Thursday, August 13, 2015

Guest Post: "Poison Your Pretties" by Sandy Wright

I was fortunate to read Sandy Wright's novel, Song of the Ancients, in an earlier draft. Sandy belongs to one of my critique groups, and we worked through character development and plot points. The completed novel is a remarkable story of risk and reward, good and evil. If you are a paranormal suspense fan, this might be your brew.

If you write enough novels, the question will come up: Shall I kill a favorite character or let him/her live?

There's always a risk. George R. Martin has offed so many of his characters that some people now refuse to follow the series in books or on HBO. He lost another batch of followers when he ended this season with the cliff-hanger group execution of the Night's Watch Commander Jon Snow. I loved Jon Snow, and am firmly in the camp that believes we haven't seen the last of him. Since Martin has given HBO permission to write their scrips ahead of his books, I'm clinging to hope for the series at least.

But there's no denying a death ratchets up the tension, especially if the victim is a beloved character in which the reader is emotionally invested. Does that sound cruel? Maybe, but the more closely you know a character—the more believable and developed a character is—the more you want the responsible party to pay for that character’s death.

Consider Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. The death of Harry’s much-maligned godfather not only redeemed him, but made readers turn more strongly against his killers. It showed, rather than told us, the antagonist’s capacity of evil, which further aligned us with the main characters. Of course, when Professor Snape killed beloved Headmaster Dumbledore, the majority of readers closed The Half-Blood Prince heart-broken and deeply hating the surly potions master.

I didn't. In fact, that book spurred me to write my own novel and create a character who, like Snape, battles his own darkness while fighting the good fight.

Enter Nicholas Orenda. His life as a magical bounty hunter, chasing the most adept of the world's dark magic practitioners, has turned him cynical. In the scene from Song of the Ancients, he is suspicious that the protagonist, Samantha, is actually in cahoots with the bad guys. Because I always think it’s fun to add an exotic poison to a story line, Nicholas decides to find out by giving her wine tainted with the poison Aconite, found in the Monkshood plant:

I watched his long fingers curl around the bottle. His movements were practiced, but his hand trembled slightly.  He uncorked the bottle and poured the rich red liquid into two glasses, offering one to me.
     “To fate.” He toasted with a tight smile.
     I brought the glass to my lips and let the wine settle in my mouth. It tasted of raspberry, chocolate and oak, as well as something slightly bitter.
     Nicholas looked ill. He set his glass down without tasting it.
     “Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?” I handed him the gallery show card. “You said you’d like to meet Standing Bear.”
     He read the card and looked at me. “Is this a peace offering?”
     “Of sorts.”
     “I accept.”
     He seemed genuinely accommodating. For the time being, it appeared we were to act civil with each other.
     I began to relax and took another sip of wine. The alcohol was hitting me hard tonight. Already my face felt slightly numb. “Would you like to study first?”
     “Yes, let’s.” He seemed distracted. “You said you have your Materia Magicka completed?”
     I nodded. “I got it done while I was house-sitting.” Nicholas had suggested I do the research systematically. “I have them alphabetized.”
     “Then let’s begin with ‘A’.”
     I took a sip of wine and pulled out the first card. “Acacia. You can use the flowers or burn the wood to stimulate psychic centers or for money spells.”
     Nicholas nodded. “It can be used for protection as well. A sprig of the tree over your bed wards off evil.”
     I made a note of his comment and continued. “Aconite. It’s a poison, also known by the common names of Monkshood and Wolfbane. The entire plant is poisonous, especially the leaves and roots.”
     “If ingested?” he asked.
     “Yes, or from contact,” I added.
     “Reaction time?”
     This was harder. “Fifteen minutes to as long as a few hours.”
     “Very good. Antidote?”
     Uh oh. I hadn’t catalogued antidotes. I looked at the asterisk I’d put on the card beside the poison symbol. I had meant to go back and make additional notes on the poisons.
     “I don’t know.”  I had some trouble getting the words out. My mouth was numb and my lips felt swollen. I lifted my wine glass and looked at it. Still nearly full. I set the glass down, sloshing most of its contents onto the table.
     “Then I believe we will both learn something tonight.” He leaned in to peer at me, his nose only inches from mine
     I was beyond caring what he did. My face was now completely numb and a tingling sensation had taken over both of my arms, as if tiny insects were crawling on them. My skin was cold and clammy and my pulse was irregular and v-e-r-y slow.  I wondered for a brief moment if it would stutter to a halt.
    But my mind was perfectly clear as I watched Nicholas.
    He looked at his watch and then put his fingers under my chin and looked into my pupils. “How are you feeling?”
     I wanted to answer him, but my mouth wouldn’t form the words.
     “It would appear the reaction time for ingested aconite is closer to the fifteen minutes you quoted.”
     I wanted to scream for help. All I could do was stare at him with wild eyes.
     “A one to fifty drop ratio of aconite is sufficient. When taken orally, as you did, it first stimulates and later paralyses the nerves. The initial tingling gives way to long-term anesthetic action. That is why your tongue and then your face became numb.”
     He shifted slightly in his chair and lifted my arm, pressing his thumb to the pulse point on my wrist. “Aconite acts on the circulation, the respiration and the nervous system. The pulse slows, possibly as low as forty beats per second. Blood pressure falls and breathing becomes slower as the respiratory system is paralyzed. Death is usually due to asphyxia. Interestingly, as in strychnine poisoning, the victim is conscious and clear-minded to the last.”
     He let go of my wrist. It flopped, useless, onto the sofa. “But you know all of that, don’t you?” His tone was pure ice.  “Were you afraid I wouldn’t try the bottle you left on my doorstep, so you brought a second one just in case?”
    He put his lips to my ear. “I want to know why you are trying to poison me. I want to know what Nuin and his cronies are planning. And I especially want to know your part in his little scheme.” He enunciated each word with deliberate slowness, but his matter-of-fact voice told me everything I needed to know.
 I was going to die.

