Monday, December 17, 2007

The Write Stuff at Christmastime

Merry Christmas, everybody! (And y'know what? My Jewish, Buddist, and Muslim friends tell me it isn't in the least bit offensive, and none of them understand why the media has made it a politically incorrect wish, either.)

I should begin by admitting I'm not a "Christmas person". I go through the motions, because my kids and grandkids love all the hooplah. And my husband? Good grief. He's a bigger kid this time of year than the kids are! So I decorate (and people say "Has Martha Stewart been here?"), and I bake (and they ask "Did you inherit Julia Childs's secret recipes?".

One of my least favorite 'get ready' chores is the shopping, because for cryin' out loud, stuff's expensive. And what if I forget somebody? (I believe the whole Hatfield-McCoy feud started cuz somebody forgot to give a Christmas present.) Then there are rude, poorly-raised children who don't even bother to say thank you, even when you've handed out gifts in person. The stores are noisy and crowded with scowling, in-a-rush people who've forgotten The Reason for the Season. And the roads and parking lots? Don't even get me started.
But y'know what I hate worst? Not being able to write!

Even if I don't have a deadline hanging over my head (which is rare), it seems the computer is made of iron, and I've got an invisible magnet inside me. While I'm addressing Christmas cards, running errands, wrapping presents, and performing any of a dozen other mindless chores, my over-fertile imagination is hard at work. Ideas percolate and, like one of those old-fashioned camp coffeepots...

...and all too often fizzle out as they bubble onto my overheated brain.

So I guess in addition to the 14' tree that looks surprisingly like Laura Bush's, and home baked goodies, and gaily-wrapped presents, and a house that glitters and shines like a silver ornament, I'm giving the gift of love. Cuz let's face it: If I didn't truly love these people, no way I'd stay away from my computer this long!

Strange, but during those long, harrowing days between Thanksgiving and New Year's, martyrdom becomes a truly pretty thing. HOHOHOHO!

Seriously, now that I'm 95% ready, I've joined the ranks of those who are looking forward to a big fat stocking, hung by the fireplace with care. (Oh, who am I kidding? I'll settle for a sloppy one with a hole in the toe.) I'm looking forward to Christmas Eve, when my beloved and I attend Midnight Mass, and come home to a peaceful and pretty house to share a cup of mulled wine (and whatever it might inspire ).

Then we'll both settle down for a long winter's nap, knowing centuries ago, during those same hours, the world's most holy miracle took place.

Merry Christmas, everybody. I look forward to hearing from you all soon. Meanwhile, take care of yourself and those you love, and here's hopin' the new year will bring you health, happiness, peace, and prosperity...and a few Dreams Come True.

All my best,
P.S. I just finished a terrific novel, written by Sharlene MacClaren. Courting Emma is going straight to my Keepers shelf!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writing IN SPITE of the US Postal Service

Well, good grief. It's late November already. Thanksgiving is over, and it's time to drag the Christmas decorations out. How did this happen, when only yesterday, it seems, I was making potato salad for our big July 4th shindig?

It's also time to address and stamp Christmas cards. (Yes, I said Christmas cards. My Jewish or Athiest pals know that I respect their religious beliefs--or lack thereof--so they don't have a problem with my choice, either.)

But I digress. My beef today is with the US Postal Service. It bugs me no end to pay nearly fifty cents of every hard-earned dollar to mail cards that, in all likelihood, won't end up where they're supposed to, thanks in no small part to the US Postal Service. (Seriously, there's so little 'service' attached to that once-grand institution that using the word is akin to false advertising.)

If I listed every complaint, why, I'd run out of blog pace. And if I listed the complaints of my neighbors, friends, and relatives? Cyberspace ain't that big, m'friends!

Example: Went to get my mail the other day, and found my across-the-street neighbor's stuff in the box. I opened theirs, thinking mine in there by mistake...and found mail belonging to the people two doors up. And in their box? Mail intended for people who live two streets over, and in theirs, the mail for someone who lives in another zip code!!!

Example: My 85-year old uncle makes one-of-a-kind fishing rods for a living, and sent one to my husband, overnight via the US Postal Service. Two weeks later, he called to see why his ungrateful niece hadn't acknowledged receipt of the gift. He put a tracer on the package that showed up two months a different box.

Example: My royalties check was due May, '07. June rolled around...still no check. Super-suspicious of the post office, I called the publisher's bookkeeping department, and learned they'd mailed the money on May 1, 2007. While they were busy cancelling the check, I filled out direct-deposit forms. And wrote my congressman, the Postmaster General, the Better Business Bureau, and just about any other agency I could think of. Again. Wasting not only my time, but postage, as well, because nothing was done to improve the situation.

