Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Angels and Guides and Etc. (oh my!)

I've been trying to find beta readers for my WIP because I'm anxious to get it out n about. I've asked four. So far I've heard back from just one, whose comments were sparse, incomplete, often vague, and in one case, remarkably thought-provoking.

The work is a sequel to Touch of Danger, and my heroine, Lina O'Kelly, is a psychic healer who works and communicates with her guides and various angels. When she does this in the sequel, the beta reader accused me of wanting to be too PC by including elements from vastly different religions that didn't belong together. She noted that angels were only Christian, guides were... well, I forget where she thought those were assigned.

Lina, being a New Ager—is there a modern word for that that hasn't fallen into disregard?—uses angels and guides as well as devas, ghosts, Mother Earth, and more, to help her in her job. New Age thought certainly utilizes all and considers them a "normal" part of reality.

Ancient Sumerian pictures show winged humans. Their religion held an idea of beings who ran errands and messages between the gods and humans. The Babylonians continued these kinds of depictions, and religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam have their own angels.

The Egyptians had winged gods, but this may be a poetic combination of human and animal, as the Egyptians liked to do so much. Or Velikovsky could be right, and heavenly events created "winged" aspects in the sky that ancient civilizations interpreted to be winged humans with a heavenly aspect.

Mithras was an angel, depending on which cult of his was talking. Zoroaster talked to the angels. Shamanism often employs other-worldly entities in order to gain communications and help.

"Deva" is a word we get from India. I found a good definition: "The devas are entitled to take care of the administration of the universe and to make sure that everything within the cosmic manifestation works perfectly." I was taught that angels are watchers over the human condition, while devas handle everything else. Some people call some types of devas "fairies."

I wonder if the ancient, cloaked lady I once saw strolling in my garden was a fairy? She was very kind in aspect, very knowing. I'd never thought of fairies being human-sized before. Too much Disney in my past, I suppose.

There are devas of substances, of animals and plants, of concepts like marriage, truth, of nations and regions, of the Earth.

Once a teacher guided me in a meditation in which all of a sudden from my doubting mind, I got a glorious sense of a magnificent, female entity. She was the Earth, or so it seemed to me. Beautiful and loving with a sense of infinite depth, and yet rather more passive than I'd imagined such a spirit would be. But quite powerful all the same. I'm glad she's around!

Have you read Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, by James Lovelock? It posits the concept that our planet is one large organism. Surely that organism has a consciousness?

These ideas in which we try to form a structure to a universe far too big for us to begin to understand, cross cultures and the religions they birthed. I think they make the world a wonderfully mysterious place. If we want to hear the voices of these entities, all we have to do is be still and listen.

Are they truly from outside ourselves, or are they merely part of our own mind? Could these voices be our Higher Self, talking through the dimensions to us? Does it really matter if they give good information?

Some people listen to the voices in their head and do anything they say, even if what they say is harmful. Always use your common sense. If someone, material or immaterial, is telling you to do something that is wrong or will harm yourself or others, don't do it! A true angel or deva, guardian spirit or friend will only tell you beneficial things or information that will be of assistance. You will probably even feel better as you're hearing the message.

What experiences have you had with these entities? Please, do tell!

I got my clip art for this entry from the folks at .

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm going to begin to reprint the "Star-Spangled Panties" column here on my blog. This first one originally appeared September 25th, 2009 at

Hola, campers! I’m Carol A. Strickland, and I’m moderately obsessed with Wonder Woman.

“Wonder Womaaan?” I can hear someone in the back whining. “She’s so confusing. Equals boring.”

Okay, I can understand that. She’s only undergone about a million “Bold New Directions” in her career. She’s been a US Army nurse, a wannabe stay-at-home-wife, an ambassador, a boutique owner, an Air Force lieutenant, a jet-setting adventurer, an astronaut, a fast-food taco maker, a pacifist, a murderer, a warrior, a pampered princess, a penniless civilian, an Amazon, a modern Western woman, a vegetarian, a carnivore, a contemporary younger version of herself (times two!), an elitist, an egalitarian, a good friend, the worst friend you could ever hope for, a lover, and a perpetual virgin.

Gee, what’s the prob?

The trick with Wondie is this: she is not the sum of her varied adventures, not even if you keep to just one volume. Instead she is the combination of the best of all her aspects, grounded on a firm thematic base.

This means that in order to market a reader-friendly Wonder Woman, you cannot attempt to retain all elements of her past. You must cast her with positive attributes and experiences that can withstand the test of time. Then each new creative team can build upon that without destroying it.