Aconite is a plant indigenous to many parts of the world, including most of the United States. All
parts of the plant are poisonous, but the root is the most toxic. A half tablespoon of a tincture of aconite root placed in a bottle of wine or whiskey is enough to kill a large man. A tincture is an alcohol extract of the material. Placed in a drink, the alcohol goes unnoticed. Even with today's advanced CSI testing, Aconite has been called “the perfect poison to mask a murder.” It can be detected only by sophisticated toxicology analysis using equipment that is not always available to local forensic labs, and then only if poison is actually suspected. 

Fans of the Harry Potter series will recognize it as Wolfsbane, the plant Professor Snape brews to help Remus Lupin when he transforms into a werewolf at the full moon. Legend is it got that nickname because Greek hunters used it on poison arrows to hunt wolves.

Poor Samantha forgot to research antidotes, but it wouldn’t have done her much good anyway. The only known antidote for Aconite is a purgative, like Ipecac, itself a poison which causes nausea and vomiting. Lucky for her, she only took two swallows of wine. And does Ipecac sound familiar? Check your medicine cabinet, you might have the syrup.

I confess I’m fascinated by the plant world’s criminal elements. There’s something so cold about poison. It seems exotic and foreign, yet many of these dark villains are growing in our own back yards, pastures and roadsides, or included in everyday remedies sold over-the-counter.

Next blog, we’ll move to the B’s and I’ll tell you some stories about Belladonna, the deadly Black Nightshade still used in eye drops, which grows like a weed in Arizona.

Until then, don’t eat any berries off unknown bushes. And never be the first one to taste the wine.


Sandy moved to Arizona 17 years ago and fell in love with the southwest desert, including its Native American influences. After a trip to Sedona, the germ of a novel was born.
“I love to take ordinary characters and put them in extraordinary situations that change their view of the world.”
Her first novel, Song of the Ancients, introduces witchcraft and shamanism seen through the eyes of an ordinary woman.  Readers interested in witchcraft—or just a dark, eerie tale—will enjoy this paranormal suspense, written by a real-life Wiccan High Priestess.
Winner of the Pacific Northwest (fantasy), On the Far Side (paranormal) and Orange Rose (paranormal romance) contests, Song of the Ancients was published in May 2015, and is available in both print and ebook.

