Living life as it comes, Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Bodice WHAT? Or… What’s a bodice?

 

Unless you’re a dressmaker or the author of even one romance novel you probably haven’t even heard of a bodice. Miriam Webster Dictionary meaning: Bodice—the upper part of a woman’s dress. Oh, yeah, another class of citizens knows, too, all about bodices, and they, like others of limited intelligence—specifically, certain truck drivers and too many fourteen-year-old boys—believe they were put on earth to be ripped.

Truck driver, you say? What would a truck driver know about that? Apparently a great deal. An editor who shall remain nameless, formerly with Bantam Books back in the day, explained it this way. “When truck drivers come to the warehouse to pick up a shipment of books most of the boxes have a cover pasted to the box. They typically looked for books with nursing-mother bosoms in low-cut gowns.” Why? Because they liked them. Little boys, weaned too soon, grown up to be truck drivers, actually drove the market when it became clear they were the ones choosing the books (well, the covers, because most of them could probably only read at 3rd grade level if that). Those were the books that went flying off the warehouse shelves, case after case, truckload after truckload, to the retail stores. Naturally, publishing houses’ art departments took note of what books were being shipped out most often and by golly, there went the titty-books like it was a fire-sale! “Hey!” they cried. “We’re on to a good thing! Let’s dress all the heroines in period costumes with low-cut gowns and put them on the decks of pirate ships. Doesn’t matter if there’s a pirate or a ship or the story takes place in modern-day Brooklyn or Tulalip. Historical cover with big bosoms sell. If it works, don’t fix it!”

As a former bookseller, I can attest to the phenomenon. Of course, I put what purported to be NYT Bestsellers front and center, and who stood there gawking, hoping against hope for a “costume malfunction”? Why, fourteen-year-old boys, of course, likely destined to be come truck drivers. These same little boys, in their fantasies, pictured themselves as theyoung guy only half-seen hero standing near the big-boobed cover girl. They envisioned themselves as ripping that dress right down the middle so they could create in their own little minds the sensual pleasure of tearing a woman’s dress off her chest so they could get at the goodies they knew were inside.

No, these male children who dreamed these secret dreams didn’t know the term “bodice”. That it came into popularity, I confess, is entirely my fault. “Get out of my store, you little creeps. I hate it when you stand there drooling down a cover model’s bodice.” Oops! Then I had to send them to the dictionary aisle to look up “bodice.” Alas, one day, a kid a little bit smarter than the others whined, “I wasn’t drooling, lady. I just want to rip her bodice right off her so I can touch those golden globes the guy beside her is looking down at. He’s gonna get to do it, so why can’t I? Gimme a chance! Gimme cleavage! I wanna rip bodices. Lots of them. All of them. If those guys get to do it, why shouldn’t I?”

I explained that ripping bodices was definitely not permitted. It could be seen as insulting, even worse, sexual harassment—maybe even leading to charges of the r-word I dared not utter lest it put even wilder ideas and fantasies into those little, scarcely developed young minds. But, again, alas and probably alack, as time went on, the term “bodice ripper” swept the world until everyone who ever wrote a story about a man and a woman falling into…er…love or some other convenient place, was accused of writing Bodice Rippers, even if the cover of the book had a posy or a decorous little Amish woman wearing a tiny white cap, if the author was a woman, she was surely writing “Bodice Rippers” aka “Trash.”

My own romance novels fall somewhere in between a historical and a sweet romance and only a couple of times did I have a cover that could have been given that insulting moniker and in the example below, the guy has almost as much cleavage as the woman, though she is well endowed. Oh, right. You don’t think it’s insulting. I get that. You’re just having fun with me. Teasing. You know I write stories about mature relationships between a consenting adult woman and an adult man of her choice. You know my books nearly always have children in then, or pets, oLWLr both, and they involve a couple sorting through options, making considered choices that will benefit not only themselves, but may, in some way, assist other women in taking a harder look at their own lives, deciding what’s right for them. Or what’s wrong.