Just a few years ago, Phil Jimenez tried to incorporate everything post-Crisis (and a little more, such as TV Wondie) into his vision of Diana. It made for intriguing if sometimes uncomfortable reading as the mythos twisted back upon itself while trying to move forward. Some of it worked—often very well—and some of it bombed spectacularly.

Greg Rucka followed soon after and threw out nearly everything PJ had done, as well as a massive amount of material from runs previous to that. Unfortunately, he didn’t then institute a pared-down “best of” version of Wondie. Instead she became a dark thing we readers had never seen before: WW as a puppet of Athena who could never win with honor. Ouch.

Even when Diana was rebooted to acclaim after Crisis (the first one. The only one of any importance), her creative team forgot one thing: Diana’s basic theme is that of empowerment. Diana empowers others, often the disenfranchised, and she also sets an example by empowering herself. Thus the need for Amazon Training, which at one time she had to practice to stay in full form. Crisis tossed out that concept and Diana now received her powers on a silver platter, not having to work to attain them.

Empowerment is a theme that WW needs to remember at all times. It’s what make her especially unique in the superhero world. It also attracts disenfranchised readers to her, ka-ching!

All positive aspects and continuity were completely absent in the all-too-recent (ack! Don’t make me type the words!) A… Ama… Amazons Attack! In this mini and the scads of unholy crossovers it spawned, the entire Wonder Woman mythos was not only trashed but shredded and defecated upon. AA can only be viewed as a deliberate attempt to mutilate nearly 70 years of the Wonder story. (Granny Goodness?) (GRANNY GOODNESS??!!)

Even now, DC insists that AA remain incorporated and expanded in their universe. It’s a part of the recent Supergirl Annual, Secret Six, and, of course, Wonder Woman’s own title.

Why are we holding so tightly to a steaming pile of excrement?

Any kind of fiction needs some level of internal consistency to keep readers in the story, instead of constantly coming out of it to ask, “Huh?” This requires that DC create a Wonder Woman bible and have it not only available, but policed across the line. (The modern DCU should have continuity? What a concept!)

Within this bible should be the BEST of Wonder Woman in simplified form. Yes, she’s an Amazon, but let no DC writer presume that DC’s Amazons are the Amazons of myth. It’s true they bear a resemblance and they have the same name, but DC’s Amazons have always been rooted in the idea that the Amazons are peaceable at heart. Not warriors who learned peace; that’s just goofball. It was the other way around.

The Amazon civilization forms the heart of Wonder Woman. Diana is pro-peace. She seeks the win-win solution for everyone. For her, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” are words to live by.

Wonder Woman is not a puppet. She does not hate her mother and never has. She is one of the top five most competent people on Earth. She ultimately wins ALL her battles. People cheer for her. She’s a faithful friend to all who honestly need her, and to a lot of others besides. She believes in the good in people.

She’s not perfect. After all, she’s human to the core. To be interesting, she has to have faults that can trip her up, faults she can learn from. But these faults should not involve her carrying around bloody axes 90% of the time, or breaking people’s necks when there are 43,879 ways she can stop them without killing them. After all, she has the wisdom not only of Athena, but of the Amazons. I know this is scary for superhero comics—brace yourself, whiny guy in the back—but Diana can THINK her way to a solution!

There there, Mr. Whiny, I didn’t mean to shock you. Hey, look at the current ish of Secret Six, where she enlists aid when she’s unable to function. How many other heroes do that? And that didn’t shock you then, did it? It was kind of thrilling. Good.

The way to make Wonder Woman accessible both to new readers hopping on for their first Wonder Ride, and to old readers who’ve suffered through far too much, is by simplifying Diana’s history and surroundings. Trash the bad. Trash the confusing. Trash the stuff that doesn’t make sense.

Trash Amazons Attack. Utterly. Completely. Nevah happened!

I’ve heard many people say, “But AA happened. You can’t retcon it.” Yet many events in the DCU have been retconned or forgotten and for lesser reason. Can you think of one single positive thing that AA contributed to the DCU? Okay, maybe one or two of the Amazon armor designs were neat, but besides that? Nothing, zip, nada. So out it goes so it can putrefy and stink up wherever it lands—far from the WW mythos.

Make the Amazons good guys again and always. They are Diana’s inspiration. Keep some oldies but goodies: Steve Trevor and Etta Candy for example. Steve reimagined by the Perez team as a brother/father figure for Diana was a stroke of genius, as Diana shouldn’t be fettered by just one romantic interest and Stevie is a romantic figure from the far past who more than served his time. Etta reimagined by Gail Simone has been a delight. The series would be poorer without her around. Julia and Vanessa Kapetelis were in the book long enough that ignoring them now seems quite strange.

