Saturday, April 26, 2014

Gender Equality and the Curse of Relationship Violence

The television news this morning is filled with reports of a 16-year-old woman stabbed to death in a Connecticut high school.  The rumored reason for the killing is that the victim turned down the alleged killers request for a date to the prom.  Last year at the University of Virginia, a student athlete was convicted of beating his former girlfriend to death because she broke up with him. Newspapers contain many stories of women who have to take out restraining orders against former partners to escape violence triggered by breakups. All too often, the orders are ignored and the women slain. Why are humans so prone to relationship violence. What emotions cause some men to adopt the attitude of, “If I can’t have her, I’ll make sure that nobody does?”  Why do they feel that they have the right to “own” a woman?

Are these attitudes embedded in human DNA? I don’t think so.  In many hunter-gatherer societies, women had rights equal or superior to those of men. Consider the Iroquois Confederation.  These tribes were matriarchal societies.  When a man married, he became part of his wife’s family. A council of women elders made all important tribal decisions, including when and when not to go to war.  History has many instances in which white female captives preferred to remain among their captors rather than return to white society.  In truth, they enjoyed greater freedom in Native American culture.  Unfortunately, this was not true of all Native American tribes, especially on the Great Plains.  Captives of the Comanche, for example, were treated brutally.

Sociologists concluded in the Nineteenth Century that women probably invented farming and therefore civilization.  In hunter-gatherer societies, women tend to be the gatherers, while men dominate hunting.  The progression from gathering wild seeds to deliberately planting seeds to control availability is a logical one.  Women held high position in early agricultural societies, many of which worshipped the Earth Mother and other female deities.  The ability of women to produce offspring was seen as miraculous before conception became fully understood.  Fertile women were like the fertile Mother Earth.  The epitome of these societies was that of Minoan Crete.

I believe that novelist novelist Jean M. Auel may have pinpointed the birth of relationship violence in her Clan of the Cave Bear series. Once humans understood how conception works, men became obsessed with assuring that the children whom they supported and to whom their wealth was passed were actually their own. Many societies achieved this objective by drastically restricting the rights of women, in some cases virtually keeping them confined.  The concept that a man “owned” his wives and concubines was established.  This proved especially true among societies based on animal husbandry.  Some feel that these societies studied how dominant male animals tend to control “harems” of females and concluded that such was the intention of the deities who created the earth.  Eventually, such attitudes came to dominate most human “civilizations.”

Only in the second half of the Twentieth Century did some Western societies begin to adopt the concept of equality of the sexes.  Westernized societies in the rest of the world began to follow suit.  But in much of the world, women remain confined by culture and religion.  Unfortunately, this awakening of equality has not penetrated the thinking of too much of even Western society.  Some sub-cultures remain committed to the idea that males are somehow superior and are meant to dominate.  Many of these are based on religion. Even in this modern age, rules conceived to govern early nomadic cultures thousands of years ago are given the status of divine commandments, despite scientific evidence that the average woman is at least intellectually equal if not superior to many males. 

After all this expounding, I have to admit that I am not wise enough to come up with an answer to this dilemma.  I can only do my part to promote gender equality and not tolerate relationship violence.  My children were not taught intolerance.  I also believe that society must be unflinching in punishing people who perpetuate relationship violence.  Punishments should be harsh enough to act as a deterrent.  Equality should be drummed into the heads of our children in our education system.  The idea that constitutional religious freedoms may be used to suppress women must be refuted.  Humankind needs the contributions that women can make to the development of society.  Nothing less than full gender equality should be tolerated.
Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.  

Photo: By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Agony of Rewriting

When I was at the 2000 Maui Writer’s Conference, I attended several classes conducted by successful literary agents on the writing and publishing process.  One theme kept recurring in all the talks: “If your manuscript is accepted by an agent, expect to have to rewrite it several times before submission to publishers.”  Many in the classes were alarmed at this revelation. Having studied James Michener’s Advice to Beginning Authors, I was not one of them. Michener did not consider himself a good writer, but he felt that he was an excellent rewriter.  He considered the secret to his runaway success to be his ability to pare and prune his drafts of extraneous material.

I was fortunate to come away from the conference with acceptance of my manuscript of Fall Eagle One by a very reputable literary agency. I quickly discovered that the instructors at Maui were right on target. Following initial discussions with the agent assigned to me, He recommended that I work with a private editor to rewrite my manuscript. The editor he recommended, Ed Stackler of Stackler Editorial Agency (, first read my manuscript and gave it a thorough critique.  Ed is an excellent editor. He pointed out many weaknesses, including some main characters, that needed correcting, not the least of which was my tendency to over-explain just about everything. 
I am a product of my education. My first two degrees were in civil engineering. All engineers have a passion to understand how things work.  Many also are natural teachers who hunger to explain what they know to those around them.  For example, after I thoroughly researched the German system of defenses against the Royal Air Force’s nightly bombings, I thought my readers would like to know the exact details. Many of my carefully crafted descriptions bore Ed’s notation, “Excessive exposition-does not move the story forward.” That last phrase became a mantra for my editing and rewriting: “If it doesn’t move the story forward, cut or severely compress it.”

Such rewriting is easier said than done, and it can be painful. I think all authors view their work as parents view their children.  Discarding hours of hard research and writing takes great self-discipline. It hurt, for instance, to discard my careful description of Berlin’s massive flak tower/air raid shelters.  But after careful consideration, I had to agree with Ed’s comments. I cut one page to two sentences.  This process includes a careful balancing act. As I wrote in a previous blog post, the reader needs to be able to mentally visualize the story.  Or as the British say, “Put in the picture.” Sensory notations—how the scene looks, smells, tastes, etc.—are  necessary elements.  One needs the readers to feel that, “They are there.”  But always in the background must loom that question, "Does it move the story forward?”

Even more painful can be modifying or eliminating characters. After two or three rewrites, Ed kept questioning one of my major characters—Hermann Goering’s technical adjutant, who devises the scheme upon which the plot rests.  Ed felt he was “a cold fish,” and that he needed major change.  I was surprised by his proposal. I had based the character on an actual Luftwaffe officer who served on Goering’s staff.  But by then, I had come to completely trust Ed’s judgment.  I went back to basic research and soon discovered another actual person upon whom to base my character.  Thus was born perhaps the best character in Fall Eagle One: Major Siegfried von Rall, a swashbuckling frontline bomber commander rated as, “the best pilot in the Luftwaffe.”  Along with Siegfried came my strongest female characters: his mother, a Prussian countess, and his love interest, a woman physician.  Following this last rewrite, both Ed and my agent pronounced the novel ready to shop to publishers. 

Unfortunately, all our work fell on deaf ears at that time.  We were shopping the book in early months of 2002.  We soon learned that publishers were not ready to print a book about aircraft attacking the continental U.S. that soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. Fall Eagle One had to be set aside for a more propitious time.

The story has a happy ending.  The Amazon Kindle version of Fall Eagle One went live in November 2011, and the paperback version on followed the next January.  The book was chosen as a Semifinalist in the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Books of 2012. It sold in the upper 1-2 percent of Kindle sales throughout 2013, and sales remain strong.  The book currently has 61 customer reviews on with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 Stars. Thirty-seven of the reviews are 5-Star. The latest calls it, “One of the best WW2 books ever.” Hard work does pay off.  
Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun set in the war in the Pacific.   

Photo: Lord van Tasm at German Wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons