Why We Need to Stop Saying That Something Isn’t “Christian”

As some of you know who’ve read my silly personal essay, I’m a recovering Pentecostal. When I was a teenager, I went to the Assemblies of God Church (just like Sarah Palin), and later continued onto the far less intense yet just as committed denomination of the Evangelical Covenant Church. In my childhood before that, my family converted to Judaism for several years. I went to Hebrew school and attended synagogue in the San Fernando Valley.

I have a long history of biblical study. While I certainly am not as up on my verse quoting as I used to be since I ceased to be a believer in 1996, I’ve been thoroughly steeped in both Old and New Testaments. As a result, while imperfect, I have a better-than-average understanding of what many would call The Word of God. And I recall vividly the intellectual Cirque du Soleil I had to perform each day to make sense of my life as I tried to follow Christ.

So, when I see a non-believer telling Christians what is or isn’t “Christian” — and I see it multiple times a day in my social media feeds — it’s clear that they have a superficial understanding of the Bible. Of course, the definition of “Christian” has been an apocalypse-inducing topic for 2000 years. But the surface definition that secular people are using is only creating deeper rancor in our discourse as we struggle with cultural issues like the rights of LGBTQA people.

Did Jesus Preach Acceptance?

The greatest secular misconception about Jesus regards The Golden Rule. He certainly did preach in Mark 12:31, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” And in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (New International Version)

We love this. It makes sense and helps us get along, creating a more compassionate society. It’s not necessarily acceptance, though, or even tolerance, which is what secular folk crave.

You see, Jesus profoundly contradicts himself in other verses, giving Christians the ability to construct a far harsher, more nuanced stance on social issues.

The Catch

Many non-believers don’t understand Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament. You know Leviticus? That book with all the horrific commandments about stoning people to death for committing adultery and homosexuality? We like to trot out some of the more esoteric and ridiculous-sounding verses from that book as examples of its irrelevance to modern life, like how it’s an abomination to wear mixed fabrics or to eat shellfish.

But here’s what Jesus says about The Law in Matthew 5:17-20:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

By these words, Jesus was not only down with not eating shellfish, he was for stoning your daughter to death for adultery.

But What About “Casting the First Stone”?

This story (which was not even in the original Greek text) is told at the beginning of John 8. Most secular people are familiar with Jesus’ words in verse 7: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

What most do not know is how that story ends in verses 10-11.

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

11No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

That’s my emphasis. It’s clear that even when Jesus was hypocrisy hunting, he didn’t let anyone off the hook. Just replace “leave your life of sin” with “stop having gay sex,” and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s a Hot Mess

I first encountered the crazy dance between Jesus and The Law when I was in my early teens, trying to convince my parents who had purportedly converted back to Christianity that it was okay to eat “unclean” meat like pepperoni. One verse would say one thing, but the next two would reverse the previous conclusion. Whenever I questioned pastors and Bible teachers, they sorted out the contradictions by making priorities. Who cares if you eat pork? Just don’t murder anyone or sleep with the wrong person at the wrong time. That’s more serious.

So, Christians actually have quite the scriptural arsenal at their disposal if they want to create an argument, say, against gay couples adopting children or for denying employees health coverage for abortifacients (or what they think is an abortifacient, anyway). It’s perfectly “Christian” to do anything legally or morally that supports what the Bible says about certain human behaviors, even in the Old Testament.

That’s why secular folk are better off not playing the “This isn’t Christian” card in social issue debates. It doesn’t in the least, nor should it, shame a believer into thinking they don’t understand the Bible when they do — far better than the person making the accusation, in fact. You can imagine how infuriating and insulting that might be. Think about the last time someone contradicted your understanding about climate change evidence or even the age of the earth. We’re not talking about the same kind of data, obviously, but it’s the same reaction.

It’s totally legitimate to point out that people are clinging to some verses over others, such as eating lobster over stoning people to death. (For the record, even in my holy roller days, I was always a lot more about eating lobster. Not so much about stoning.) That’s getting to a deeper issue about biblical inconsistencies, but it isn’t about being Christian per se.