Of course it’s insulting for you to call all romance novels, regardless of content “Bodice Rippers”, especially if you’ve never read even one. If you had, you’d likely have learned that bodices, in most cases, are gently unwrapped to reveal what those kids so longed to see. And that the “ripper” would be firmly smacked down if he did it any other way. It would be insulting. Just as my diatribe about truck drivers and fourteen-year-old boys is. I did that purely as an object lesson. I don’t refer to male oriented “thrillers” where the hero gets it on with a couple of different women before the end, “Dick Lit.” I could, but I don’t because that would be, well, offensive. Besides, I read a lot of those books and I’d be insulting my own intelligence if I were to label them with a “cutsie” little one-name-fits all, to make it easier for those who’ve never read them to simply brush them off as trash not worth their time.

Give it up, guys, love and romance are here to stay. Just like dicks.

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Living life as it comes

Father’s Day

The chorus of Murray McLaughlin’s The Farmer’s Song, “Straw hat and old dirty hankies, mopping a face like a shoe…” has always reminded me of my dad. He wasn’t a farmer. He didn’t have a “face like a shoe” but he always carried a hankie in the back pocket of his jeans. When a weepy little girl said, “Daddy, can I use your hankie?” it was unfailingly available. I don’t know how he managed it, but somehow he could produce a cleanish corner to mop a teary face and wipe a snotty little nose.

He did wear a straw hat on occasion and loved growing things. Had he lived in a different part of the world, he might well have been a farmer. Instead, he was a logger and wore a hardhat. At different times, he was also a fisherman who arose at 4 a.m. to take his salmon troller out to catch fish to sell so the family could buy the things he couldn’t grow. Sometimes, he’d take a daughter who wanted to go with him. Some of my most cherished hours were spent sitting beside him on the stern of an old boat, watching the trolling poles, listening for tinkling of little bells that signaled “fish on” then watching him work the gurdy to wind in the line and land the fish. Many an important question was asked during those mornings, and every one was answered completely and honestly.

We lived on a rocky shelf of land fifteen feet above high-tide mark. This land, he cleared mostly by hand, with a shovel and a mattock and a peavey, digging out roots, large rocks, stumps, and beating back the fast-growing brush of a temperate rainforest. He dug the soil to plant potatoes. Ran strings between pegs to mark even rows for shallow trenches to grow lettuce, radish, cabbage, carrots, swiss-chard, spinach. He hand-split eight-foot cedar poles for green beans to twine their way up. He strung nets for pea vines to climb. He spaded up beds for tomatoes, beets, and onions. With more hand-split cedar, he made racks for raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries. In odd corners where they’d fit, he grew gooseberry bushes, currant bushes, and fruit trees. His garden wasn’t large by flat-lander standards, but required an enormous amount of effort. He built chicken houses, woodsheds, work-shops and ran a forge to create metal objects required on his boat. He also used that shovel to dig a well in a clay bank and ran pipes to provide running water for the house and garden.

These were chores he took care of during the hours he wasn’t logging or fishing for a living. His other “day-off” activities included bucking large logs into blocks, carrying them up from the beach over his shoulder, splitting those blocks into chunks and stacking them to dry in the woodshed—always two years in advance—to keep the family warm. His firewood was also to cook the food, to preserve the harvest for winter use. Now and then, he took time to go out into the woods and bring home a deer, or carried a Coleman lantern to a beach on a winter night when the tide was low, dig clams for more protein.

Somehow, over the years of all this labor, he also constructed a big shed in which he built a boat from the keel up. A bigger boat, one he could take north where he could troll all summer for larger salmon, to earn more money to support his family.

I no longer lived there when he launched his new boat. I never sat on the stern beside him in the early morning, listening for the fish-on bells. He did wear a straw hat, though, and still carried a hankie. After he was gone, when my eyes filled and overflowed with tears at his absence, if I’d said, “Daddy, can I borrow your hankie?” I know it would have been there, with a small corner kept more-or-less clean for a sad little girl.