To order Song of the Ancients:


For more information visit:
Group blogs:
Facebook: Author Sandy Wright
Twitter: @sinazAZ

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guest Post: "Love and Murder" Series by Brenda Whiteside

I am delighted to welcome Brenda Whiteside back to share her latest work with you. I am eager to read the first in her new series. Read on to find out why!

I enjoy writing about characters with experience and a few years to their credit. Their perspective on so many things has more depth and lends a richer outlook to the story, especially when it comes to the romantic side of a romantic suspense.

In Book One of my Love and Murder Series, The Art of Love and Murder, Lacy Dahl is forty-three. Her husband is deceased and she has two grown children. On a quest to discover more about her biological parents and the suspicions surrounding them, she meets Sheriff Chance Meadowlark. The sheriff is forty-one and a widower, his wife murdered.

The attraction begins. And since they’re a little older, physical descriptions are, well, like this:

She didn’t think she’d ever seen such a beautiful male body. Not perfect. Like the scar flawed his face and made it that much more handsome, his mature body, strong and hard and not perfectly defined like a young man, took her breath away.

Then there’s the actual physical activity…there can be tense moments for two people jumping in after time away from a relationship. Or there can be lots more relaxed fun:

When his mouth trailed wet kisses to her stomach, she released the hold she had on him, threw her hands to the bed and laughed.
He stopped, came up on his hands and leaned over her. “What?”
“Damn, this feels so good, so right.”

But don’t think because they’re not twenty-somethings, there are no more discoveries to be made. No matter the age, there’s adventure, discoveries, romance, and suspense.

Lacy Dahl never questioned her past until the deaths of her adoptive parents and her husband. A husband who wasn't what he seemed. Her research uncovers secrets about the mother she never knew; secrets that dispute the identity of her father and threaten her life.

Sheriff Chance Meadowlark is still haunted by the murder of his wife and the revenge he unleashed in the name of justice. When he meets Lacy he is determined not to become involved, but their pasts may make that impossible. As they move closer to the truth, saving Lacy may be his only salvation.

Lacy begins to think the present is more important than her past...until Chance's connection to her mother and a murder spin her deeper into danger and further from love. Will the truth destroy Lacy and Chance or will it be the answer that frees them?

Buy Links:

Brenda spends most of her time writing stories of discovery and love entangled with suspense. The rest of her time is spent tending vegetables on the small family farm she shares with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Together, they’ve embraced an age-old lifestyle that has been mostly lost in the United States - multiple generations living under one roof, who share the workload, follow their individual dreams and reap the benefits of combined talents.

Visit Brenda at
She blogs on the 9th and 24th of every month at
She blogs about writing and prairie life at

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spring Cleaning for Writers

An earlier version on this post appeared on Write on Sisters a year ago.

Here in Arizona, spring isn’t as well-defined as it might be in your part of the world. Here, we call it spring when our temps get above the average 70 degrees of winter. For those three days, before the 100’s begin, we have a version of spring. (Only kidding about the three days. Lots of years we have several days.)

This year, a very unusual year, no doubt due to global weirding, we had weeks of really great spring weather. We kept the doors open in the daytime and shut them at night. Just lovely!

Think about it. What is spring anyway, but a time of flowers blooming in warmer air. So what does one call spring in a locale where there are flowers all year long? Okay, so maybe there are different winter flowers and summer flowers--ones that can take blast-furnace temperatures. Still . . .

As a child, spring in the Midwest meant SPRING CLEANING. Big time. The venetian blinds came down, the rugs came up, and the house smelled of Pine-Sol and lemon paste wax. It was grueling work, scrubbing hardwood floors and wiping baseboards. No surface escaped my mother’s attention--which meant the attention of my sister and me. My brother escaped the yearly ritual because back in the day, boys didn’t do housework.

SPRING CLEANING is an odd rite. Funny, I thought, even then. For most of the year, Mother wasn’t what you’d call “house proud”. Our place was not a magazine spread. It wasn’t really dirty, but on a farm, you’re hard pressed to keep the dust and mud from accumulating on surfaces. Dust was pretty easy to ignore. Mud was regularly tracked in along with other malodorous substances, but mostly that got cleaned up right away.

But for about a week after SPRING CLEANING, our home was a joy to live in. Then, as life would have it, we lived in it, and it showed. Sigh! All that work for … what?