The Stronger Position

And I understand why this is so frustrating. The rest of us for the most part like to see the similarities in religions, to take the wisdom of each to create a more loving and peaceful place for us all. We seek tolerance in a world where religious conflict is eating us alive, destroying nations, ripping apart families, murdering LGBTQA people, and oppressing women and young girls. In our rage, our fear, we latch onto anything that might give us leverage in our discourse. But this, I’m afraid, isn’t it.

I don’t have any answers. All we can do is continue our quest for compassion and tolerance, to promote peace and understanding where possible, and to fight for justice for those who have been treated unfairly. Staying on our own turf and speaking about the benefits of compassion and inclusion rather than venturing into a religious debate when we don’t know the intricacies of that religion is the stronger position, giving us a more powerful voice.

And now I’m going to go eat some pepperoni.

 

(I’m also turning off comments. For the sake of my sanity and time, I have no interest in publishing the sort of debates that might ensue here. Thanks for your understanding.)

Did Bullying Kill Lynda Burrill?

I knew something was deeply amiss with Lynda the day we met in 6th grade at Buckeye Elementary School.

1982 Ponderosa High School Yearbook Photo

1982 Ponderosa High School Yearbook Photo

At recess, I’d taken out my hair combs and put them on the fountain in the school yard as I drank. When I looked up, they were gone. I told the teacher on duty what had happened, hoping someone would return them to her if they found them.

A girl in pigtails sidled up to me, her dark, ginger brown eyes as wide and bright as her lightly freckled smile. She held out her open hand, which cupped the two hair combs. “I found these. They’re yours, huh?” she said.

I took them from her, but before I could say thanks, she quickly added, “A friend would never have stolen them. A friend would find them and return them.”

A friend? Or someone so desperate to make a friend she’d steal something and pretend to “find” it? The whole exchange made me feel uneasy. Later, I asked someone who she was. “Her name’s Lynda Burrill,” another girl told me, and nothing more.

I stayed far away from Lynda after that.

Not that I would have come in contact with her much, anyway. We had no classes together in 6th grade. We then went on to different junior high and high schools. I went at Oakridge High School in El Dorado Hills, where I was relentlessly bullied my freshman year. But I had a few good friends, a couple of loving teachers, and my music, which saved me. I was raised a classical musician. I’d already played in both orchestras and bands. Music was my life. So when Oakridge lost its band teacher my sophomore year, the school district allowed me to attend neighboring Ponderosa High School, which had award-winning marching and symphonic bands. I loved the school. I had my first boyfriend, a hilarious band teacher, and zillions of geeky new friends without a bully in sight. It was a dream come true.

Lynda was also at Ponderosa. 

Because our last names fell into the A’s and B’s, Lynda and I shared homeroom together. While I had lost weight, she’d gained some, I noticed, and seemed to be an outcast. I’ll never forget how the boys tormented her, in and out of class. Girls, too. About her grooming. Her clothes. Her weight. Although nothing seemed that egregious to me, anything was apparently fair game. She looked exasperated most of the time and tried to dish it back as fast as they served it. Just before Christmas break, someone in homeroom handed her a wrapped gift. Astonished, she accepted the gift and opened it.

It was a bar of soap.

Her head fell on the desk into her arms.

My heart ached for her. I would have consoled her, as I had fellow outcasts at Oakridge, but I remembered those hair combs. I didn’t care what other people would have thought if I’d befriended her. What scared me was that her desperation for love was so profound that it drove her to do — or at least say — things that were seriously inappropriate. What else would she do to “prove” her friendship?

When Oak Ridge High School restored its band program the next year, I had to return. I then suffered some of the worst bullying of my school years, mostly at the hands of jocks. (One of my bullies grew up to be a professional baseball player and is now married to a former Playmate. Nice for him, eh?) After a particularly scary incident on the last day of school, I used the bullying as a legal chip with school officials to return to Ponderosa High School for my senior year.

I was thrilled to be back at my beloved “Pondo.” Marching band, jazz band, symphonic band. Pondo not only had a spectacular music program (and still does), but for me it was also gloriously bully free.

On August 24, 1984, just days before school started, I picked up my family’s copy of The Mountain Democrat to read the devastating headline.

Police Ask for Help in Murder Cases

…Denise Galston, 14, and (Lynda May) Burrill, 18, are dead. Their skeletal remains found in the Sly Park area were identified through dental charts and the announcement of their identities made earlier this week.

The parade of grisly headlines that followed revealed Lynda was the victim of a triple homicide. She’d disappeared on June 29, 1984 from a popular hangout called The Bell Tower on Main Street in Placerville, CA, where she was last seen talking with a 27-year-old man named Michael Anthony Cox — a man who, when he was 18, had allowed his 3-year-old half-sister to drown within arm’s reach.

(Motherfucker)

According to testimony, he’d once commented to another woman about Lynda that “girls like her needed to be eliminated.”

On November 29, 1985, Cox was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1984 first degree murders of three teenage girls — Denise Galston (14), her sister Debbie Galston (14), and Lynda Burrill (18) — with the special circumstance of multiple murder. He allegedly stripped and bound each girl before raping and stabbing them, leaving them to bleed out on the cold, dark forest floor. To this day, he sits on Death Row.

As I read the news articles, I realized for the first time that Lynda had already been held back a year in school before the hair comb incident. More fuel for the bullies.

When I think about Lynda, I remember a slightly heavyset teenager, pale, freckled, wearing a white dress dotted with flowers, hurrying across the campus to get to her next class. I don’t recall any smells, or that she looked significantly different from anyone else. Even her haircut seemed fairly de rigueur for the time.

So, I’m not sure why she was singled out. Regardless of her perceived faults, if everyone had been kinder to Lynda — schoolmates and family alike — might she have chosen better friends? Would she have still connected with a bizarre, cold-blooded predator like Michael Anthony Cox? She got in the car of a man who kept a buck knife in the visor to “prove” her friendship to him. We know how he rewarded her.

That desperation for love. The cruel denial of it.

I don’t know ultimately what confluence of events led Lynda to die on that forest floor soaked with her blood. Perhaps it was like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Everyone played a role in delivering her demise. Family. El Dorado County officials. Ponderosa teachers. Her fellow students.

Me.

But I do know we failed. And we have to do better.

Innocent lives depend on it.

Life Hack: My “Life-Changing” Trick to Using a Toilet Seat Cover

And now for something completely different.

A pain article is going around complaining about “hoverers” – that is, women who don’t sit directly on the toilet seat. Three years ago, I developed a life hack to far more easily use those flimsy, slippery toilet seat covers. I posted it to my Tumblr. Since then, both people who read my Tumblr have told me the technique has changed their lives. It has certainly improved my own public bathroom experience in a major way. Here it is, step-by-step.

Step 1

Place the toilet seat cover like this on the toilet, matching the seat shape. You’ll find that the paper stays pretty well if you haven’t tried to tear it open yet.

Step 2

Sit down and spread your knees just a bit. Now gently tug on the “tongue” just enough to break it. Keep a bit attached.

(This is what you should see between your legs as you’re sitting. Hey, now.)

Step 3

Pee. Poop. Make horrific straining noises. Open Satan’s sausage shop. Text on your phone. Talk loudly to your grandmother in Svalbard to entertain and unnerve your fellow employees. And then flush. You never have to touch the cover again. It disappears into the water.

DONE.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

Freaking Awesome Major Agent Announcement

I’m elated to announce that I have just accepted an offer of representation from Alex Slater at Trident Media Group! He’ll be representing my new Young Adult (YA) horror novel series and other YA projects.

