Thursday, September 04, 2008

Guess what I just found out?

...there's a site on the World Wide Web whose sole purpose is to provide needed items for U.S. soldiers, serving overseas?

How I missed it is anybody's guess, especially considering it's been around for five years. Yes, five years! But now that I know, I'm gonna howl at the top of my lungs until a whole lot more Americans are aware it exists! and exists so that ordinary citizens like you and me can do our part to thank the brave men and women who put their lives every day they're 'over there' for the sole purpose of keeping us all safe and sound. Most of us can't don uniforms and march the streets looking for potential threats, but we can do this!

Lists (of who needs what and how to get it into their hands) will help you determine just what to send. You can write to the soldiers, too, or comment on the many truly funny jokes they've posted. There are brief bios for each man and woman, so you'll know what rank and branch of the military they're serving.

Seriously, folks, it doesn't matter one whit how you intend to vote on November 4th (as long as you do it). What does matter is that these brave men and women have earn our support every time they button their cammo shirts and lace up their boots. Every last one of us should feel duty-bound to dig deep and share as much as our budgets (and our consciences) will allow.

Okay. That's it. End of my post for today.

Can't wait to hear how many of you have packed up stuff that'll help make a soldier's days a little less scary...and a lot more homey. What better way to say THANK YOU!

Meanwhile, write on, m'friends!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

To Teach or Not to Teach. Oy, what a question!

Hey all!
Meet Casper, a resident of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania and one of the major-minor characters in my latest novel (to be released April, 2009). She's a lone wolf, and has to fight for every scrap of food, every treat, every nanosecond of human affection and visitors' attention. (Personally? I think the other wolves are just jealous cuz she's a natural blonde...especially the girl wolves. But if knowing what a human woman is thinking and/or feeling is tough, imagine trying to figure out what's goin' on in the mind of a female wolf!
What's that got to do, you ask, with today's topic? I thought you'd never ask!
In order to learn all the fascinating and amazing facts that're now stored in my thick-skulled head, I've had to do some serious research, which has included hanging around with people who, thanks to decades of one-on-one work with the magnificent creatures, understand what makes wolves tick...individually and as a pack. So in addition to their limitless patience and deep love for all things wild, these amazing men and women have been excellent teachers.
I can almost see the glare of that light bulb that just lit above your li'l noggin! Yep...right you are...the professionals and volunteers who care for wolves are teachers, just like li'l ol' me. Teaching folks about writing isn't all that different from teaching wolf enthusiasts about canis lupus. We're all a little wild and crazy the first few times we park our butts in front of a computer screen, paws hovering above the keyboard to craft our debut novel. (Oh, who am I kidding? We're always a little wild and crazy...we're writers!)
But I digress....
While we're in the process of 'learning the ropes', we don't know who 'in the industry' we can trust. How much research is really necessary? What's the right balance of dialog and narrative? Should we join a critique group? Good idea to attend conferences? Smart to enter contests? The list of questions goes on and on!
Then we get a lucky break. An agent or editor takes a chance on us. We sell something! And oh, what a wake up call, seeing the 'offer' on our first contract. It's never as much as we'd hoped. It's definitely not as much as friends and relatives presume, but we're thrilled with our paltry advance check. Sadly, the thrill wears off as we grind through the process, from Idea to Development to Submission and the long long editing process that precedes publication. The real eye-opener is trying to make that advance check stretch until our first royalties payment arrives. (Those of us who've distanced ourselves from church find ourselves back in the building, down on our knees, praying the check will have a comma in it!)
We have to learn about marketing and promotions, because these days, unless your name is John Grisham or Ann Tyler, publishers do not invest in cross-country book tours. There are book signings, bookmarks, postcards, newsletters, and a dizzyingly lengthy list of 'stuff we must do' to help sell our books.
So how do we make ends meet while all that's going on? Between the advance and royalties checks? (Between 'this' book and 'that' book's advance and royalties checks?)
I have writer pals who don disguises, so their friends and family members don't recognize them in their waitress aprons, McDonald's caps, plumbers' tool belts, and cleaning lady sweatsuits.
Me? I do stuff that relates to writing.
I write articles about writing. I give speeches on writing. But mostly, I teach writing. Everything from Where Do Writers Get Ideas to How to Submit a Professional Proposal. Fact is, I've been teaching my "Build a Better Novel" classes since the 1990s. I've been to Canada and Europe and a whole lot of cities in the good old U S of A, sharing learned-the-hard-way lessons about the craft and the industry with members of a whole host of writers' organizations. I've taught online. In college and university classrooms. At corporations that encourage their employees to write. I've taught one hour classes. Three hour sessions. Weekend workshops. Founded "Leading Edge Writers Studios" to help writers at every ability level figure out what's missing from their own learned-the-hard-way lessons...things that keep them getting that first contract...or switching gears to make the leap from one genre to another...or stall careers.
Teaching paid a few bills at my house over the years. It also helped garner some free publicity (as schools and organizations 'hawked' the upcoming events in an attempt to increase attendance). I've loved every blessed minute, loved seeing those 'light bulb moments' in the eyes of my students. Loved reading their manuscripts. Loved sharing the joys of their victories. And loved 'being there' to assure them that even the agony that accompanies every rejection is temporary.
But teaching, sadly, hasn't kept up with inflation. These days, believe it or not, it's actually costing me money to teach. And since I'm whittling time from my writing schedule to update and photocopy handouts, to show up on time for every session, to edit and critique student submissions...well, I think you can foresee where I'm going with this....
So when the local college approached me to see if I planned to re affiliate in 2009, I had to ask myself a tough question: Could I afford to say yes?
The answer was even tougher than the question. Because if I hope to stay on the right track in this oh-so-competitive industry, I literally can't afford to say yes!
Will I miss sharing things with hopeful, talented writers? You bet I will! Will I miss seeing their eyes light up every time an "I get it now!" moment happens? Absolutely! Will I miss helping them understand that with perseverance, persistence, and patience, they'll achieve their goals? Sure I will!
I'll have to do all of that from a distance now, in a 'word of mouth' kind of way. And isn't it a dirty rotten shame that this part of my writing life...the 'play it forward' part I've so enjoyed...must end!
I refuse to see the situation as a slamming door. Instead, it's a different door, opening to a whole new phase of my writing life. Just as my students hope for that magical moment, when an editor or agent calls to say "We want to offer you a contract!", I hope that along the way, I can continue mentoring and making friends with those who share my publication dreams.
In the meantime, I'll keep cranking out blog posts we can share triumphs and tragedies of The Writing Life. Come back often. Come back soon. Share how you handle victory...and defeat. Keep letting me know when I've hit the proverbial nail on the head...and when I've banged your thumb, instead.
Next post? The launch of bright shiny new contests where you can win cool stuff. No...not just novels by Loree Lough (though, to be sure, there will be a few of those!), but how-to books, jewelry, wolf collectibles, and more. Share the contest info with your friends, family, and neighbors. Spread the wealth!
Until next time, keep writing, m'friends, and as they say in Ireland "May you never miss a rainbow because you're looking down".
All my best,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Professional Envy, an Ugly Thing

