10 Influential Books – For Me, That Is

Every now and then a challenge pops up on Facebook, and, even though I normally don’t fall for them, some of them do intrigue me. Recently among my book-loving friends, it was the “10 Works of Literature that Inspired Me” challenge. I made it several days before anyone tagged me, and, then, I got tagged by two different people. I didn’t mind this challenge because it made me reflect on the literary works which have inspired me.

Now, I’ll add, just about every book I’ve ever read inspires me either as an everyday, mostly normal person or as a writer (sometimes both), and if I’d kept a running list of the ten most influential, it would have been a fluid one. So the list here is what came into my head today. Challenge me again in a few months, and some of the books might change.

And I noticed people who accepted the challenge listed the ten books but never explained why any of them made their list. That would have been interesting to me–especially in cases where there was duplication with my list or a book, which when I read it made me gag. So, for my list, I’ve included a brief statement about why/how the book influenced me.

Some of you will likely turn up your noses at some of my selections and declare, “This is not literature!” There is, gasp, science fiction on my list and, horrors, popular fiction, too. 

Oh, and since I was always the one who perversely broke every chain letter/e-mail/Facebook post I’ve ever received, I won’t be tagging anyone to post his or her “10 Most Influential…” list, other than to say: Anyone who reads this should do the same, but you have to explain how or why each book influenced you. Ready, set, dare ya!

10 Works of Literature That Inspired Me (in no particular order)

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This was the first book, other than a comic book or storybooks, ever given me as a child, when I was around six, I believe. I still have it, though my PITA little brother managed to tear the front cover off this hardback. How did it influence me? It sparked my life-long love of books and reading, and writing too, since I did nothing but write stories about horses for years afterward.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. When I read this book in the 1980’s it validated my feminism, which I only acknowledged privately to people I could trust not to “out” me. It made me less afraid of the “f-word” (feminism; I’ve never been afraid of the other) and made me proud to be a feminist. The fact that it’s even more relevant now is a testament to Atwood’s genius. I want to be her when I grow up to be a writer.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This book made me a sucker for happy endings, in fiction and in life. Even in my own writing, which is sometimes dark and bleak, I consciously, or unconsciously, find a way to work a happy resolution in because this book showed me it can happen. On a personal level, I’m still waiting.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This book showed me what a happy family living with adversity looked like and that there were, indeed, happy families. That was quite the eye-opener to me given my combative and tumultuous immediate and extended families. Plus, there was the whole woman-writer thing going on there; I felt Jo and I were really the sisters.
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This book blew away all my preconceived notions of what a novel/novel-in-stories should be. It enthralled me and pissed me off and made me both question and challenge myself as a writer. To absorb this novel you have to shed your skin of mediocrity and just let it pummel you.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Though I thought his later works were just plain creepy and some of his earlier works bordered on fascism, this book was incredible–well-written and timely. This book made me–finally!–question the origins of my own religion and put me on the non-theist path, for which I am forever grateful. Do you grok me?
  • The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Another sci-fi icon on the list, this was the first, novel-length science fiction book I read. Before it, I picked up sci-fi from comic books, tv shows, and B-movies. I bought the battered paperback at a library sale for a nickel, and when I brought it home my mother swore the depiction of aliens on the cover would give me nightmares. She was wrong; it made me think.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Because it blew my freakin’ mind!
  • On Writing by Stephen King. I’m one of those writers who like Stephen King’s writing because I see past the grimness and gore and revel in how he turns a phrase. This was the best instructional book on writing (pun intended) I’ve ever read, and it made me give up -ly adverbs, with reluctance.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. Don’t bother to see the movie (though it was decent); read the book. Wells never met my parents, I’m reasonably certain, but she coincidentally explained their complex and enervating relationship in a way I could ultimately forgive them.

Of course, I’ve been thinking as I’ve written this, and I offer this addendum: anything by Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou… Oh, hell, just ask me again in a few months, like I said, and the list will be different.

Tag–you’re it.

Getting Ready for Tinker Mountain

TMWW logoI’ve made my to-do list for the next week so come Sunday afternoon, I can hit the road and arrive in Roanoke for this year’s Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop. It’s the tenth anniversary, with a lot of extra workshops and new instructors. As usual I’m nervous, excited, and, well, nervous.

The past two years have been very positive experiences. Last year, for example, led to having an agent review a manuscript. (He turned it down but said lots of positive things.) The first year I attended was the first time any of my MSS had been critiqued by total strangers, and they liked it, they really liked it. This year is the first time a portion of one of my genre MSS is being critiqued by strangers. The workshop I’m attending is “Crafting High Quality Genre Fiction,” and the instructor is Laura Benedict. She also happens to be the spouse of my first Tinker Mountain instructor, Pinckney Benedict.

The forty pages I sent in comes from an MS titled A War of Deception, which is loosely based on the Robert Hansenn spy case from the early 2000s. I say loosely because it started out as a fictionalized version of that event with my U.N. spy characters in the mix. It turned into a study of revenge when what I intended to be a subplot became the main plot. The title comes from a Sun Tzu quote in the Art of War, one of my favorite books: “All warfare is based on deception.”

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my love affair with the Art of War before. I had the audio book on my iPod and listened to it every day on the way to work. It was that kind of workplace at times. Plus, Sun Tzu has a lot to say about spies and espionage which resonates today.

Anyway, the nervousness comes from having my genre fiction workshopped. It’s a first, though the material workshopped in my first Tinker Mountain visit was a speculative fiction piece I submitted because I didn’t have anything else ready. However, I don’t consider myself a speculative fiction writer. A lot of my flash fiction falls into that genre but only because I’m not sure I could sustain a full-length spec fic novel, even that particular manuscript. It seems I inadvertently channelled Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I wrote it for NaNoWriMo a few years ago. When Pinckney encouraged me to work on that MS, I explained about the striking similarity to Atwood’s dystopian piece–“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said. Ms. Atwood may not think so, however.

This year’s MS is one of my “historical thrillers,” to borrow a term from Alan Furst, a writer of espionage fiction I hope to emulate. It’s got a mole in the FBI, sex, violence, marital discord, and two mysteries to be solved. I hope I have a third great experience. Even if the rest of the workshop hates it– Ack! Let’s not put that in my head!

So, off to do laundry, water plants, and pack, etc., and be ready for a worthwhile week of workshopping, craft lectures, and writer friends that is Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop.

The Prodigal Returns

It’s been over a month since my last substantive post here–on the first day of AWP. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; I have. Mostly re-writing. I haven’t been writing my political blog; I haven’t done Friday Fictioneers; I haven’t done Flash! Friday. I’ve not put my finger on quite why, other than the obvious: winter doldrums, lingering nasty weather, and overall write-on-a-self-imposed-deadline burnout.

So, here’s a summary: AWP was great; I had story selected as a finalist in a national contest; the agent loved my writing but decided my novel wasn’t for him; the Virginia Festival of the book was wonderful (though I’ll confess I wish I’d been a panelist instead of in the audience); I had a story rejected for an anthology about a week after an anthology appeared with one of my stories in it; I had an editor solicit a story from me “for consideration;” and we’re about ten days away from the staging of my ten-minute play, “Yo’ Momma,” which was a winner in the Ampersand Arts “Bar Hopping” Contest.

Then, on Sunday, I got tagged in a Facebook post: “Name 15 authors who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you.” Once I started thinking about that, I began to jot down names and decided this would be a much better blog post than a comment on a Facebook post.

I’m back!

Here are the fifteen authors who’ve influenced me with a brief explanation of how and why, divided into women and men but listed in alphabetical order so as not to give away who is/was the most influential.

Louisa May Alcott – She embodied for me the woman writer’s struggle to be accepted for what you are by society and family.

Margaret Atwood – She shows the world that dystopian fiction can be intelligent and well-wrought, and that makes her worthy of emulation.

Jane Austen – For her time, she wielded a sharp pen of sarcasm, feminism, and egalitarianism, and, damn, but she could turn a phrase.

Charlotte Bronte – She showed me that romance and happy endings aren’t elusive after all.

Ursula K. LeGuin – She is a pioneer in one of my favorite genres, science fiction, and I first heard “write what you want to write” from her.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters – She taught me that romantic pairs as protagonists can carry a series (or several series in her case) and that the romance doesn’t detract from a good mystery story.

Sara Paretsky – She showed me your female protagonist can take care of herself and not be dependent upon a man and still be popular (and don’t let editors tell you otherwise) and that plots suffused with liberal politics can be, too.

Kate Wilhelm – She showed that female writers could write “hard” science sci-fi stories and be respected by her male colleagues, even the stodgy ones.

Honorable Mentions: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Flannery O’Connor,

Isaac Asimov – As well as being one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century, he showed me you could tell a story and educate people at the same time.