According to Publishers Marketplace, Trident has for the last six years ranked #1 in North American sales. They represent a star-studded list of clients like Deepak Chopra, Chris Claremont and the Frank Herbert Dune estate, as well as some of my friends and favorite writers, including Dave Schow, Kate Maruyama and Dr. Agustin Fuentes. (Not to mention this little organization that just nominated Mr. Wicker for an award.)

Before I sent him a query, I started “cyberstalking” Alex and read all the interviews with him that I could find. I learned he was looking for the dark stuff, which was exactly what I had. I dug that he was a newer agent who not only understood crossover markets but also had a considerable background representing Trident’s foreign rights. As stated in his bio, “His experience in representing fiction in these areas showed him…how to maximize the value of what an author has created.” The year I lived in France opened my eyes to how important this is. The world is huge. While we don’t always think about this while we’re writing, we need someone in our court who does.

Also, it turns out Alex already had a special connection to one of the book’s big surprises. Therefore, when my query hit his inbox, it stood out in a major way. I knew from our first conversation he was the right agent for this series. He got it, loved it, and had intelligent insights. Plus, he was with Trident, one of my dream agencies.

So. Freaking. AWESOME.

Here’s to a beautiful new relationship!

Are the Latest New 52 Wonder Woman Comics Sexist?

(Warning: Contains Swears and Spoilers)

Back in November, The Mary Sue published an article entitled, “The New Creative Team On New 52 Wonder Woman Turns The Comic Into An Utter (Sexist) Disappointment.”  As a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman, although admittedly not a big comics reader, I was appalled to read that Wonder Woman now carries around a teddy bear for comfort and that the new creative team had generally infantilized her. I posted a link to the review on my Facebook feed, which soon filled up with comments that echoed my outrage.

The Challenge

One reader told me that the review was overblown, that the reviewer, Molly Jane Kremer, had taken images out of context and was reacting as if she had “an axe to grind.” He urged me to read the issue myself and decide.

At the time, I was at the third convention in a month promoting my debut novel, Mr. Wicker, and I was exhausted, but I promised that reader I would eventually review the comic myself. In fact, since that time, DC has released two more issues. So, I bought all three — #36, #37 and #38 — so I can see if the problems ever existed at all.

Unlike Kremer, I’m not a Wonder Woman comics reader. I was unaware of the great comics that have come out in the last 10 years. So, I’m not influenced by expectations from previous writers. I even put aside the Mary Sue review and came at these fresh.

Holy Mother of Hell, It’s So Much Worse Than That

I don’t know how much of what follows was the result of editorial direction, artifacts inherited from previous writers, or too many hours watching Nora Ephron movies, but, sweet Jesus, Wonder Woman is a mess. And not just her, but the Amazons, Superman, the plot – everything.

Kremer’s review starts with the sexism of the shower scene. Wonder Woman definitely seems sexualized in that scene, but that’s just the beginning. In the New 52, she’s no longer just a demigod, daughter of Zeus, but a true god. The God of War, specifically. Why does the God of War need to take a shower? Did she get sand in her crotch as she was slaughtering ISIS in Syria? Get a bit of pit sweat battling Putin in the Ukraine? Seriously, a god doesn’t need a fucking shower. By definition, she isn’t human. (Or, if she is, please refer to the sweet Jesus comment.) This isn’t merely sexism. It’s…dumb.

And then the story goes totally cuckoo banana pants.

“Why is everybody so mean to me, Teddy?”

See? There is a fucking teddy bear.

After Aquaman extracts her from a “punch-first, ask-questions-later” fight with Swamp Thing, they take a little flight in his (?) jet that’s leaving mile-long carbon turds in the sky. As Aquaman questions her, she clutches a teddy bear. Is it Aquaman’s teddy bear? Or her teddy bear? Where did it come from? I have no fucking clue. It is inexplicably in his jet. She buries her forehead into it like a pouty teenager — in fact, she looks about 16 years old throughout the comics — as she explains that she’s stressed out because she has so many responsibilities. She has to be Queen of the Amazons. And in the Justice League. And the God of War. It’s not fair!