We're taught from an early age not to envy others...or what they have. Score another one for moms everywhere, because boy, did they know what they were talkin' about on that score or what?

I was just talking with a writer pal who'd been talking about another writer pal who'd just slam-dunked a multi-book contract with a major New York house. Big fat advance, higher-than-normal royalties, book tour, ads in the NY Times, the whole schlameezel. Amid my woo-hoos and atta girls, my pal slipped in a couple of snide remarks--punctuated with giggles, lest I think she's envious--which got me t'thinkin' about the sometimes dark and dangerous subject of professional envy.

But before delving deeper into this quicksand-like subject, let's define the difference between envy and jealousy:

Jealousy, for the most part, involves three people (you, your lover, your lover's lover), whereas envy concerns two (you, and that no-talent hack who got a book contract on the heels of your latest rejection). Envy isn't resentment, longing, or desire. Envy is more malicious than that. It's what prompts a seemingly nice person like my writer pal to make wise cracks that smack of, well, envy!

Simply put, envy is the result of wanting something somebody else has. Doesn't matter much if that something is a better car, a bigger house, a nicer vacation, a prettier face, a more curvaceous figure, or a book contract. Envy is the ugly emotion that made my usually nice writer pal a bona fide member of the Greedy Pig Club (hereafter referred to as GP). GPs rarely take into account that the object of their envy worked hard for many years to achieve whatever it is they have that turns others into green-eyed monsters. Instead, GPs become angry and resentful, and if gone unchecked, their envious behavior can turn a friend into an enemy.