Isn’t that metaphor for life? We occasionally clean out the detritus of daily life from our minds, or sweep it into a corner for later disposal. Still, more accumulates, piles up, and overtakes the surfaces of our lives. We clean again, making space for more waste to fill the spaces just cleaned up.

Oh, dear! That sounds all melancholy and such, but I don’t mean it that way at all. As a writer, I love the accumulation of new junk, dirt, stuff. That’s more to write about. And for a writer, spring cleaning is just one way we sweep away and wash down our experiences as we transform them into our novels, short stories, and plays.

All writers draw upon those past experiences, odd characters, sights seen to bring truth to our work. What we remember we can use to enliven and enrich text. So digging through the junk on the lookout for treasures is rather exhilarating.

I’ve pondered why some parts of my past and some people are so vivid and other parts and people, if remembered at all, are shadowy or even forgotten.

We remember best what we emotionally connect with. Everyone recalls where they were and how they felt on September 11, 2011. Images, emotions, and reactions all remain sharp in our minds. Similarly, JFK’s assassination and the Challenger Shuttle explosion were sharp, jagged times we recall easily.

Fortunately, most of my life is not that traumatic. I am blessed with a happy life filled with many loving friends and family. I have more good memories than bad.

I can clearly see every bit of the day my first son was born. The palpable joy of holding this precious new life in my arms after getting to know him so well in the womb will stay with me forever. I loved laboring. I remember those sharp thrusts and pushes. I revel in the memory of the experience just as I did in the actuality.

There are teachers I adored (and not) whose personality quirks are imprinted in my mind. Mrs. McNamara who was always tugging up her bra strap with no awareness she did it. Mr. Sylvester’s facial tics when he was nervous. Mr. Hill’s nervous laughter as we jerked our way around the parking lot in Driver’s Ed.

How can these experiences not show up in our writing?

So I “spring clean” my mind periodically, searching for sights, scents, and sounds that I might recycle into a new personality or scene. But I also search for the emotion behind the memory, because the emotion is why I still hang onto it. And if I can convey the emotion, maybe my readers will connect as I do.

In this blog, I post about my writing and a bit about life and relationships. Because, really, when you think about it, for an author, they are often indistinguishable, intermingled, and intertwined.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Words to Live By

Back in the day, another life, a different career, I was a university professor preparing undergraduate and graduate students for their teaching careers. I taught them how to teach reading, writing, listening, and speaking to pre-K through eighth grade students.

I began each class with an introduction to me that included the quotes I used to guide my life and decisions I made, specifically as it related to education and teaching. I challenged them to write in their class content journals the words they chose and to explain why and how those words influenced them as teachers/future teachers.

I was disappointed, most of the time, at the lack of reflection their choices showed. Most of them had clearly never considered guiding words beyond their sacred texts. Not to diss sacred texts, but there are other sources as well. But if the choice were words from their holy books, I expected more than “These words are true.” I would push back with, “Why these words in particular? What truth do they speak to you? How does that truth play out in your teaching choices and decisions? Personalize this so it is not so generic.”

Orally, I modeled what I expected from them. I spoke my words (as they were displayed) and told how my quotes guided me. How I was not perfect at living up to my set of guiding words, but that having a moral compass reflected in my guiding words meant that more often than not I acted in concert with them.

Here are the quotes, that even now, years away from my former profession, I resonate to:

I am only one.
Still, I am one.
I cannot do everything.
Still, I can do something.
Because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
         Edward Everett Hale

Treat every child as if he already is the person he is capable of becoming.
         Haim Ginott

Even if I knew certainly the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.
         Attributed to Martin Luther

What words guide you in navigating the rapids, shoals, and still waters of life?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Engaging Relationships Sell" by J.L. Greger

This is the third guest post J.L. (Janet) Greger has done for one of my blogs. Can you tell I enjoy what she has to share? If you wonder how to make your relationship scenes support your story, this just might be what you need!

I doubt many novels have been written about a hero/heroine who didn’t interact (actually or virtually) with other people or animals. Think about it. Relationships, not really appearances or jobs, make characters (lovers, families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or enemies) interesting to readers.

