Doing Good

In 1902, the Agriculture Department’s Chief Chemist, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, began what he called “hygienic table trials,” but soon the Washington Post reporter George Rothwell Brown came up with the name The Poison Squad. Dr. Wiley was attempting to prove that additives and adulterants in everyday foods were unsafe and unhealthy. In doing so, he took on powerful industries and their bought-and-paid-for government supporters. It took years of fighting, issuing reports, doing the right thing, but it wasn’t until Sinclair Lewis published The Jungle in 1906 that headway was finally made. Dr. Wiley’s story is told in Deborah Blum’s book, The Poison Squad, and in the  documentary based on the book (you can watch it in it’s entirety at the American Experience website https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/poison-squad/).

One of the many things that disturbs me is that over one hundred years later, the same excuses are being used to prevent doing the right thing. The arguments go: changes will adversely affect business, it’s too expensive, the people advocating for change are misguided radicals or alarmists, and other common protests. Special interests still buy off politicians, seek to cut funding to watchdog groups, delay, sue, ignore the law–whatever it takes to not do the right thing.

Writers have a unique opportunity to draw attention to bad behavior. Certainly journalists and writers of exposés do this, but writers of fiction sometimes make far more headway in capturing the attention of the public, raising awareness, and calling people to action. Sinclair’s novel was written to draw attention to the inhumane working conditions of the meat packing industry, but in exposing it his disclosures inspired  changes in hygienic practices. Science fiction writers have a long history of asking questions, proposing worst case scenarios, making us look at ourselves and the people we trust but maybe shouldn’t. Fiction puts us in the story so we can see the real costs of failure to do good.

I feel strongly that truth has great value, that lies once told take on a life of their own and can cause real harm. I believe doing the right thing s may sometimes be difficult but is never the wrong way to go. I am proud that my writing has been included in the anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change. I am proud to be one of the voices saying, take notice, this is important, we need to act. It is my personal goal to always try to write with truth and compassion. Though I may not always succeed, I will always try to do good.

Image: The Members of The Poison Squad. THE U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION/FLICKR/PUBLIC DOMAIN

“Wasting Water” Update

I’ve heard from Alternating Current Press at last. The anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change will be published no later than the spring of 2020. If the editing process goes smoothly, they hope to have the collection published in winter 2019 for a holiday release. That will change if the editing or printing process does not go as planned, but the release would be no later than the end of this winter. They want the book on their table for next year’s AWP writers conference and book fair in March 2020, so it will definitely be completed before then. Being the good and dutiful author that I am, I’ve already sent the latest version of my novella, “Wasting Water” with edits and corrections. There will probably need to be a few more changes, editors being how they are (always right), but that shouldn’t be a problem.

In case you’re interested, the 2020 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference where Undeniable will be featured is March 4-7 in San Antonio, Texas.  Here’s the link.

https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/bookfair_overview

I considered going, but I’ll probably use my time and money closer to home. HOWEVER, if anyone wanted to pay my way…just sayin’.

Anthologies are notoriously slow to get to publication, but I’m glad this one is finally on it’s way. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for an early holiday release!

Back in the Saddle

If you check now and again to see if I’m posting to my blog, you may have noticed I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from writing. Between funerals, the kitchen remodel, a two week visit by my best friend (involving much drinking and conversation), and a few other things that took my mind elsewhere, I’ve been unable to really focus. Last night I re-read all of my blog posts. At the risk of seeming immodest (oh, who am I kidding–I haven’t a modest bone in my body), I have to say there seemed to be some pretty good advice in a few of those posts. I’ve decided to follow my own advice and get back to work.

The first thing I did was drop by the library and get new books, both to read and to listen to as I drove to the stable to see my husband’s horse. I realized after reading on my blog about reading that I haven’t been doing enough of it lately, and I know reading is a strong stimulus for getting me to write. I’ve also set aside time each day to write, either at home or someplace that works for me–coffee shops and the library are among my favorites. I get a lot of writing done in waiting rooms, but if I just plop down in one and help myself to their coffee and donuts without a good reason to be there, I might get asked to leave. I haven’t actually tried it yet.

I’ve decided I need to take another look at publishers for my second novel. I also need to take a good, long look at the short stories I’ve written to see if they are salvageable and should be sent out on the endless merry-go-round of submission and rejection. Always a good time. I was inspired to this by a friend I recently had lunch with. She has multiple plays being produced this summer at multiple venues in multiple cities. This success is the result of sending out masses of plays and then forgetting about them. I found that inspirational. I shall go forth and do likewise.

I did have some encouraging news. Alternating Current Press has finally closed submissions (again) for Undeniable, and they project an early autumn publishing date. Of course, there’s still a chance they’ll decide, “Oops. We don’t like your novella after all.” I should know by the middle of June.

So it’s back to the keyboard, I go. Time to get back to work.

Image: Me on Amish Honey in 2013. By Jonathan Hutchins.

 

The Sound of My Own Voice

I’ve had the good fortune to take a few writing classes taught by Brian Shawver through The Writer’s Place. Either he is a fantastic teacher (very likely since he is now chair of English and Modern Languages at Park University), or I was lucky enough to have the teacher I needed at the time I needed him–maybe both. At any rate, one piece I worked on in one of his classes was Wasting Water. The story is told by a teenaged girl who lives on a farm with her mother and their animals in the near future when the rain has all but stopped. Brian noted that the voice of the character, Livie, is quite different from my own. That was the first time I realized my character’s voice was borrowed in large part from my father, the only person I knew well who had grown up on a farm during hard times and without one of his parents for much of that time.

Voice for a writer, so I am told, tends to be unique to that writer–his or her own way of using words and seeing the world, of interpreting that world and putting that interpretation down on paper. The voice used by Mark Twain in his many writings in unmistakable, as is the voice of Ernest Hemingway. The voice used by Jane Austen would never be mistaken for one of those other authors. Apparently, most editors in the universe are looking for writers with unique and distinctive voices.

I’ve just finished reading a chapter in one of my writing books about the use of voice. One of the things that struck me as good advise was to be sure your voice is consistent throughout any given book. Some writers may have a voice that comes through from the very first and remains constant throughout their career. Others may need to develop theirs over time. As a writer learns and grows, there is the possibility that how they express themselves may change, perhaps even within a single book. That is something I will be watching for in my own writing.

One might think it’s hard to write in anything but your own voice. However, I suspect a character that has a strong personality might be able to express themselves in spite of the author, just as my Livie did. I did not mean to write Wasting Water in my father’s voice, but his was the one I heard in my head. Livie spoke, and I just wrote down what she said.

Wasting Water will be appearing in Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change to be published by Alternating Current Press. They still are open for submissions through April 30, so check it out if you have poetry, nonfiction, fiction, or hybrid pieces dealing with climate change.

Image: My father, John P. Evans; mother, Geneva; older brother, Paul; and me, on a farm my folks once owned. Photographer unknown.