Sunday, April 03, 2011

Favorite Authors and their Main Characters

Since granting myself permission to take a hiatus from writing when I retired from the University of South Florida last May, I have been tweaking the outline of my next novel (a mystery/romance). Admittedly, I’m getting closer to actually writing again, especially with some recent energy boosts; for example, I truly feel honored to have been featured in this month’s Fabulous Florida Writers. Nonetheless, I truly have been enjoying the opportunity to relax, ride my Harley, workout at the gym, play softball, fish and read. In fact, just since getting my Kindle for Christmas I have read 13 mystery novels. And not that I’m a creature of habit (lol), but if you walk through my house and look at my bookshelves and/or look at the list of the books I’ve read on my Kindle, you’ll not only see novels – you’ll see many of the same authors. Obviously my favorites.

What makes a good novel – theme, plot, story structure, setting, style and tone? All of the above. Yet for me it’s also my enjoyment of the main characters, typically in a series featuring the specific recurring character. Some authors have more than one series. And even though I may have favorite authors (usually because I like their writing style, story development, etc.), I also tend to really like a specific character. It’s almost like I know them (which is what a good writer intends). Below are eight of my favorite current-day authors and their main characters who I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past few years:

  • Stuart Woods – Stone Barrington (and Gino, his detective buddy)

  • Robert Parker – Spenser (and Susan, his long-term main squeeze)

  • James Swain – Tony Valentine (and Gerry, his slowly yet ever-maturing son)

At the end of my first novel, My Sweetpea: Seven Years and Seven Days, I purposefully left the door open for a sequel. (And, interestingly, some reviewers have asked if/when a sequel will be coming out – many have said, “I want to know what happens to Sheila and Troy!”)

Question: Who are some of your favorite authors and their main characters?


Monday, March 28, 2011

Tenure – a Major Cornerstone of Education

As you know, I tend to avoid highly contentious topics on this blog. Today, however, I feel compelled to talk about something near and dear to my heart: tenure.

There is a national movement to change and/or eliminate tenure – in public schools and universities. In fact, here in Florida, the state Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill promulgating that “as of July 1, 2011, all newly hired teachers will be offered 1-3 year contracts and tenure will no longer exist for new hires.” In many universities, similar policies also are being considered and/or implemented. The most important aspect of tenure is that it is primarily intended to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics.

As a former high school teacher and for 40 years a professor at four different universities (including being a Department Chair three times and once an Associate Dean), I indeed have seen the misuse and abuse of tenure; yet I certainly have seen the benefits of tenure as well. Tenure is one of the major cornerstones of any educational system, and to suggest that it be eliminated because of a few troublesome and undesirable tenured teachers is akin to suggesting that democracy be eliminated because we elected a few troublesome and undesirable legislators. Interestingly, in my novel, Fear of Feeling Loved, the heroine, Marcia, is a newly hired university Assistant Professor and is focused on doing what she needs to do to eventually qualify for tenure. Her friend and mentor, an older Professor, explains to Marcia the importance and virtues of tenure (as well as the unofficial politics involved).

With tenure, a professional school teacher will feel fee to develop his or her courses and individual classes based on what their students need (which on occasion may not be what the students want), and give students, their parents, school administrators and others in society their best professional opinions (which on occasion may not be what they want to hear). With tenure, university professors will openly and honestly honor their commitments to teaching, research and community service.

Without tenure and thus a fear of losing ones job, for example, a pubic school biology school teacher may understandably be less committed what science may say about evolution, and a political science professor may be reluctant to be honest when asked about an upcoming election or an elected official. In addition to generating knowledge, disseminating knowledge and facilitating critical and creative thinking, in many ways our society’s educators play a very important gad-fly role for the ultimate betterment of everyone.

Question: What are your thoughts regarding tenure?


Monday, March 21, 2011

Think About Japan: How Easy it is to Lose Sight of Ones Priorities

For me, yesterday was an incredible day. After a motorcycle ride South over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, enjoying the beautiful, accommodating chamber-of-commerce weather, meeting my brother and sister-in-law for a few beers at a packed, outdoor, live-music-filled biker bar with almost a thousand motorcycles parked all over, I fixed a cup of coffee and sat out back on my screened-in porch to watch some sports on my small old TV.