Thomas Aquinas said "Envy according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity ... charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while envy grieves over it." The GPs of the world will not be happy to hear you've just made the best deal of your career. Why? Because they want what you've got. And rather than admit they could have it, too, if they'd pay the price you paid to get it, they narrow their eyes and purse their lips and cuss (not always under their breath) while madly scribbling 'how in the hell did that happen?' and 'ways I'd like to torture her' and 'why not me' lists.

Aristotle defined envy as "the pain caused by the good fortune of others". Right on, Ari! Cuz make no mistake, m'friends: GPs suffer big time when peers' careers advance!

Of all the emotions out there, two scare me and tick me off more than the rest. Envy is one of 'em. It didn't become one of the Seven Deadly Sins by happenstance. It wasn't the inspiration for poetry, movies, or songs 'just cuz'. It wasn't carved onto stone tablets cuz God was thinkin', "Well, they're good people, but just in case...."

Envy has been around since the dawn of Man. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Cave Man A clubbed Cave Man B to death because he envied the size of B's...cave. (Though, technically, that would fall more into the 'jealousy' category. But it started out as envy.) It isn't new to stories, nor is it new in stories; Shakespeare included it in Othello and The Merchant of Venice, to name just two.

But I digress.

My most memorable experience with envy occurred some years ago, after I'd earned dozens of book contracts. I happily mentored a woman whom I believed to be a close personal friend, devoting countless hours to editing and critiquing her manuscripts in the hope she could join me on Published Authors Row. She managed to win one contest, get one short stories included in my friend's anthology, but never managed to get That Book published the traditional way. (If she'd taken my advice, might a publisher have offered a contract? If she'd made some of my suggested changes, would she have been forced to self-publish the book? Who knows.)

But again, I digress....

I had many more years in the business and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, but that never entered her head. Envy of what I'd achieved began eating away at our relationship. She grew angry and edgy, spiteful and resentful, and showed it in her rude behavior and cutting comments. I chalked it all up to a snobbish, domineering, know-it-all slob of a spouse, rather than admit she'd started seeing me as a rival.

Then one day, while I was recuperating from a serious illness, she visited. As I sipped tea, she asked to borrow my copy machine. I didn't have the energy to accompany her into my office, but she'd been a friend for more than a decade, had been in there dozens of times. Never crossed my mind that she'd steal from me.

It wasn't until weeks later, when I read an item in a writers' organization newsletter, that I realized she'd visited with a calculating and deliberate purpose: To photocopy my lesson plans and an important business plan (one of a dozen things she stole that afternoon) and pass them off as her own.

But don't feel sorry for me, dearies, because I wasn't the real victim, here. It was my GP. What's more, I believe she saw herself as a victim, as well. (I've since figured out she's also a raging narcissist, but that's a whole other blog.) Envy, for her, came with feelings of entitlement that helped her rationalize the crimes she'd committed. (That, and like all good narcissists, she found another author to 'feed' offa.) She resented me to the point of hatred for having accomplished what she wished she could have accomplished. Was it low self-esteem, self-loathing, or laziness that blinded her to the fact that I worked for everything I have, struggled to reach every goal in my life, including those of 'the writing kind'? Only she knows the answer to that.

The power of her envy prompted every thought and action, allowed her to rationalize away all the bad stuff she'd said and done. Envy is like that, see. It gets inside you and, if you let it, behaves like a hungry parasite, feeding on what used to be your good nature, your pride and dignity, your honesty.

To paraphrase Bertram Russell, envy is one of the major causes of unhappiness. That's putting it mildly, cuz that gal, m'friends, is still one of the unhappiest human beings I've had the displeasure of knowing.

Let's not forget that envy is a very normal human emotion, one that impacts all of us at one time or another, regardless of social class, race, religion, age, or gender. Most of us quickly get it under control, but if left unchecked, it's powerful and dangerous.

But envy can be a very good thing...

...if it inspires us to work harder, reach farther, broaden our horizons, improve who or what we are in an attempt to 'grow' to the heights of those we admire.

Call me Pollyanna, but when I hear that a friend, acquaintance, relative, or neighbor finally got the car they've been saving for, moved into the home of their dreams, returned from an adventurous vacation, signed a book contract, or saw one of their novels turned into a movie, I'm genuinely happy for them! The joy of their successes and achievements spills onto me. How can that be a bad thing!