Example: This one was 'big news' in Baltimore a few years ago.... A substitute mail carrier dumped every bag, sack, and package in a Columbia park, where she sat munching Fritos and sipping Coke instead of delivering the mail. Rumor had it she opened every envelope that resembled a greeting card, and kept the cash and gift certificates. And what didn't blow away was ruined by the driving rain. When caught, she received some sissified wrist-slap as a punishment. My idea of 'reap what you sow'? "No more mail delivery for you, m'dear, ever!"

The settlers of the Old West received better service from Pony Express riders, who had to contend with robbers, wild animals, and angry Indians! Whatever happened to the duty-bound postmen of our childhood, who lived by their "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night will keep me from my appointed rounds" motto?

Everybody I talk to, here in Maryland and across the country, has experienced numerous problems with the US Postal SERVICE. Complaining accomplishes nothing. Writing letters gets us nowhere. So what are we to do?

We stop leaving Christmas gifts for our letter carriers, that's what. We quit standing in those long lines, waiting our turn to be treated with disrespect and impatience by the so-called professionals behind the counter. We pay a dollar or two more, and send all our packages through UPS, FedEx, Parcel Plus, MailBoxes, Etc. We tell our publishers to direct-deposit advance and royalties checks into our savings accounts. And when the US Postal Service ceases to exist because other companies are doing their job--and doing it better--we'll applaud!

So next time you're wondering why you haven't received a paycheck, or an envelope full of reader mail, don't blame your publisher's bookkeeping department. Don't blame your agent. Blame the high muckety-mucks who run the US Postal "Service". And don't be shy when listing your grievances with them, because at nearly half a buck for each stamp we stick to the upper right corner of every envelope, we have a right to experience the SERVICE promised by the post office.

Merry Christmas, y'all.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book Signings...blaaaa

Good morning, y'all!
This somewhat blurry image to the left was taken at a book signing. (From the right: Anne Knoll, Robin Bayne, Mary Jo Putney, and yours truly.) I plugged it into today's Blog Post because lately, one question keeps coming up at the conclusion my workshops:
What about book signings? Is there any point to them? Do they help 'move' books?
(Okay, so that's three questions, not one, but the theme is the same.)
Book sales are most definitely the result of author signings, but that isn't the main reason we put subject ourselves to such torture. And make no mistake: Book signings can be humiliating, painful, boring, lonely functions where, if we're lucky, we'll sell a dozen books. Unless of course, we're NY Times best sellers like Mary Jo. And since most of us are mid-list unknowns....
We agree to participate in these so-called selling campaigns because it's a great way to meet book lovers, face to face. You can lure a few browsers to your table with Hershey Kisses and M&Ms, and when they grab a handful...all's fair in love and sales.
While they're happily munching free sweets, common decency compels them to make eye contact, participate in a moment of idle chit-chat, prompted, of course, by you. Your charm and wit and friendly personal will inspire even die-hard (insert your genre) haters to pick up one of your books, and pretend to read the back jacket blurb. And half of those will purchase an autographed copy.
Admittedly, the eat-and-buy customers are few and far between. Unless you're a big name like John Grisham or Dr. Phil, they didn't come to the bookstore to meet you. But even if the purpose of their spree that day was to snap up Bill or Hillary's latest tell-all tales, there's the ghost of a chance your book might end up in their take-home stack.
So how do you ensure that at least a few copies of your books will end up on readers' shelves?
You do your homework. And then you just plain work.
Set up signings on dates that makes sense. If your genre is romance, the Friday-through-Sunday prior to Valentine's Day is a smart choice. Horror, on the other hand, will sell better around Halloween. Books with beachy settings sell well to anyone planning seaside vacations. Try to get your author friends to sign with you. Worst case scenario, it's a great opportunity to catch up with what's been going on in one another's personal and writing lives.
Whether you're arranging a group event or a sole-signing, let the bookstore manager know you're willing to help market the event, that you'll set up and clean up and ham it up to help move as many copies of your books as possible.
Then, scope out the space, to determine the best spot for your table. Dress the thing up with a tablecloth, freebies like book marks, magnets, pens and pencils, a vase of flowers or a plant, and of course, the ever-important bait-and-hook baskets of goodies. Photocopy articles written about you, and provide samples of your author's newsletter or blog posts, a stack of business cards.
Make a couple of signs, announcing two-for-one sales, where you can provide one free copy of an old title with the purchase of your latest release. And by all means, display your books in fancy-schmantzy ways, to catch the attention of passers-by.
And unless you broke a leg or sprained an ankle, or were just released from the hospital following major surgery, DO NOT SIT DOWN. Stand at the end of your table, or better still, in front of it. Smile at people as they attempt to walk past you. Say a friendly "Hello!" and if their footsteps hesitate, even the slightest bit, shake their hand and invite them to have a piece of candy, grab a cookie.
Most of the time, I set up a smaller table, equipped with napkins and cups and stirring utensils, an urn of hot water, hot chocolate, instant coffee, tea bags, powdered milk, and sweeteners or, if the weather outside is hot and humid, chilled bottles of water. And while they're preparing their beverage, I explain that, since liquids and books do not good partners make, they need to stand with me while sipping.
And while they drink, and munch, we chat. Never about my books! I make a point to comment on what they're wearing, that cute baby in the stroller, the book(s) they've already decided to buy. Conversations that start with "My but it's hot/cold/wet/dry" will inevitably lead to questions about you, the author, and comments like "I've always wanted to be a writer...."
From that point on? Be your happy self and enjoy their company. When others see you, gabbing and laughing with a bookstore patron, they'll be more likely to step up, find out what all the hub-bub is about. And before you know it, you'll have a small cluster of folks, standing around your table.
If they all buy book, well, that's great. But if only one does? You've still made a sale, because they'll remember the friendly gal or fella who chatted with the day they went shopping for their nephew's birthday gift.
Book signings? Scary?
You bet!
But like Psycho and The Birds, excitement is good for your heart, so by all means, set one up.
Happy writing and successful signing to you all!
P.S. If you aren't published yet, rest assured, you will be.
P.P. S. If you're a reader with no intention of ever writing for publication? Attend your favorite authors' book signings. Even if you don't buy a book, they'll thank you for your support.