Bring back PJ’s Amazon university, a nifty idea that could beget dozens of great stories, and yet provide a modernized echo of the Golden Age’s freaky fantasy motifs. This sets up the Amazons as a nation to be respected, not one full of child killers nor of Bronze Age Luddites. It also provides a healthy source of males to the mix, which reminds me...

Don’t make WW such a girls club. It then seems as if the DCU has a separate playing field for females, that they’re not good enough to play with the big boys. (Unless they’re portrayed as sex kittens, in which case they’re welcome to stop by any time.)

Give us a timeline! Please! I’m begging you, DC! Some people write Diana like she just got off the (invisible) boat yesterday, when she’s been around as long as Batman and Superman in the modern DCU. Knowing where we are with WW clarifies her.

Have Diana set down her swords and axes and do away with her blood lust. She is a woman of peace, confronted with a world at war with itself on hundreds of levels. She is not the DCU’s answer to Kanye West.

No S&M, no matter if it is a Sacred Golden Age Element. There are no Sacred Golden Age Elements unless they contribute positively to the character. That same goes for the “submission to a superior female” business. I mean yeah, females are naturally superior, but males don’t have to submit to them. Usually. (Kneel before Hippolyta!)

Powerful as she is, Diana needs a guardian. Unlike other superheroes, Wonder Woman has become an icon of feminism, women, and/or humanism. No other hero has to shoulder this kind of responsibility. Therefore, strong editing is essential. Story approaches should be double, even triple-checked for how they fit into these venues—but no in-your-face stuff, please. No one likes to be preached to.

You have to throw out the bad, no matter how recently it’s been added. Keep the good, make sense of what you’ve got, and respect the character. That’s right, even the executive editor who’s been dissing her a lot lately has to learn to hold in his own opinions like a pro and give Wondie good press.

Positive simplification. That’s the way to empower Wonder Woman and welcome readers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Honest, Doc, I'm not schizo

I've never felt comfortable with my name. "Carol" just doesn't seem like me. It's something my family called me, my schoolmates called me. When I began to write, I wrote as "Carol A. Strickland," and that felt just fine, all 16 letters.

My dad and step-grandma (after Grandpa Strick died) were all called "Strick" by everyone. When I got to high school and the hormones kicked into high, "going mental" gear, I decided I was Strick also. So the people who knew me from then up, including my comic book friends, call me "Strick." When I wrote a Letter of Comment to a comic book, I signed "Strick" and typed "Carol A. Strickland" underneath. Easy enough to remember protocols for.

But a couple decades later my Mid-Life Crisis hit. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of experiencing such and laugh it off, let me tell you: it is serious business. For me it was as if someone hit me upside the head with a cast-iron frying pan. Suddenly I wanted to quit my job, sell my house, start writing (and painting) again... and change my name.

I began to write feverishly. My heroine needed an adventurous name, something along the lines of "Indiana Jones," so I sorted through states for her first name. "Florida" sounded like a maid in a bad sitcom—not so dyn-a-mite. "Georgia" was silly for her. "Dakota" was taken by some comic book (?) heroine. "Virginia" was my aunt's name, and olde fashioned sounding. With a laugh I realized that "Carolina" would do her fine.

Fine enough that I liked it, too.

I slung the name on my heroine as a temporary one and also took it as my own, asking people in my office to call me "Lina" now. It took some time, but they made the change. I began investigating how to make it legal. (Surprisingly easy, but luckily out of the range of my bank account at the time.)

But the name began to fit my heroine better and better. It became weird to call her and me the same name. I mean, I knew she was herself and I was someone else, but others might think I was going a little nutso. I'd already noticed the problem of First Novel Heroine being a Mary Sue, and went hard to work reformatting her away from that. One of the ways to help the process was for me to return to being Carol A. Strickland, aka Strick.

But I couldn't put my coworkers through the switch again. And I didn't want to take their razzing about it. So to this day I remain "Lina" to them, and yes, the ones who know about my heroine think it is all very ooky that I gave her my name.

During the M-L C I'd begun using the Internet, signing on as LinaStrick. Now I changed that in as many places as I could to CarolStrick, with the result that people online began to call me "Carol." Who? Oh yeah, that was me.

Romance Writers of America encourages writers to make brands of themselves and their names. That meant I had to use my writing name, Carol A. Strickland, with them and whenever I was promoting my writing in any way. So I became "Carol" to even more people.

Oh, and let's not forget Carol [C.] Strickland, the writer who writes about art, as opposed to me, the artist who also writes. I hope she gets a lot of junk from folks who thinks she's me, because I certainly hear from people who think I'm her! Thank goodness she FINALLY got a website so I could refer them to that.