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Living life as it comes

My feet are cold

This is one of the strangest problems I’ve ever encountered. Literally and figuratively, I have cold feet. Traditionally, I didn’t even need socks in my ski-boots because my feet were always warm. Also, traditionally, when I started writing a book, I was excited, happy, interested, involved and all that good stuff but right now, though I’ve put on my sheepskin slippers (in June, already! Hmmph. Smarten up, weatherman), my toes want a hot water bottle. As for the writing, I started out excited, etc. but suddenly I’ve come to a dead halt less than halfway through the fourth book in a series. This is where the psychological cold feet come in. The Chronicles of Storn is a project that’s been on my mind off and on for more than twenty years. The first in the series published in 2014, the second and third, in 2015, and this one is supposed to be out later this year. But… when I finally finish it, will my writing life be over? Do I want it to be? Can I put these characters away like I have so many others, and move on, come up with new ideas? Frankly, at this moment, I’m scared to learn the answer.

Throughout the other three books, these people have survived quakes, floods, fires, and fought off vicious wildcats, not to mention horrendous avians that can pick up a cow and fly off with it. They’ve learned to adapt to some pretty severe conditions, and have overcome plenty of difficulties. Some have died in accidents. Some have simply wandered away and may, I suppose, wander back, but maybe not.The main protagonists have a goal. In fact, it could even be called a mission. I know what it is and want to see them and their troop fulfill it.

The trouble for me is they also have the unusual ability to remain at the same biological age as when they arrived on the planet, which means I’ve painted myself and my sheepskin slippers into a corner. They’ve been there, exploring and enduring for three hundred years and none of them has grown any older. I can’t seem to make these characters move on, grow within themselves, develop new ways of looking at life. I don’t even know if they should or could. If a man stalls biologically at the age of forty-five, is he going to keep on learning, keep on questioning, keep on wondering? Oh, right, sure I know a lot of men who have physically and chronologically lived forty-five years yet remain at the age of fourteen in certain situations, such as laughing like lunatics when another guy bashes his thumb with a hammer or falls overboard or loses his trunks when he dives off the high-board.

This doesn’t apply to women, of course. When they grow up, they grow up. Well, mostly. Apart from needing company when they go to the bathroom in a restaurant where they can talk privately and giggle about the men who are still mentally fourteen. None of the women in this particular book seem to feel really bad about not growing physically older. They kind of revel in it. They are between the ages of seventeen and forty, so of course they’re not going to complain about their physical appearance any more than the men do. These gals don’t have sagging boobs and butts. They don’t have wrinkles beyond smile- and squint-lines, but I would like them to begin to show some wisdom as they age. You know, stop giggling together.

I suspect since no one has sagging boobs or butts, I’m simply suffering from middle-book sag myself. (I shall not mention my own body parts here, except to say I cut my finger a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t write until the stitches came out.) Well, they’re out, and here I am at the keyboard again, and still not writing the damn book. I’d rather go swimming. But the water’s too cold even in this shallow little bay, even when it’s supposed to be summer, or darn close to it. What I’d really like to do is run away from home and–

Hey! Hold on here! Remember those characters who wandered away and may, or may not come wandering back? What if one or two more of the main protags do the running away from home thing? That would make the others start thinking things like, what did I do wrong? What did I say? How can I change to ensure this doesn’t happen again if I take up with someone else? Soul-searching’s a good way for a character to grow and change, even over a three-hundred-year period. If a woman’s been living with the same man for sixty or seventy years or even a hundred or two (heaven forfend!) so long as nothing on her sags, what’s to stop her from making a run for it? After all, they’ve shared the same experiences over and over and over again, so why not look farther afield while she can? And if a guy has been sleeping with the same woman for decades and decades and is still randy and rarin’ to go, wouldn’t he be happy for a change of pace? Son of a gun! I think my middle-book sag just got a boob-job and a tummy-tuck, not to mention a new lease on life. Later, folks. Joe Storn’s about to get the world knocked right out from under his size thirteen mukluks.

 

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