Friday, November 02, 2007

...for all the Write reasons

Hey, you guys!

Remember how, as kids, we'd wrinkle our noses and frown when our parents and grandparents said "My, how time flies!" Time, back then, seemed limitless. The days went on and on, no matter the weather...which is how it should be for children today, and for ourselves, too.

I cited the old 'time flies' adage yesterday. Twice! No surprise, really. Life demands that its residents cram 3 days into one. Or try to, at least.

When I get into 'rush mode', I'm reminded of the chipmunks' frenzied scramble to gather enough nuts to see them through the winter. You'd think once spring arrived, they'd slow down a tad, enjoy the fresh new scents and sights that go hand-in-hand with the season.

But they don't.

I can't help but wonder how joyless their little lives must be, with their attentions so acutely focused on staying one step ahead of Mother Nature. It's as if they believe they'll starve to death if they stopped racing, just long enough to absorb the beauty, budding all around them.

How different are we from the adorable rodent-cousins, as we rush hither and yon, driving children to and from school, athletic events, practice, lessons, church activities. We hurry to get the laundry done. Do the grocery shopping. Deposit that check. Put meals on the table (and eat 'on the fly'). Race to 9-5 jobs. Rush through our exercise programs.

The list goes on and on, and it's a rare day when we manage to check every item off our to-do lists. But what price are we paying for our 'get it done, quickly' lifestyles? Are we, like the chipmunks, missing the glory and wonder of our own little corners of the world?

A dear friend passed away very recently. Like the chipmunks, she spent her days (and far too many nights) in a flurry of activity, trying to turn 24 hours into 48. She managed to earn a Masters degree while working full time, performiing volunteer activities for a dozen organizations and charities, while keeping her house in pristine condition and her person the model of perfection. Do you know what this she said on the morning she died? "I should've taken more time to smell the flowers." She didn't say had more time, she wished she'd taken more time. She regretted that, in her drive to get things done, she'd missed important moments in her daughters' lives, in her husband's life, in her marriage.

Time is our most precious commodity; once it's gone, it's just gone, and we can never, ever get it back. Is it important to do the 'things' that keep us healthy and clean, organized, on time? Yep. No doubt about it. But skipping one step, omitting one chore--once in a while, anyway--won't banish us to the Dirty-Tardy time-out chair!

So let's make it a point to slow down today. Just a little. Do something out of the ordinary: Leave one errand un-run, omit one task. Our little corner won't disappear into The Black Hole of Space if we take a brief flight of fancy.

Grab a book, any book, then make yourself a soothing cup of your favorite tea, and savor the words as you sip its comforting brew.

