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Happy Birthday, Mr. B!

Me and ScottThis man’s work inspired me to write. First, a series of fanzines called “A Dozen Points in Time” — a collection of fifty-odd stories and novellas. Then, because my friend Candy Camin said, “You either do this, or I’ll kill you,” I said hello to the editor of the Quantum Leap tie-in novels… and a year later, I became an officially published author.

When I told Scott Bakula that my enjoyment of his work had allowed me to publish a book, he said quietly, “The most I can hope for in my life is to inspire other people.”

So… happy Throwback Thursday. And happy 60th birthday, Scott Bakula. You’re one of the kindest, most thoughtful and genuine people I’ve ever met, and I’ll never forget that you inspired me to take my own Quantum Leap.

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Lucy Varna – On the Nature of Family

One of my definitions of “family” is that group of people you bring into your life as friends – sometimes intentionally, and sometimes simply because they’re there.  During my 14 months as an indy author, I’ve gotten to know some terrific, fascinating people… simply because they were there.  Lucy Varna is one of those – a fellow member of KBoards who responded to my request for guest blog posts on the subject of family.  Here are her reflections.  I think you’ll agree after reading them that she’s someone you’d like to know better.

My son was born in 1997. At the time of his conception, I was unmarried. His biological father left within days of learning of the pregnancy. A couple of years later, I married the Army, and five miserable years after, divorced it.

I dated. Sure, I did, once seriously for about a year. The relationship inevitably dissolved, and when it did, my then nine-year-old son bowed his head and said he’d miss my boyfriend because with him around, “It was almost like we were a family.”

The Enemy Within - 2 - CopyThis staggered me. Through all of our ups and downs, I had always held tight to one belief: my son and I were a family, stronger than any I’d ever known. He was my heart and my life, and I his, yet he believed we were incomplete without a father figure. To this day, I don’t know why he thought that. Had his early childhood with a stepfather conditioned him to believe that a father was a necessary part of a family, or had our conformity-driven educational system inculcated this notion into him, or…? It was a puzzle I never solved.

Before I go on, let me state that, yes, every child needs a father in his or her life. I’ve known many wonderful men who were excellent dads: my father, his stepfather, my mother’s father, various uncles and family friends.

It just so happens, though, that no one was ever a great father to my son. Not his biological father, who abandoned him, or his stepfather (and ditto), or that one guy I dated seriously, and none of that was ever my son’s fault. So we soldiered on, me and him, a family in spite of everything else.

Before I became an author, I was a professional genealogist. During the decade I spent in that career, I studied historical families in depth and at length, and I saw a lot of variances on what a family was. Today, we talk about blended families. That’s really a very modern term, but it applies well to families across the ages. My own father was raised in a “blended” family. His father died during World War II while my father was in utero. A few years later, my grandmother remarried to a truly wonderful man who raised my deceased grandfather’s sons as if they were his own.

Not all families were so lucky. One of my ancestors, James R. Roberts, married twice. He and his first wife had one son and four daughters. After her death, James remarried, and not long after, the children by his first wife were forced to move into a separate home, headed by the eldest son and his wife. Upon James’ death, that son administered his father’s estate and the second wife, well… Let’s just say that she made her stepson’s life difficult and leave it at that.

On the other hand, there was the sad case of the children of Pierce Alford and his wife, Amanda. Pierce died during the Civil War when his youngest child was a toddler. Amanda remarried and, not long after, passed away, essentially consigning her children to the state of penniless orphans. Fortunately, their stepfather was a kind man, or at least a responsible one. He reared Pierce and Amanda’s children, caring for them until they were old enough to care for themselves.

As a writer, I continue to explore the nature of family on an everyday basis. My current work in progress, Say Yes, is a romance. The story world is based on the result of a simple question: what if the Amazons of Greek mythology were real? Levi, the hero of Say Yes, is descended from the Seven Sisters (the progenitors of the Amazons in this story world). His love interest, Sera, is a single mom who has built a wonderful family out of the ruins of a bad relationship. Is it any less of a family because her son’s father chose to leave and her family contains only two individuals? No, nor is it any more of one.

Family is what we make of it. It might be a father struggling to raise two children after his wife’s death, or four generations working together to build something good and strong, or a single man caring for his elderly neighbor whose children have abandoned her. What binds a family together is what’s in the heart, nothing more and nothing less. Without the heart, the ties of blood are meaningless, but with it, a family can weather all storms, regardless of the depth of kinship or lack thereof.