At least with my art I'm still Strick. Yes, they want us to brand ourselves there as well, and to be sure to sign our artwork with the same name that is our website url. But there's no way I'll sign my stuff "Carol A. Strickland." It's hella long, and I have enough trouble with just the Strick. I've always used "Strick" in my art, at least once I hit the later stages of high school, and don't see me changing. My art business has always been named "Strickly Art."

When I began taking Art Marketing courses I discovered that I wasn't the only "Strickly Art" out there, not by a long shot. Most of us are Stricklands, but there's a Strickler and such as well. One "Strickly Art" is in NC, though in the mountains instead of here in the central Piedmont. When I went to get a domain name I had to go with instead of .com, because .com was already taken. Darn!

The marketing teachers urged us to get catchy urls, so I also grabbed . Dot COM, do you hear?

So I'm Carol A. Strickland when writing and Strick when painting. What do I do with people who know me from two directions?

I've begun to sign myself as "Carol Strick."

It's a reasonable compromise, I think. And my case of double personality feels a trifle easier to handle. I'm getting used to being called "Carol" online and at writers' group meetings. Lina O'Kelly (soon to be Starhart) is having some lively adventures in my fantasy novel series. Unfortunately Lina Strickland is still a name being used at the office (though more and more people know that as soon as I step outside, my name is different).

Hope none of you got into name problems when you hit Mid-Life Crisis. Or did you encounter something worse?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My other baby

I talk about Obiwan a lot but don’t want people to think that his younger brother by 2 years, Bran-Bran, is going ignored. Bran’s more independent than Obi in wanting to be outside. Even when it rains. Sometimes I think he’s half duck.

Obi loves to be petted. As he’s senior-fied, he likes to sit on the bed and daydream for hours, but he still gets in his petting time. Bran, not so much.

He’ll sometimes get on my lap in the morning when I’m trying to eke out extra time to exercise, and this is such a rare event that I’ll pet him. He loves when I rub the inside of his ears with my pinky. Oh, don’t cringe! The queen of England hand-picks fleas off her dogs and throws them (the fleas, not the dogs) into the nearest fireplace.

During the oo-mox session (look it up!), he’ll purr. And when I mean Bran purrs, he PURRS. It’s supersonic! This means (a) he approves of me, and (b) it’s snackie time. Bran doesn’t have the keenest of inner clocks. For him it’s always time for dinner.

Obi has to take a quarter-tab of heart pill twice a day, so I soften the blow with some kitty snacks. And of course to dispel jealousy, Bran gets them at the same time. So in the mornings and at night PURR PURR and I get up to get him some snackies and give Obi his pill, and then Bran goes out to watch the world. (He’s got a favorite spot in a window box that he took over after Katie passed away. She used to lay there all the time as well.)

On the weekend Bran will get up on the bed in the morning and settle next to sleeping me. PURR PURR PURR. Then lick-lick my nose until I haul myself out of bed (fifteen whole minutes later than normal!) and get his breakfast. The licking, I’ve learned, is a sign that Bran thinks it’s mealtime.

Bran has realized that licking is out of range if I’m at the computer. I ignore his purring. Therefore, he’s developed the “Mommy’s leg is a scratching post” technique to get my attention. Occasionally I’ll get up and either put five more tiny pieces of kibble in his bowl to pretend that I’m feeding him a meal (he buys the idea), or I’ll sprinkle brewer’s yeast over the bowl. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle catnip on his scratching board in hopes that he’ll tire himself out on it.

When Mommy comes home from work, that’s supper time. On the weekends when Bran comes inside and spots Mommy, that must mean that it’s supper time. Even if he finds Mommy fifteen times in an afternoon. He’ll sit there looking at me and lick his lips, dealing with the anticipatory saliva without relying on Pavlovian bells.

During his nighttime petting sessions, he often will get enough and then stretch out between my knees on the lounge chair, his head pointed at the TV. In the past I switched to Animal Planet for him, which he liked to watch if they had four-legged animals traipsing around, but anymore Animal Planet doesn't show many land animals, so Bran daydreams in front of Alton Brown or Jon Stewart until it's snackie time.

Bran knows what “What do you want?” means. (It means; “Mommy’s going to follow me around, so maybe I should get up and walk a bit.”) He definitely knows, “Do you want to go out?” “Do you want to come in?” Me repeating that to him so often has allowed Obi to realize the meaning as well.

And of course Bran likes to be chased around the house. He thinks he’s hot stuff when he hides from Mommy. And he wonders why Mommy peeks around corners at him, but loves it when she lunges for him when he comes to investigate! Then it’s high-tail down the back hallway to play keep-away!

So Bran is not ignored!