What are simple ways to make fictional relationships seem real?
I looked at dozens of columns written by psychologists, experts on managing stress in the workplace, and writers of columns to the “lovelorn.” In essence, they mentioned four key issues central to all relationships.

You can add depth to your novels by examining your characters and their relationships in terms of these parameters. 
1) Communications.
A sympathetic protagonist listens patiently to others. He/she communicates through actions as well as orally. For example, a wealthy male protagonist might seem more lovable if he did a load of laundry for his partner without being asked than if he bought a dozen roses.

Don’t fall into the Hollywood cliché of having the hero or heroine “just know what his his/her partner wants.” Psychologists are convinced this is unrealistic.

Characters not interested in a relationship interrupt, raise their voice, doodle, look at their watch, or pick at their nails when others are talking. They nag their cohorts. These are good traits for villains.

2) Goals.
Allies or lovers, who have no shared goals, are not realistic partners on a long–term basis. The dissolution of shared goals (divorce, business failure, or war) is the basis of strong plots. Authors tend to build more psychological tension into their novels when they allow characters to mourn the loss of a shared relationship.

If one of your character steamrolls the rights of others to attain a shared goal, you have created a villain.

3) Struggle for control.
This is universal to all relationships. If you doubt the statement, think about raising children or training a dog. These struggles, when mainly petty bickering, can add humor to fiction or can foreshadow a crisis.

4) Trust.
Psychologists say relationships cannot last or function without trust. Although trust can be based on a major event, it usually develops over time in response to lots of small (almost inconsequential) behavior patterns.

According to psychologists, the “good guys” build trust because they: are on time; don't lie - not even little white lies; are fair, even in an argument; do what they promise; carry their fair share of the workload; don’t overreact when things go wrong; respects others; and aren’t jealous. I suspect a character, who is consistently trustworthy would be pretty boring.

As you write your next novel or story, think less about character development per se and more about relationship development. Readers want to recognize a bit of themselves in fictional relationships, but they also like to pity faulty interactions and dream of others. You may build a stronger relationship with your readers.

I hope you like Sara’s (my protagonist) relationships with Xave Zack in my thrillers Ignore the Pain and Malignancy.

 Blurb on Ignore the Pain. Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and on to the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the sinister Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.

Blurb on Malignancy. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect a drug czar, who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Ignore the Pain ( and Malignancy ( are available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy. You can learn more about me at my website: and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs):

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Major Key to Happy Relationships

He left last Thursday morning. The nights are the worst. He used to read in bed, scratch my head, and I would massage his foot. Those were the good times. Now, I am left alone in a king bed, still sleeping on “my side”, not daring to sleep in the middle lest I get used to it.

But this is good.

He’s off for a week on one of his rafting/canoeing trips exploring rivers and canyons he hasn’t been to yet. He is having a swell time.

Me, too. I have breakfasts and lunches with friends and watch movies and TV shows he hates. And I can scatter the contents of drawers I am reorganizing all over the place. He hates messes. And I hate having to clean up a project before I finish it. See how perfect this is!

One absolutely critical key to having the kind of relationship we have is that we have our separate interests. We each give the other space to pursue those interests. We’re kind of a two-circleVenn Diagram.

He has his interests and pursuits. I have mine. And there are a whole bunch of things in the intersection that we enjoy together. (Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to draw a Venn Diagram, and none of the onlines ones I found could be copied here.)

Research and common sense articles about what makes relationships work almost always include this one: You are happier together if you are both strong, independent people who function very well without the other.

If you are clingy, desperate to mop up every drop of her attention, it will wear thin. If all you can talk about are the experiences you’ve shared, you are boring. She’ll be outta there!

If she clings to you, smothers your individuality, controls your movements and interactions, you’ll feel stifled. You want to say to her, “Get a life!”

The most successful people in life and in relationships are those who can go off on their own and develop side interests, skills, hobbies, and friends. Then, when appropriate, and you rejoin for a shared experience, you have things to talk about and demonstrate.

When I was in high school, prepping for my first date, I distinctly remember the panic I felt when wondering what we would talk about for three hours! (That’s why so many first dates are at the movies. Pressure is off for most of the three hours.)

Then my mind went to THE FUTURE. Someday, I’d likely marry. As I intended to stay married, I started wondering what ever would we find to talk about for 50+ years? Funny, eh? Only it wasn’t at the time.