Harlan Ellison – As well as being an ardent admirer of LeGuin, he showed me that you could and should go into the dark areas of the mind and write about them. He also spent fifteen minutes with me once and told me to never, ever give up writing.

William Faulker – He showed me what every writer from the south needs to accept–our history is both full of joy and worthy of embarrassment.

Thomas Hardy – I love this man’s prose. He can take pages to relate a nanosecond of plot, but you don’t mind.

Stephen King – He showed me that when you write about the horrific, at least do it in a way which elevates it.

Boris Pasternak – He showed me how an artist should stand up for the integrity of his or her work and that an epic should truly be an epic.

Kurt Vonnegut – He showed me that a good story is worth spending weeks, months, even years to perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Mikhail Bulgakov, Fredreich Engels, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, V. I. Lenin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy

Now, fifteen of the writers who read this need to do the same. 😉


No Foolin’

Today, I could have played a major April Fools joke on the rest of you by “announcing” that I’d just been offered a six-figure advance and a multiple-book contract from one of the “Big Six.” I could have, but I won’t because it’s likely the joke would be on me. So, no advance, no book contract; just constant editing and revising and hoping.

I get frustrated at times with the lack of new material I’m producing. I retired to have more time to write, and I have written more and more constantly than before I retired; but it seems at times that I do more re-writing than writing.

No difference, you say. Writing is writing. True, but I miss the mad rush of researching and drafting that comes with a whole new project. Granted, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November, which means I have created five, original manuscripts in five years.

The first one was a semi-autobiographical piece, which, after re-reading it, I realized was 200+ pages of self-indulgent whining. It has, however, been a good source of short stories.

The second one I have edited, revised, and re-written to the point where it’s as ready as it will ever be for pitching to possible agents.

For the third one, I took a risk and killed off one of my characters, a bold move that turned out fairly well. It also helped me face the loss of my long-term relationship and address the emotions that involved; however, the character wasn’t ready to die and told me so. The good news is, I’m meshing this manuscript with another one I developed shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. So, all is not lost.

The fourth one is one that I really enjoyed writing. It’s the closest thing to a sci-fi novel I’ve ever written–a story about a dire future after the Tea Party takes over the government. Dark and political, it was a rough draft I was very proud of, and, in fact, the first 5,000 words I submitted for critique in last year’s Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. The reception it received was awesome. (It helps that the workshop instructor, Pinckney Benedict, is a fan of dystopian fiction.) Then, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, for a book club and went, “Oops.” It had been two decades almost since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, but apparently I channeled Atwood when I wrote my manuscript. (Channeling Atwood could be a good thing.) However, since it got such good feedback, it’s definitely something to work on.

The fifth one, last year, was a completely different work for me, a straight-up literary fiction novel that intersects an event in a small town during World War II with an event in the same town in present day. The protagonist is a successful romance writer married to a not-so-successful novelist, and all is just lovely until they find the bones of a baby in the wall of a room they’re renovating. I always put a NaNoWriMo draft aside for six months before I start revising, so next month is when I’ll pull it out and start polishing it.

So, what am I whining about? Well, after an amazing amount of creativity in the late 1990s and early 2000s wherein I dashed out six novel-length manuscripts featuring my two favorite spies, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin, as they work for the fictional United Nations Intelligence Directorate, I haven’t produced a new novel featuring them since 2002. Yes, I’ve been revising and re-writing all those original manuscripts, but I’ve missed creating a new adventure for them. I have been writing short stories featuring them (Spy Flash, published in December 2012), but aside from that, Mai and Alexei walked away from a mission in 2001; and we’ve heard nothing from them since.

You’ve written all you can about them, you might say. No, I feel they have a lot of adventures in them, and I’ve made notes about those adventures. Merely, focusing on improving my craft and establishing a bit of a name for myself as a flash fiction writer has become my immediate focus.

That’s why I need that multiple-book contract, publishers. I’ve always been well-motivated by deadlines, so take a chance. Tell me you want three books, four, or five, and I’ll get right on them.

Don’t forget, this is National Poetry Month. Take a break from fantasy or cozy mysteries and read a poet you’ve never read before.


One of the first books I received as a gift was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I was six or seven, already in love with horses thanks to my Dad, and I think I read it in one sitting, which probably went well into the night under the covers with a flashlight. I re-read that book so often, the front cover fell off. Literally, and it was a hardback. I still have the book, though I haven’t re-read it in a couple of decades or so. Hmm, maybe I’ll remedy that soon.