So, alla you writers out there, next time you feel a twinge of envy because one of your pals moved up a rung on the Writing Ladder of Success, don't wallow in self-pity. Don't speculate which relative is the editor or agent who made it all possible. Don't trod on her talents. Don't call her everything but an author. Turn in your Greedy Pig Club membership card, immediately!

Then write her a note. Tell her how happy you are about her good news. Say "High fives!" and "Thumbs up!" Then get on your knees and pray like crazy that fifty more of your writer pals will move up another rung, so you can write each of them a similar note.

I guarantee that by the time you sign that 50th "Congratulations!" card, you'll actually mean it.

Until next time, keep writing...and before you know it, your writer friends will be high-fiving and thumbs-upping you!

Oh...and the other emotion that scares me and ticks me off? Self-pity. Don't worry, I'll save that one for another blog. hehehehehehe

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is it venting, or is it writing? (Or is it both?)

It's been a while since my last blog entry, so let me start by saying HOW THE HECK ARE Y'ALL!

Me? Oh, I'm fine'n'dandy. Right as rain. Sound as the, I'm in way better shape than that. Life here in my neck of the woods is just plain goooooooooood.
But that doesn't mean I can't find something to complain about. (I'm a woman after all; b-i-you-know-what-ing comes naturally to us.)
Today's gripe?
Maybe I'm 'dating' myself, but I've lived and breathed long enough to remember when the FCC had some control over stuff that ended up inside every boob tube. Some brilliant-oso decided it was in our best interests to keep advertisers from hawking all tobacco products via television airwaves. Ditto booze. And an unwieldy list of other stuff that, because we can't dot an "i" or cross a "t" without the government's help, they got rid of. For our own good. And nobody knows better than Big Brother what's for our own good.

Unfortunately, Big Brother sees no harm in TV ads for tampons. Hmpf! I once read about a young lass who put one of those babies where the sun didn't shine; she needed ER assistance to remove it. Think of the consequences if it hadn't been removed quickly.

Remember the story about the silly woman who thought Lemon Pledge was an iced tea flavoring? She got oh-so-sick, I tell you, but did that prompt Big Brother to enforce a "No Scented Cleaning Products" ban?

People hear promises to cure baldness. Improperly used, well...all I can say is...this could become one warm and fuzzy nation, yet nobody has seen fit to cut those commercials.

But I digress. The real source of my distress isn't what is being advertised. It's the volume of those commercials that annoys me. Honest...I've done numerous tests, right here in my cozy family room. On my TV set, programs air at Volume Level Eight, whereas the average volume of commercials is (get this!) THIRTY. So my question to Big Brother is...isn't noise pollution a hazard? Isn't it dangerous for us all? (The only reason I can think of to explain why the FCC has completely relaxed its legally-enforceable rules and regulations throughout the country is...they've bought Miracle Ear stock. Lots and lots of Miracle Ear stock.

You may be asking when I intend to address the opening question of this blog: Is it venting, writing, or both?

It's both. Because I can't possibly be the only American who resents having manufacturers and service industries blasting company-related information at decibel levels that literally vibrate my window panes. Surely there are citizens who fear that one day, blood will ooze from their ears during one of those omygawd-that-is-WAY-too-loud advertisements.

Maybe instead of wasting our time on 'let's not buy gas on Tuesday; that'll show those greedy oil producing honchos a thing or two about price-gouging!' boycotts (which do no good whatever, anyway, since people instinctively buy gas the day before or after), we should write the people who pay to make these screaming-yelling-bellowfest commercials. Let's inform them that, until they lower the volume, we ain't buying their tampons, deodorants, cleaning products, cars, or Miracle Ears, period!

See, the way I look at it, when our written words have an impact, when they improve the world, even in some small way, we've used our talents wisely.

Well, that's it for this installment of The Lough Down, ladies and gents. Now I'm off to begin my List of Offensive Commercials. Tomorrow, I'll send letters of complaint to every company on it.
And if you do the same, maybe we can help the poor 'nobody respects us' FCC take back control of their own rules and regulations!

(Hey...if Lady Bird Johnson could start a campaign to get rid of hideous highway signs, why can't we clean up the airwaves by eliminating those deafening commercials!)

'Til next time, dearies, take care!