I didn’t realize then that my own insatiable curiosity about learning, my wide-ranging reading interests, and my basic personality which caused me to seek crowds of different kinds of people, were two of the reasons I would never have trouble carrying on conversations over years of being together.

It was that strength of identity, among other things, that got DH’s attention. He had only been with dependent, clingy women, so I was a relief. He didn’t have to babysit me at parties. In fact, he’d come looking for me after a while just so we could have some time together.

There’s a caveat (isn’t there always?) with being independent and self-confident. IF the couple doesn’t make time for togetherness, plan shared experiences, allow for quiet reflective time in one another’s company, they may grow so far apart that they no longer remember why they got together in the first place. You’ve heard of the fear when couples contemplate the “empty nest syndrome”. They wonder, just as when they were teens, whatever will they find to talk about.

So, go off. Explore your interests and ideas. Develop new skills and hobbies. But be sure to plan frequent date nights and to have togetherness routines like a before-dinner glass of wine each night. Be the strong, independent, interesting person you can be. And then share your growth with the one who brings the most color to your life.

Next week, Romance Righter hosts J.L. Greger writing about “Relationships Sell.”  Please stop in to see what she has for you!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Getting Old is Hairy

Those of you who read me on my various blogs know that I am not upset about aging. In fact, given good health, age is just a number. I really do believe that. My grandparents, the ones still alive, were OLD people at my current age. Truly, rocking-chair-stereotype old people. But we’re not that. I even wrote a post about the audience for “cronelit”.

My generation are active in lots of facets of life. Some of us used “a certain age”, with it’s retirement-money cushion, to pursue our dreams in TheThird Chapter of our lives.

But that positivity is being tested. And the culprit? Hair.

I noticed several years ago that I now have hair where I didn’t used to have it much (nose, face) and it’s disappearing where it used to be abundant (legs, underarms, head).

Huh? What’s with that?

My head hair used to be so thick I had trouble brushing it. I couldn’t get through doorways on humid
days. And forget trying to make all the strands behave. I had an unmanageable curly mess of a mane.

Leg and underarm hair left untended could be plaited after a few hours. (By the way, you need a friend to help with that. One cannot braid one’s underarms unaided.)

Okay, so it’s an annoyance to use a little electric gizmo to get rid of facial and nose hair. Kinda gross, even. But if kept up with, most people won’t notice the stubble.

And what a blessing to not have to mutilate, er, shave my legs and underarms every hour! That is pretty wonderful, I gotta say.

But my head hair? C’mon.

I am not happy that pulled back with a barrette, I have to search for bald spots and pull hair around to cover them. I am not happy that I have more forehead than in years past.

But my hair coming out in handsful? That’s just wrong.

I now look like I work in a fast food kitchen with my head wrapped up so I don’t scatter strands among the spaghetti. A hair in the soup? Not so appetizing.

And this is aging, folks. The dirty little secret that crones have kept to themselves. Well, I’m blowing the whistle. As you approach those happy golden years, I urge you to enjoy the less-hair parts and take charge to manage the bad one.

Yes, I mean shave your head and buy wigs in a veritable panoply of colors and cuts. Be a new person everyday. Live your inner life. And don’t sprinkle on other peoples’ parade--or food.

CAVEAT: This was a light-hearted take on aging, but you should see your physician if you are experiencing sudden hair loss to rule out causal medical conditions.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

All We Need is Love

A version of this post was originally published on August 26, 2014 at "Write on Sisters".

Love is one of those great terms worth pondering. Particularly, as an author, I am concerned about how best to show relationships in my books. I am blessed to be surrounded by love from family and friends. But as I pondered, I realized something that was never in my consciousness before. “Love” is a piss-poor word. (Excuse the French!)

How can we have a language with so many words for “pants” (trousers, slacks, jeans, dungarees, britches, and maybe more) and only one for love? Right. I hear what you’re saying; dungarees are not the same as slacks. There is a difference in materials and fit with the various words for “pants”.

Exactly! And that is also the case with “love”. “I love you, Sis.” “I love the color blue.” “I love Paris.” “I love bacon cheeseburgers.” “I love you, Honey.”