Over the years, there have been works of fiction I’ve read and re-read, from Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre to The Left Hand of Darkness and Slaughterhouse Five and many others in between. Re-reading something I love is like comfort food–you know it’s going to taste good, and you know you’re going to eat all of it, but each time is a different experience.

This month for a book club I belong to, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. As I re-read, I realized when I first read it in 1985, it was as a woman’s rights activist. Her dystopian tale of a theocracy in America reinforced the feelings and fears I had then. Sadly, we’ve come back around full circle to the things that make a society, as described in A Handmaid’s Tale, possible, even probable, but that’s not the topic for today.

I realized, as I re-read this book, I was regarding it more with a writer’s eye, which makes sense. In the past two plus years I’ve been focusing more on the craft of writing than anything else. So, I noticed how Atwood opened the story with it already tightly wound, i.e., she starts “in the present” and unfolds the story with hints and flashbacks. In the beginning her descriptions are sparse, but as the story moves forward, the people, the settings, the threads of the story all become richer and fuller. The book’s “ending” is up for grabs–it could end happily or it could be a disaster; it’s up to the reader.

At least, that’s what I came away with the first time I read it. The book actually concludes with “A Historical Note,” which I apparently ignored the first time around, likely because I thought I was in the midst of the history in 1985. The historical note is a continuation of the story, and it’s a bit more optimistic than what you think the real ending is. In the historical note you discover what you’ve just read is a diary or memoir of sorts discovered almost as if it were a relic in an archeological dig. I realized what some criticized as the “herky-jerky” pace of the novel was incredible story-telling. The protagonist was on the run, putting down facts and events as she remembered them. This was an instance where linear story-telling would have made the novel a bore.

In that re-reading, then, for a political book club, I learned a valuable writing lesson. I remembered as well why that book resonated with me twenty-seven years ago and grasped why, this time, it left me a little depressed because, well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Which books do you re-read? What is it about a particular book that makes you go back again and again–character, plot, setting?

AWP Day 1

Sorry, no Friday Flash Fiction today. 😦

The 2012 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Chicago is exhausting, exciting, stimulating, tiring, fun, overwhelming, and a lot more descriptors than I can’t think of because I’m, well, pooped. But it’s a good kind of tired. Why? I’m surrounded by 10,000 fellow writers and a book fair bigger than any I’ve ever experienced. I may need to buy a second suitcase to get the books I’ve bought back home.

There are dozens of workshops each day, many of them so tempting you need to be three, or five, people to get to them all. Though many of the workshops are geared toward people who teach writing in high school or college, there are plenty for the rest of us.

On Thursday, I started a marathon day with “The Long and Short of It: Navigating the Transitions Between Writing Novels and Short Stories.” The panel was composed of writers who’d either gone from short stories to novels or vice versa. Moderated by Bruce Machart (The Wake of Forgiveness, Men in the Making), the panelists were Hannah Tinti (The Good ThiefAnimal Crackers; Tinti is also the editor of the online literary magazine One Story), Melanie Thon (Sweet Hearts, Girls in the Grass), Erin McGraw (The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard, The Good Life), and Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth).

The key thing I took from this excellent seminar was that you can’t think of novels as expanded short stories nor short stories as shrunken novels. I’d always felt that way; I just hadn’t had it articulated so that I grasped it. The panelists were in agreement that they fret over short stories more “because every word is a potential for a mistake.” Writing novels are more “low gear,” and you have the luxury of knowing you can have “extra words” as a cushion. The panelists disagreed on switching between the two. One described himself as linear, having to finish a short story before he can move on to a novel. Another moves between novels and short stories in progress, using each to counter spots in the process where the work has become bogged down.

Another thing I could relate to was starting to write and not really knowing where the story is going–or the flip side, thinking it’s going one way, and it strikes out on its own. My recently published short story, “Trophies,” started out as a fun exercise describing, from a fish’s point of view, what it’s like to be caught. The story then went to a place I’d avoided writing about for many years and was much different from what I’d originally intended. It was nice to know I’m not odd that way.

Next came “Thinking with Your Own Apparatus: Fiction Writers and History.” Joyce Hinnefeld (Stranger Here Below) moderated Eugenia Kim (The Calligrapher’s Daughter), Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Wench), and Nalini Jones (What You Call Winter), all authors of non-contemporary historical fiction.