It's my hope that when you step away from your R&R Station, you'll feel refreshed and renewed, energized in a way that enables you to see your loved ones in a new and different light, so that when you say "My, how time flies!", it will be a happy declaration, uttered in joy...not exasperation.

And the added plus: The invigorated new you can import these amazing and wonderful insights into your manuscripts!

Be good to yourselves. You've earned it.

All my best,

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When Y'Wanna Write EVERYTHING

If you're like me, you hate sitting idly while editors and/or agents consider the merits of your latest work. And, if you're like me, you troll the Internet in search of freelance-type writing jobs that'll net enough in spendable cash to keep the wolf from the door.

So you write a snazzy cover letter to send out with your resume. You include your bio, clips of published articles, or a list of your books' ISBNs. Not just a handful, mind you, but a big fat stack of stuff that nearly gets stuck in the mouth of the mailbox.

And while you're waiting for these guys to call and say "Holy moley; the writing gods are smiling on me, cuz you're exactly what we were looking for!", you pace. Stare out the window, wondering where in heaven's name that confounded mailman is. Count the tiles on the kitchen floor. Maybe even try your hand at math: If there are 127 dots on every ceiling tile in your office, and there are 253 tiles, how many spots really are before your eyes?

Then, finally, it happens. The phone rings, and while you're writing fast and furious to keep up with the assignment Editor A is doling out, the mail truck rolls up. Lo and behold, an acceptance in the mailbox, too. Elated, you call Editor B to thank him for the assignment, and promise to get the story in-house well before the deadline.

You get busy, instantly, setting up interviews and researching the topics you'll turn into full-blown articles. And when you lay our weary head down that night, the last thing on your mind is the manuscript that's been idling on Editor C's desk.

Next day, you get two more calls. And another "Hey, give us a jingle, we'd love to work with you" letter. By the time every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed, there are five assignments on your desk. You do some more math: If each article takes 8-10 hours, you've easily racked up 50 hours of work ahead of you. Which wouldn't be a problem...if the articles weren't all due in the same week. And wouldn't ya know, that's the same week your college pal is coming to town, and your spouse scheduled dinner with co-workers, and you promised to bake cupcakes for the White Elephant sale at the volunteer fire company.

So why did you accept five articles, anyway? Why not say 'yes' to one or two, and beg off on the other three?

I'll tell you why. You took 'em all because freelancing makes Tom Cruise's risky business seem like a park walk; if you'd said no, the big fear is, those editors may move on to the next freelancer on their 'whom to call' list and cross you off, literally and figuratively.

Would that really happen? Probably not. Editors aren't stupid. They know a hard-working schmo when they see one. And being among the un-stupid, they also know that if you're too busy to say 'yes' this time, there can be only one reason: Some other smart editor has snapped you up. But it's the 'probably' that hangs us up, that hangs us, if we're not careful.

Having juggled a couple dozen personal and professional balls in a week is something I've done far more often than I care to admit. Doesn't seem to matter that I've established myself as a pro in this wacky industry, that fiction and non-fiction editors alike made it possible for me to make that claim. My schizophrenic brain is convinced that saying no is...well, if not career suicide, then certainly a pellet to the toe.

All-nighters? Survived hundreds of 'em! (Flavored coffee beans really do the trick, and for zero calories!) Is it worth it the dark circles even Maybelline can't hide as I dragging myself to the store to grab the lastest issue of Whatever Magazine, so I can snip out my article and add it to my clip book? Is it too high price to pay to sorta-kinda nod off during the drive to the bank to deposit my paycheck?

Yep. Uh-huh. You bet. Absolutely.

Do I say "Never again!" each time I file a story, then slam onto the mattress like a recently-felled tree? Yeah. I sure as shootin' do. Do I promise to quit beating myself up this way, to practice saying a firm but courteous "no" when editors pile assignment atop assignment? Mmm-hmm, I most certainly do.

Do I turn right around and say "yes" to the very first editor who calls on the heels of some other editor? A-yup. Indeedie. I do.

Am I that insecure? Well, yeah...and so is anybody who believes they're only as good as their last success. Actors, singers, comedians, artists...we all stared into the face of the hideous "But what have you done lately" monster. Doesn't matter if others believe you're sittin' pretty, got it made, reached the top. In your own head, the word NO rhymes with HAS-BEEN.

They don't call me a crazy writer for nuttin'!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writing Despite (you fill in the blank).

Warning: This post contains stomach-turning words like puke and poop!