See the problem?

And the value we place on getting him to say “I love you”? Well, that first time is incredible. It’s as if him saying “I love you” comes with the whole package of now-I-am-committed-to-you-forever-let’s-get-married-and-have-five-kids. Uh, how has that worked out for you?

What if, just imagine this, what if we went the Greek route? I’ve mentioned before that I studied classical Greek in college. While we didn’t spend loads of time on it, as we were translating, we would encounter words for love. Our professor allowed us to translate the word as “love” as long as we understood the nuance and the context of the word usage.

Most of us know about “agape” and “eros”. There are more Greek words for love, but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s start with what you remember of these two “love” words.

1) Eros (EH-rohs)
Eros, of course, is the physical love, the erotic, the passionate. It doesn’t really contain any caring for the other person. It is a selfish, self-gratification word for love. Maybe “lust” is our English equivalent. But how likely would you be to hop into bed with a guy who has just admitted to you that he’s “in lust” with you? Yet, of course, to over-generalize here, many men mean just that when they say, “I love you.” And we go all giddy and and start picking out towels.

2) Agape (ah-GAH-pay)
The other Greek word for love most of us know is agape, a kind of spiritual love. Pure essence. Untainted with physicality. It is totally unselfish and giving, even when there is no love returned. Christians have laid claim to agape in many of their biblical translations and writings about loving God. For sure, your guy doesn’t love you in an agape way! I mean really! (And if he does, run. You don’t want to be literally idolized.)

So how did the Greeks account for and name other aspects of love? I’m glad you asked.

3) Ludus (LOO-dus)
The Greeks had another word for love sometimes associated with sex. Ludus is the playful variant of love. When you first fall in love with someone, you go through a giddy period of teasing, laughing at nothing, and finding joy in the presence of the one you love. One might think of it as a purer form of eros because it can become sexual, but not the gasping, grasping sex of eros. To make the definition clearer, ludus is also the love that children might share as they play and learn together. Those in ludic love might cavort and dance for no reason with anyone who comes in their path out of sheer joy.

4) Philia (FEE-lee-uh)
You have family and friends you love, but not in an eros or agape way. The Greeks named that love philia. It is a love of give and take, back and forth, warm regard and affection. Still, it is a dispassionate, pure, and virtuous love of the sort you might feel for relatives and close friends.

5) Storge (STOR-geh)
Storge is the kind of love parents feel for their children or spouses. It is deeper and more passionate than philia. It is an acceptance of flaws and a putting up with behaviors and attitudes you wouldn’t tolerate in others. Storge grows out of a familial obligation toward the object of your love, but not just that. We seem genetically wired to have a protective kind of love toward those we are related to.

6) Pragma (PRAHG-ma)
Pragma is the Greek word for the love that couples who have grown old together or who find one another as seniors have. This aging love adjusts to the partner and finds ways to compromise and support to ensure the relationship lasts. This kind of mature love has a gentler feel. It is the counterpoint to “falling in love” as this is “staying in love”.

7) Philautia (feel-OW-tee-uh)
Of course the Greeks wouldn’t neglect self-love. Philautia, however, isn’t the selfishness of self-love; it is not narcissism. Rather, if one is confident in who one is, secure in him/herself, there is more love to spread around. When one no longer worries about him/herself and how perceived, one has more to share. Philautia is really a trait to cultivate. Aristotle said, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”

What does this mean for authors? As a novelist, understanding the nuances of love rather than mindlessly using and abusing the word can lead to more complex relationships in your stories. The Greeks didn’t believe one kind of love was superior to another. Rather, the whole person experiences a range of loves and explores the boundaries of each kind of love to create a more complete person.

Knowing the nuances of each kind of love allows you to set up situations. She’s in a ludic state while he’s in eros, so when she giggles in bed, he takes offense. How might pragma look with couples who are physically and mentally capable versus the couple dealing with dementia or cancer? Can storge love be taken to an extreme that the parent tries to justify as parental caring?

I just gave you a starter kit on kinds of love. There is much information on the Internet to extend this basic understanding. Please delve into love and see how much richer your novel's relationships can be the Greek way. Oh, and what kinds of love are there in Streetwalker? I'd "love" to hear your thoughts!