In the post-modern world, we’ve been conditioned to believe that norms and averages are absolute. When it comes to family, there’s no such thing. There is no normal. There is no absolute. Each family is as unique as the individuals of which it is comprised and the strength of their hearts. It’s a lesson we all need to remember, and one I’ve tried very hard to teach my son.

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Lucy Varna is a former professional genealogist with a special interest in researching the historic rural poor. Her first novel, The Prophecy (Daughters of the People, Book 1), was published in February 2014. She lives in rural northeast Georgia with her son in the midst of a large, extended, and often eccentric family.  Her author website is LucyVarna.com.

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The Long Reach of Kindness

When I was putting together the previous post, and looking back at my six weeks as an intern at Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was reminded of something I’d forgotten: that during my first meeting with him, TNG‘s executive producer Michael Piller told me I was to consider the writers’ offices a safe environment, a place where I could freely express thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of their being rejected out of hand.

I should not, he said, fear to speak up.

Easier said than done, particularly if most of your previous experience has taught you to keep your mouth shut, for fear of offending someone, annoying someone, or (worst of all, perhaps) making a fool of yourself — because of all the kinds of pain there are in this world, few of them are worse than humiliation.  Most of the time, it’s easier to keep quiet.  It’s safer to keep quiet, even if that silence means you’ll never learn anything, that you’re denying yourself the chance to grow.

Michael Piller
Michael Piller

Lately, I’ve seen some comments on the message boards to the effect of, “Freaking NEWBS.  Why do they keep asking the same questions?  Don’t they know there’s a whole thread for that?  Why do they keep bothering us?”

Because, I think, it’s not information they’re looking for.

It’s kindness.

Venturing into a new place of any kind is a terrifying prospect, unless you’re completely foolhardy, or stupid, or a nice black-and-white-cookie blend of the two.  There be dragons in new places, you know?  You don’t know the rules.  You don’t know where the trap doors are.

And you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself.

Okay, people have walked that particular path before.  They’ve asked questions and have secured answers.  But they’re not you.  Those people aren’t sitting inside your skin, wondering if you have the talent or the nerve or the luck to win at this particular new thing.  They aren’t listening to the little voice in your head that won’t stop saying, “Maybe it would be better if you didn’t try.”

Each of us was a newbie once, at every single thing we’ve tried.

And I’m willing to bet, on each of those occasions, it wasn’t information we wanted so much as we wanted a helping hand.  A moment of individual attention.  An acknowledgment that says “I see you, and I get that you’re scared.”  A big brother, of sorts: someone who’s climbed a few steps higher on the hill, reaches back a hand and says, “Come on.  I’ve got you.”

Michael Piller extended that hand over and over again.  It was at his insistence that Star Trek, alone among network TV shows, accepted, read, and considered scripts from anyone willing to fill out a simple two-page release form.  People argued; he held fast.  He’d been a young writer once — a newbie — and he remembered what that was like.  Rather than leave others to fend for themselves, he offered help.  A way in.  And once you were in, he listened.

He knew, I think, that kindness endures.

Being an ardent Trekker, I took advantage of my situation a bit too often, and crept onto the TNG set during my lunch hour.  I tried my best to stay unnoticed, but I caught the impatient eye of the wrong person.  Later on, Michael quietly stopped me in the hallway and murmured that I really shouldn’t be going over there quite so often.  It was gentle guidance — not a rebuke, not a criticism.  Just a soft, Yeah, not the best thing to do.  Okay?

779ec55cceccdcbdc7b2bff54f793d94He could have gotten the same result by dressing me down (I never ventured over to the set again), but he chose not to do that.  He chose to be kind.  He chose to address things with a smile and a quiet tone of voice.

And I remember.

So I give you this as food for thought, as well as reminding myself of what it felt like to be treated kindly, by someone who extended a helping hand.  We were all newbies once, and each time we blaze a new path for ourselves, we become newbies again.  Not looking for information so much as a big brother (or sister).  Someone a couple steps further along the path who’s willing to reach back a hand and say, “I’ve got you.”

Let’s make the world a safe environment for the newbs.  And in doing so, for ourselves.