Kim and Jones write about their mothers’ cultures, Korean and Indian respectively, and they described the issues arising with not being immersed in that culture until they decided to write about it. Perkins-Valdez, who writes about African American slave women in the Civil War era, described an emotional trip to the Museum of the Confederacy for research. All emphasized the need for research and accuracy–because someone, somewhere will find the tiny error in language that slipped past. They also urged writers not to forget the characters amid all the historical detail–historical fiction “captures a feeling” and the reader has to like the history but must care for the characters.

After lunch, I attended “What I Wish I’d Known,” a panel of newly published authors who discussed the process each underwent to become published. One thing is for sure–none of those processes were the same. Rebecca Rasmussen (The Borrower) wished she’d known, since her book was about a librarian, that she should have run it past a librarian. The librarians who have read it, she said, have loved it, but they’ve pointed out all the things librarians don’t do.

Jeffrey Stepakoff (The Orchard) started out as a playwright and screenwriter, and he wished he’d known just how much he had to do to “sell” his book inside the publishing house, i.e., cultivating relationships with the cover designer, the marketer, etc. Nor was he prepared for readers having such direct access to him as a novelist, rather than a screenwriter.

“Don’t listen to conventional wisdom about what you should be writing” was what Elizabeth Stuckey-French wished she’d known. Her three books–Mermaids on the MoonThe First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady–afforded her different publishing experiences, but she came away from all three understanding that editors and agents do what they do because they love books. However, writers have to remember those editors and agents are also business people, not your BFFs.

Kim Wright (Love in Mid Air) was surprised at how much promotion she had to do for her first novel, though she enjoyed the process of being the primary advocate for her work. She cited her “writer’s paranoia”–she looked around her publisher and was convinced, as a new author, she wasn’t getting the same support as more established authors. Then, she found out the established authors thought she was getting more attention than they were! She especially wanted to dispel the myth that once you get that first book sold, you’re in like Flint. No, she said, “you keep having to go back through the door, as if it’s the first time.”

All the panelists agreed that hindsight on the publishing process for them was 20/20.

The final workshop of the day for me was “There Will Be Blood: Violence in Fiction.” Because I write espionage fiction, I wanted to make certain I was setting the right balance, i.e., that the violence was critical to the story and not gratuitous. The panelists were Alexi Zentner (Touch), Antonya Nelson (Bound), Benjamin Percy (The Wilding), and Alan Heathcock (Volt), and each emphasized that, often, the “invisible violence” is the most shocking or startling, that you don’t have to go for the blood and guts. Nelson said, “You can be more menaced by what you don’t see.” Holt said that violence in fiction is a lot like a sex scene in fiction: “It can be coy, clinical, or creepy.” Yet, they all emphasized that if the violence is “inauthentic,” it isn’t worth reading–or writing. As long as you don’t use violence as an end, it can be a critical part of the work. Another thing I’m getting right, apparently.

The day wasn’t over yet. That evening was the keynote address of the conference, and if I went to nothing else for the whole conference, I was going to this. Margaret Atwood, the premiere author of dystopian fiction, was the speaker. She began with a greeting to “all my Twitter followers,” which got a big round of applause. There were a lot of us in the audience. Atwood was funny, charming, and informative in a brief re-telling of her writing life. The 73-year old laughed at the recurrent rumor that she had died but emphasized that you have to write to maintain your relevance. In her case she’ll be relevant for a long time. It’s always great when someone you admire lives up to your expectations. As she left the stage to applause, she lifted the arm of the sign language interpreter and had her take a bow with her. A classy lady.

A long, but fulfilling first day. And tomorrow is another one.

Why Bother?


The picture has nothing to do with today’s topic. Rather, this is the fourth day in a row of drizzle, freezing or otherwise, and overcast skies here in the Valley, so I needed a reminder that the sun is out there. Somewhere.

I ran into a member of my writers group at lunch over the weekend. He was deep into reading a book on ancient history as research for what he writes. He was so engrossed in the book, I stopped by his table to ask if the book were good.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s so good, I wonder why I bother to write.”

I’ve had those moments, and you have, too. You know it. You come across a line or a passage in a book, or you close a book upon completion, and your shake your head and murmur, “Why do I bother?” Somehow, those rare occasions weigh on your writing psyche more than all the common occurrences of reading something trite or mundane and knowing you can do better. Well, we know good writing when we see it, and, as writers, we have to stop and appreciate the good, even while acknowledging the bad.

When I’m in the process of editing or revising, I’ll come across something I’ve written that’s so good, I actually wonder if I wrote it. Of course I did, but it resonates with me the same way as a passage from Faulkner or King or Vonnegut or Atwood or some other famous author I admire.