As I was trying to simultaneously follow golfer Gary Woodland through the last few holes on his way to winning the Transitions Championship and the exciting March Madness college basketball games, I felt my frustration starting to escalate. “Poor me,” I said to my two dozing cats who were trying to stay awake enough to watch the boats motoring by on the Intercoastal waterway, “I only have this one TV out here and it doesn’t even have PIP (picture in a picture).” With that, their dozing morphed into something more akin to napping. By then as I was adding to my self-pity, “Even my two cats don’t even care about how much I’m struggling here!”

Then I glanced at one of the cover stories on the St. Petersburg Times on the table and it hit me: there are thousands of people dead and missing in the aftermath of the 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that recently struck Japan. Not only that -- the nuclear power plants in the region are on the brink of a major disaster. The earthquake was ten times stronger than the 7.6 quake that struck Taiwan in 1999! Further pondering reminded me that as the Japanese government is working to fix the nuclear reactors and restore order, it has asked the major manufacturers to shut down operations until further notice so that all energy can be used for emergency purposes. This, of course, will have major implications to the global supply chain depending on how long these factories are asked to be shut down.

Hold it, I reconsidered: thousands dead and thousands missing, and here I am feeling sorry for myself because I can’t simultaneously follow two of my favorite sports. Yeah right – “poor me...!” Not only that, but talk about a psychologically- and philosophically-healthy culture… through all of this, sans heart-breaking tears of mourning, there have been no riots, looting or pillaging. Indeed, we Americans could learn a lot from these incredible people!

Out of what I believe was genuine compassion (okay, including a pinch of guilt), I opened my i-phone and made a donation to the American Red Cross. While I then enjoyed watching Gary Woodland win the Transitions and see some of my bracketology picks win their games, I did so with less frustration and Angst -- albeit still feeling saddened by what’s going on in Japan... as well as thankful and blessed.

Question: How has what’s going on in Japan affected you?


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Role(s) of Control in Life and Loving Relationships

It is amazing how frequently I see that people tend to think of “control” as being a less than good (or even bad). Yet let’s remember two things: (1) control is the ability to purposefully direct, suppress and/or change; and (2) if we didn’t exercise some controls in our lives, our lives would be in total chaos. When talking with my “pro bono clients” about control issues in their lives, I frequently challenge them with two questions: (1) are you controlling things in your life in ways that make your life and the way you live it better? and, (2) are there any other controls that you could exercise that would improve your life and the way you live it?

In my 33 years of work as a licensed psychologist, specializing in working with couples, one of the primary problem areas people in troubled loving relationships had to attend to was their “control issues” – within themselves and their loving relationships. “Control problems in relationships” typically are related to the couple’s boundaries and associated controls. For example, in my co-authored book with Dr. William A. Lambos, Our Loving Relationship, we discuss these two latter phenomena directly:

Boundaries are the limits of how far you can go and remain comfortable with yourself. Boundaries define the “space” in which a given individual is not invited or welcomed at a given time.

Controls are those things you do to assure that you stay within your boundaries and assure that other people do not violate your comfort zone.

In two of my three novels, “control” is directly and portrayed. For example, In My Sweetpea: Seven Years and Seven Days, as Sheila and Troy’s marriage starts to fall apart, his “active control” and her “passive control” quickly turns their relationship dance from a foxtrot to a Macarena. And in If Ever Again… It’ll be for Love, after Diane divorces her over-controlling husband, recovers and then starts to fall in love with Michael, she subconsciously perceives many of his loving gestures as controlling. (As I discuss in Chapter 4 of my pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway – 2nd Edition, “…we can control things actively by ‘what we do’ and we also can control things passively by “what we don’t do’.”)

Interestingly, when my “clients” who are in recovery tell me that they are staying sober because they “gave up control” (e.g., “Let go, let god.”), I ask them: “When you choose to give up control, isn’t that a form of control?”

Aspects and phenomena regarding “control in life” and “control in loving relationships” easily could entail a book’s worth of address and discussion. To wit, this herein discussion doesn’t even scratch the surface. Nonetheless, I hope my musings have challenged you to think about the issue(s) of control and how it interfaces with your life and the way you live it... as well as your adult loving relationships.

Question: How was or has been “control” been good (or bad) aspects of your life and your loving relationships?