looking out of their window at stormy beaches, pondering the Big Question(s).

Do I ponder? Well, certainly I love to delve into the dark and twisted realms of questions that need never be answered, but really, when I look out my window, all I see are screaming kids in a suburban neighborhood with homes too close together, and neighbors who enjoy tolerant, cordial, but thoroughly disengaged relationships. I’d love to open the window and breathe in that fresh, almost-autumn air, but honestly, my neighbor’s grill smoke seems to be aimed straight at me. My flower garden that held such promise in the early spring, with visions of spilling petunias and noble lavender, is a dried up and neglected compost pile. What is it about Summer that makes Spring dreams seem over-ambitious and pointless?

Well, autumn is here and I’m ready for a new start, in this case, putting the final touches on my series about Eros and Psyche entitled, Origin of Love. Just say the word “romance novel” to anyone and mostly you get one of two reactions: a blush, or a leer. But sometimes, just sometimes, you meet a kindred. Someone who gives you a flash of something in their eyes, a recognition, as if we’re old friends who went to the same kindergarten many years ago. Romance novelist, ah, I am in the presence of someone who gets it.

I love these moments. I have learned, albeit very painfully, to appreciate these rare moments when I meet such people, and they remind me that this is really the reason why I write: to connect with like-minded people. The ones who worry that they are alone. The ones who think that there are no more romantics left in the world. The ones who are embarrassed to admit that they, too, love love.

There are lots of us. I enjoy sharing what I know about my understanding of that ever complicated emotion that makes monsters or heroes out of all of us. So do you want my advice? Sure, I’ll do my best. But really, the best advice is in the pages of the novels we love, between the lines, in the raw emotion we feel when the characters we love do the right or wrong things. We are all protagonists in their story. We are all protagonists in our own story. Let’s make it a good one.