Now, I’m not saying my words are gold because, believe me, I’ve come across some real stinkers in my own work–including a story that won the competition to be included in the college literary magazine. When I do, I cringe, but I immediately start to see how I can make it better.

Like any other organism or system in our bodies, our writing grows and evolves. In five more years I’ll be a much improved writer than I am now–and I’m far improved over the writer I was ten or even five years ago. The only way to improve is to write–and write some more. And listen to the feedback without being defensive. That’s hard, I know, but it’s all part of that growth.

Even then, I’m sure I’ll come across a passage in something by King or Vonnegut or Faulkner or Atwood, and I’ll think to myself, “Why do I bother?” But it won’t stop me.

Who’s the author who makes you want to close the laptop forever?

We Will Not Go Back

I’ll begin by apologizing to my male friends, if they feel they are being bashed. I’m a feminist, yes, but I like men. (Far too much for my own good, if my past relationships are any example.) That, however, doesn’t stop me from asking, “When will men just shut up and let women decide about their bodies?”

Because women are the only gender who can actually gestate a fetus, I feel, and I always have, that we should get to say when or if we do that. For some reason, men–well, a lot of Republican men–can’t stand that. In an unprecedented attack on women’s ability to make serious decisions about their health and well-being, Republican men–and women–in state legislatures have offered bill after bill to restrict access to abortion. From bills that define personhood as the moment sperm fertilizes egg (meaning a condom is an abortion to them) to proposals that women would have to prove their miscarriages were spontaneous to bills that suggested criminal charges against doctors who perform abortions and the women who seek them, we have seen a year thus far in which the dystopia described in Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale  looms.

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum recently declared that women who seek abortions for the health and survivability of the mother are essentially lying. Then, we learn his wife had a second-trimester dilation and extraction to save her life. Apparently, though, the only way to convince Santorum it was necessary was to point out that his existing children would lose a mother. Mrs. Santorum had had a risky in utero procedure to correct a fetal defect, but it failed and the fetus became a source of sepsis for its mother. Even knowing the now-dead fetus would result in his wife’s death, Santorum hesitated before agreeing to the procedure. In the meantime, Mrs. Santorum went into premature labor, and the die was cast. When someone pointed this out to Santorum after his “women are lying about needing abortions” statement, his response was? Oh, our abortion was different. Not that I would have voted for him under any circumstance, but the hypocrisy just floors me. Abortion for my family but no one else–that’s what he means, people.

This is why, damn it, I want to make my own decisions about my body–because I have the intelligence, the information, the knowledge, and the ability to make important choices. I don’t want a man to hesitate before he says, “Oh, okay, save the mother if nothing else can be done.”

A reporter in Afghanistan once asked a man why he hesitated to bring his struggling, pregnant wife to a doctor so she wouldn’t have almost died. “It’s no matter,” he said, “I can always find another wife.” Many men in America are that close to thinking of women the same way. We are baby machines to them, uteruses with legs. We exist only to gestate, and the fetus’ well being takes precedence, even when it is the potential cause of a woman’s death. That is not acceptable.

And I love babies. I have the three cutest grandchildren in the world, and I respect their mothers’ choices. Moreover, I’m glad they were able to make that choice, that it wasn’t made for them by anyone else. I look forward to the day when no child is an accident and every child is wanted. I look forward to the day when a woman can think long and hard and make the choice best for her by herself, with no recrimination. I marched in the streets for choice, and I thought we’d already seen that day. Now, I see it slipping away through the crass manipulation of emotions by people who hate women, who believe we are incapable of making a choice after a rational, internal debate, that we lie in order to kill babies.

As if this renewed assault against a legitimate, legal, medical procedure isn’t enough, rightwingnutjobs are now focusing on contraception–as in the banning of it. This is their vision of America: Women burdened by constant pregnancy who won’t be able to compete with men in the boardroom, in Congress, anywhere. Their nostalgia for medieval times rivals that of the Taliban.

Yes, I sound angry and abrasive and all those words men use against women who believe in choice. Just understand what choice means in this instance: The woman decides. Not the government, not the minister, not the doctor. The woman. Most of the time she decides to give birth, and that’s perfect because that’s her choice. We cannot take away the other side of that choice because if we do, there is no choice without options. If a woman doesn’t want to give birth, she should have the choice not to, preferably by unfettered access to contraception. As a last resort, she must have access to safe, clean, properly performed abortion.

Anti-choice men need to understand this: We will not go back.