Yeah, so I'm yawning. Just be glad my dry heaves have passed. Quite a feat, considering I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. to the unmistakable sounds of Pet in Distress. Anyone with a cat or dog knows which noises I'm talking about...starts somewhere deep in their gastrointestinal system and works its way toward the throat, where it gurgles and sputters before becoming a smokin', stinkin', foaming mound beside the bed.

So I fling back the covers and gingerly set one foot, then the other, on the carpet. Experience has taught me to step lightly.... I tip-toed around warm landmines long enough that my success made me cocky. Haha! thought I, not a drop of the stuff between my toes! No sooner had I put the dot under the exclamation point of my boastful thought than squish. Which led to some pretty colorful expletives, whispered between my tightly-clenched teeth.

I'll spare you the remaining gory details. Suffice it to say that half a roll of paper towels and a couple dozen squirts of Resolve later, all was well. Even the dog. But my early-morning wake-up call got me thinkin':

When your day starts out this way, how do you write 'happy'?

It's tempting to finger-stomp around the keyboard, banging out angry scenes and snippy dialog. But gosh darn it, the stuff I'd saved yesterday doesn't call for narrowed eyes and snarling lips, let alone heated words.

I re-read all the adages and cliches stuck to my monitor. To the wall above it and the shelves around it. You know, stuff like "Good enough never is" and "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." But in my mood, they made a bad mood badder. Until I got to the one that goes "Do or do not; there is no 'try'." Happens to be one of my all-time favorites. I use it a lot when things aren't going my way. I find myself wishing, often, that others in my life used it more, too. ("Don't tell me you'll try to remember to wipe peanut butter off the kitchen counter when you make a PB&J sammich, just DO it." "Don't try to blow grass clippings away from my rose garden, just DO it.")

Easier said than done, to cite another oldie. Cuz my fairy godmother ran away from home, decades ago. Sad but true. Packed up her sparkly magic wand and glittery wish dust, and hit the highway, leaving me alone with my wall of 'sage-isms'. Much as I sometimes hate to admit it, Nike's "Just do it" works.

Deep breath, shoulders squared, spine straight, chin up. (That's my "Just do it" posture.) "I don't want to be in this bad mood. Wasn't the dog's fault, after all, that he ate god-knows-what and it didn't agree with him. So get over it, already. The mess is cleaned up. Heck, the house even smells good, thanks to the fresh scents built into the carpet cleaner. So look for the bright side":

I did wake up alive, for starters. The coffee pot didn't leak. Computer fired up, instantly; ditto the Internet. The file I'd saved yesterday popped up on command. And no one was injured while cleaning up doggy vomit.

Suddenly, my strange mind conjured ways I (or the dog) might have been harmed, cleaning up the...well, know.... The image of me, being eaten alive by a pulsing, growing blob of former stomach contents flicked the 'bad mood' switched to 'good mood'. And all is now well with my world. Mostly. If I choose to look for it.

So when you sit down to write and the mood you're in doesn't match the stuff going on in your scenes? Flex your 'picture this' muscles. See your world as it isn't.

Funny stuff, I tell ya.

Now my challenge is, how to get out of this mood before I go to the post office. Those people behind the counter never take the 'service' part of their corporate title seriously if you go in there with a smile on your face.

Happy writing, folks. And may your days be free of doggy...well, you know.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

When Writers Write Wrong

Hey, y'all!

This post will be short (and I'll be back later today to add a real one).

First, I apologize to anyone who has visited, to read, write, or pose a question on a writing-related topic, only to find a long and unweildy list of disgusting comments. Let me stress that these stupid and inappropriate remarks were UNINVITED.

A few health and personal issues have kept me from popping over here to add new blog material, and until this morning, I had no idea! Well, I've just spent a couple of hours deleting some of the comments posted to this blog. Not the nice stuff, not even the stuff that disagrees with my stuff. Just the uninvited, inappropriate trash kinda stuff. It's gone. Ka-put. Erased. Deleted. And I've made changes to what people are allowed to post, to make it more difficult for these wackos to leave their nasty calling cards behind.

But you know the Internet: If there's a way to tear down a protective wall, some sick and twisted pervert will find a way. And y'all know if you drop by and see anything you think I wouldn't approve of, let me know, and I'll speed right over here and axe it from the blog.

Again, my sincere apologies for any offensive garbage you saw here. I intend to visit daily now, so I can slam the door on those obtrusive cyber-bullies. Maybe, if I do it often enough, their fingers will hurt too much to type!

Take care, and stay in touch!

All my best,