Wonder Woman is having a crisis because she can’t have it all. Can I tell you how incredibly tiring that is to read? I don’t want to read this. She’s a god, for pete’s sake. This “you can’t have it all” business is just a throwback to the shit we’ve been told as a gender forever to hold us back. It doesn’t make me empathize with Wonder Woman. It pisses me off. I want to see a woman with all this power and position actually using it, rather than whining about it every other panel. I want to see her problems ensue from embracing her strength rather than denying it.

Anyway, she decides to go home to Themyscira, which is when she discovers that her mother, who had already been turned into a clay statue, has crumbled to the ground like a crusty cow pie. And thus ends Issue 36.

“Did Your Jewish Mother Write This?”

The next issue starts with the Amazons bitching that the Queen isn’t there as they are being attacked by giant eagles. I thought they were badass Amazons. Silly me. They can’t fight giant eagles. Oh, and everybody hates men, but Wonder Woman is unpopular because she’s fighting for men’s rights. Okay, then!

One of the most incomprehensible sequences in all the three issues happens next as Superman spars with Wonder Woman using bo staves.

Take THAT, Clark!

Yes, the Man of Steel. Is sparring. With a bamboo stick.

I stared at these panels, wondering who the hell these people were. No, this was definitely Superman and Wonder Woman. Sparring. With sticks. At the gym. Now, I personally train with bo staves. There is no way the strongest people in the world have not shattered those sticks on first impact. And why at the gym? Why aren’t they in the Himalayas throwing boulders at one another? Is that not romantic enough? Would we not see enough of her ass? Have no fear, because there’s plenty of that in this book. (And only one panel of Aquaman’s fine bummage. Am I perhaps not the intended audience is for this comic? Hmmm.)

Wonder Woman then goes home and gets bitched out by the Amazons for not being around when the giant eagles attack again. Wonder Woman learns that the giant eagles used to belong to Ares, but surprise! They’re your birdies now, baby!

“Another responsibility you have neglected,” a crone lady lectures her. “Your excuses are as thin as your commitment to the Amazons.”

At this point I turned to my Jewish boyfriend and asked, “Did your mom write this?” The guilt is being layered on this character so heavily, it’s laughable.

I’m purposely neglecting some subplot where the crone lady is growing her own replacement Amazon queen in a cauldron like a sea monkey but with elephant tits. This will come up later.

“Our areola armor has failed! What shall we do?”

Issue 38 opens with hundreds of Amazons getting slaughtered by a hydra because no one is wearing anything except nipple armor. Or giant clit armor. But it’s okay! It’s just a dream so that Ares — or her subconscious — can bitch her out for being a shitty God of War.

Look, I’ve got my clit armor and my shitty, cracked sword. I don’t need to protect vital organs. I’m GOOD.

Meanwhile the Sea Monkey is now fully grown and armored, not with titty armor but the real thing. Strangely enough, she actually looks like a warrior, unlike pretty much everybody else in these comics.

Although, just like everybody else in these comics, she carries a really, really shitty sword. I mean, these things are totally cracked everywhere. They look like they’re about to fall apart. I guess the way to depict a really cool sword is to make it look really shitty? I have no idea.

Drowning in guilt, Wonder Woman decides to go have a cuppa cawfee in some café with her bestie. Yes, the God of War, Queen of the Amazons, and Justice League member is getting some advice with her caffeine fix. Her friend warns her that she’ll “become Ares — violent and dangerous.”

The only thing Wonder Woman is in danger of at this point is estrogen poisoning because I swear that’s what’s steaming in her cappuccino.

“So, you’re the God of War now.”

Near the end of Issue 38, Batman says this to her when they’re hanging out in the Justice League jet as Superman is investigating some wacky shit happening in a volcano. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that whole villages have been disappearing into the ground.) I don’t know what happened to Aquaman. Maybe he’s back in his jet cuddling his teddy bear, or rubbing it against his crotch to get off because it’s soaked with Amazon sweat. At any rate, Batman thinks she’s about to become a liability because she’s the God of War.

I didn’t realize that the Justice League was a knitting club. I thought they fought for justice, dealing with extraordinary conflicts as they arose. Otherwise, why would you need superheroes? Couldn’t a God of War on your side be an asset? And why wouldn’t Wonder Woman, of all people, be able to handle it? Is it because she’s a woman? I don’t think Batman is implying the latter, but the former question certainly hangs in the air.

At the end, the crone introduces the well-armored, hot-ass Sea Monkey to everyone, proposing that she take over as Queen.

I would totally vote for her because she looks like she could actually survive a fight.

Yeah, It’s Dumb, But Is It Sexist?

Holy hell, yes. But like I said, as someone who honestly doesn’t know much about the series or what this team was dealing with, I don’t want to point fingers at anyone for these problems. All I know is that, if this were my first exposure to Wonder Woman, I would think that she was a hot mess of a young girl wallowing in Woody Allen self-pity. I would also think the Amazons were the most incompetent, poorly equipped warriors in existence. They look like a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models with crap swords. And we all know how I feel about that.

Dear reader, I agree with Kremer. Wonder Woman is infantilized, and not just from the teddy bear and the painfully vacant look in her eyes. Her entire race is demeaned.

I know Wonder Woman is much better than this. Maybe I will seek out the stories that Kremer recommended. Maybe I should write some of my own.

Lord knows, I know my way around rope. And blades.

 

Mr. Wicker: Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award!

stokerawardnom-lg

I didn’t get the news immediately. I was at the surgeon’s office for a follow-up to last Friday’s hand surgery, totally absorbed in Michael Marshall Smith’s latest short story collection, Everything You Need. When I got home, I found an email from my publisher, Jennifer Barnes at Raw Dog Screaming Press. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were already exploding.

I’m absolutely thrilled that Mr. Wicker was nominated for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. I give my great thanks to the members of the Horror Writers Association for their confidence in my unique book. I’m astonished to be in the same company as David Cronenberg, one of my favorite film directors. It’s a tough ballot. I wish the best of luck to everyone nominated!

Where Are the Women?

Oddly enough, I’m the only woman on the ballot for the adult novel categories. It feels strange, especially given this is Women in Horror Month. I confess that the other day I was feeling a bit weary of the topic. Last year, the very talented Rena Mason won the very category in which I’ve been nominated. In fact, I know several incredibly talented female horror writers who have taken home the little brown house. I just hope that women continue to feel encouraged to write horror and dark fiction in general. The genre was invented by a woman, after all.

See you all in Atlanta for the World Horror Convention’s 25 year anniversary!

February Readings in Echo Park and Pasadena

I’m excited to announce I’ll be making two more appearances for Mr. Wicker in February, which is also Women in Horror Month!

Sunday, February 8
4:00pm – 5:30pm
Roar Shack Reading Series
Ghost on the Shore
826LA Echo Park
1714 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90026

I’ll be joining great local authors of horror such as Lisa Morton, Kate Jonez, Kate Maruyama and Nicole Sconiers, along with live music from the punk band, The Raveens. Our host is Dave Rocklin.

Next stop:

Saturday, February 21
Presentation Time 10:40am, Auditorium
2nd Annual Author Fair
Pasadena Central Library
285 E Walnut St.
Pasadena, CA 91101

I’ll be selling and signing books at both events. “But, Maria, aren’t you having right-hand surgery on February 6th?” No worries! I’ll have help, plus I’ve rigged an ingenious method of signing without gripping a pen. I’ve tested it and it works. Aren’t you curious now? ;-)

Looking forward to seeing you there!

MR. WICKER Moves to the Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot

Awoke this morning to the excellent news that Mr. Wicker has joined some wonderful company on the Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot for Superior Achievement in a First Novel:

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Maria Alexander – Mr. Wicker (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
J.D. Barker – Forsaken (Hampton Creek Press)
Janice Gable Bashman – Predator (Month9Books)
David Cronenberg – Consumed (Scribner)
Michael Knost – Return of the Mothman (Woodland Press)
Daniel Levine – Hyde (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Josh Malerman – Bird Box (Harper Collins)
Whitney Miller – The Violet Hour (Flux)
Chantal Noordeloos – Angel Manor (Horrific Tales Publishing)
C.J. Waller – Predator X (Severed Press)

Two more rounds of voting must complete before official award nominees are announced on February 23rd. Congratulations to all the balloteers!

 

 

 

Meeting Dr. Moscovich

I didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps someone tweedy? Rotund? With a pony tail? I had no idea, really.

Soon I would discover that Dr. Jim Moscovich, Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at Western University of Ontario, was none of these.

Bret walking in Union Station.

Bret walking through the cathedral-like station.

About 15 minutes to noon on December 29th, Bret and I arrived at the Union Station downtown. Although a familiar sight to Bret, I’d never seen the station before. In fact, we’d never seen the people we were meeting before. I’d been corresponding via email with Dr. Jim Moscovich since I’d started adapting Mr. Wicker to novel back in 2004. He specialized in an area of ancient Rome crucial to the development of Mr. Wicker’s background story. He’d always been generous and supportive, ever the professor answering this student’s questions. I imagined he and his wife lived a quiet life somewhere wintery and pastoral.

Surprise Introductions

My imagination wasn’t too far from the truth. Jim and his wife Barbara were “wintering” in San Diego right now, and soon they’d return home to Vancouver Island. When they’d offered to come up to Los Angeles for lunch, we offered to meet them at the station and walk to lunch. Barbara told me we’d recognize them because she’d be wearing a particular type of jacket and that Jim would be “waving around your book.” I attached a picture of Trog sitting on Baudelaire’s grave, explaining that I’d be the redhead wearing Trog, and that Bret looked like a cross between Mikhail Baryshnikov and a young Robin Williams.

IMG_2390

Union Station still wears its holiday finery.

We checked the Arrivals board every few minutes, looking for an update. Then, about 20 minutes after the arrival time, a new torrent of people flooded the great hall. In the distance, I saw a man holding a copy of Mr. Wicker with its unmistakable cover.

A white-bearded man wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, that is. One of my favorite metal bands.

The first words out of my mouth were, “Could you BE any cooler?” To which his wife Barbara replied, indicating Mr. Wicker, “He got about six people on the train to buy it!”

Yes. Yes, he could.

Po Boy Revelations

Jim Moscovich playing Alice Cooper on electric guitar.

Rockin’ in Alice Cooper makeup.

After hugs and full introductions, we headed to The Little Jewel of New Orleans, where we ate delicious sandwiches longer than our arms. (I had the shrimp and oyster po boy. SO GOOD.) Jim gave me a newspaper clipping of him playing Alice Cooper in a rock band. In our emails, he’d always talked about golf and puzzles. I interpreted that to mean he was a bit retiring. I didn’t realize he was Jimmy Jazzing it up on an electric guitar!

He then asked me questions about Mr. Wicker, such as why I picked the Gauls for Mr. Wicker’s backstory. I gave him the short version of the tale that’s hidden in the puzzle trail at the end of my book trailer. However, I added something that I’ve told only a tiny handful of people — a revelation I had during the spooky experience that inspired the book. A lot of readers have wondered why I chose that time period. I could have chosen a totally different era, making things more seamless perhaps with the modern day, but I had to be true to that single revelation. It felt so key to who Mr. Wicker is that I couldn’t betray it for storytelling convenience.

Jim and Barbara Moskovich with author Maria Alexander

Jim, myself and Barbara on Olvera Street.

Bret quickly discovered he shared a passion with Jim and Barbara for cryptic crosswords. This I knew about, which is why I’d been keen to get them together. Jim and Barbara teach a six-week course every year about this puzzle type that’s quite popular. Jim whipped out a puzzle torn from a magazine that he was in the midst of solving, placing it on the table between himself and Bret.

They worked on it over chocolate bread pudding soaked in whiskey as Barbara and I continued to chat. I learned that she used to teach French, which thrilled me to no end. We didn’t parle en français, but we did share our thoughts on language and why French doesn’t lend itself to cryptic crosswords. As for that picture of Trog? It turns out Baudelaire is her favorite poet. “I somehow like you even more, if that’s possible,” I told her. Indeed, they already felt like old friends.

The Case of a Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose

Bret Shefter and Jim Moscovich work out a cryptic crossword clue while strolling Olvera Street.

Seriously. They were working on puzzles. Like this.

After lunch, as we strolled Olvera Street. Bret and Jim worked on cryptic crossword clues as they walked. I don’t know if they even noticed where they were. Bret was thoroughly tied up trying to solve “A pretty girl in crimson rose,” and he continued to obsess about the puzzle as we toured the adobe house. I had never seen Olvera Street during the day, which meant I was enthralled by the bright colors and fabulous Dia de Los Muertos dolls. I thoroughly enjoyed Barbara’s company as we continued to talk about language immersion. Once we’d exhausted the market, we listened to live flute music in the plaza.

Vale

We said vale in the train station, the traditional Roman parting. Bret took a photo of the crossword to solve the rest later.

Just as we pulled out of the parking lot, Bret exclaimed the answer* to the “crimson” puzzle.

I’m so happy to have finally met the man who guided me so well in the research of my first novel, and even happier to have two new friends. As time passes, I’m more deeply convinced that writing is as much about relationships as it is about solitude. We may spend lo those many years alone with ourselves toiling away at a manuscript, but those words invariably touch other people long before they’re published. Writing is about communication, the thing that brings together hearts and minds both online and in person.

Vale!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Rebelled

How to Stalk Me and Mr. Wicker at Loscon 41 this Weekend

I love this little convention we have in Los Angeles every year right after Thanksgiving. It’s called Loscon, and it’s where some of the biggest names in fantasy and science fiction come to hang out and pontificate on panels. The first time I met Larry Niven was when I danced with him at the Regency dance class. This is also where I met my beloved friend, the comic book legend Len Wein. I even befriended my literary idol, Tim Powers, on a panel. (And then there was the time 16-year-old Maria had a fangasm all over Wendy Pini in the ladies room. I suspect Wendy recovered.) This year, the Writer Guest of Honor is J. Michael Straczynski. Seriously! How freaking amazing is that? That’s normal here. Still not impressed? How about Jerry Pournelle, Todd McCaffrey, Steven Barnes, Barbara Hambly, not to mention all the TV and animation writers who attend?

My Loscon Schedule

And then there’s itty bitty me. Here’s my schedule for this year:

Friday

1:00:00 PM
Scottsdale
“Military Fantasy, Different Themes than Military SF?”
Co-Panelists:
J.L. Doty
Laurie Tom
Martin Young
Jerry Pournelle

2:30:00 PM
Saint Louis
“Vixens and Heroines”
Co-Panelists:
Dr. J. Anthony del Marmol
Barbara Hambly
Julie Sczesny
Neo Edmund

10:00:00 PM
Boston
“Sexy or Sexualized”
Co-Panelists:
Daryl Frazetti
Martin Young
Mallory Reaves

Saturday

4:00 PM
Dealer’s Room
Signing (and selling!) Mr. Wicker
If you don’t have a copy, you can get one here. I’ll be taking credit cards, cash, etc. Or just tackle me in the hallways. I’ll sell you a copy on the spot. 

Sunday

11:30:00 AM
Marquis 1
“Death (‘be not proud’)”
Co-Panelists:
Larry Niven
Phil Osborn
Gregg Castro
Martin Young
Tim Powers