Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lessons

Back in the day when I first married and anticipated the joys of parenthood, my thoughts were all about the things I would teach my children. Kindness, love, fairness...you know, 'parent' things. I didn't even consider what I might learn from them.

The number one, absolute top lesson I learned is child logic is completely different from adult logic. The hunk and I were once awakened early on a Saturday morning by frantic knocks on our bedroom door. Sleepy inquiries elicited the information that there was a fire in the boys bedroom. The hunk leaped out of bed, starkers, and rushed to their room. Sigh.

The mattress was smouldering. Next to the bed, a merry little blaze was gaining ground...a campfire. Sticks. One of the firestarters I'd made for camping from paper egg cartons and wax. And a wide swath of newspaper.

The hunk carted the mattress outside, dumping it on the patio, while I smothered the fire with some baking soda. Once the fire was out, we cleaned up the mess. Score? A burnt mattress, scorched carpet, and two scared kids. In the 'discussion' that followed, one bit of logic came out that still stuns me to this day. WHY were there newspapers spread under their campfire?

To keep the carpet from getting dirty.

Number two--they have no comprehension of greater consequences. When our children were young, super human television stories were popular. Bionic Man. Wonder Woman. Our son leaped from the roof (how he got up there is a different story), because? He was the Bionic Man, of course. Naturally.

Another time, after taking the kids to the circus, we found the boys standing on their dresser, holding on to a piece of twine they had tied to the overhead lamp (another story for later). They were prepared to practice trapeze moves. Yes, I know. Twine does not equal a sturdy rope, but there's that consequences issue I mentioned.

And then there's the time our daughter walked out into the street in front of a car. Fortunately, the driver wasn't going fast and stopped in time. When she (rightly) yelled at our daughter, she and I were both dumbfounded by her little girl logic. Yep. You guessed it--she was Wonder Woman so the car couldn't possibly hurt her.

Number three...children have no filter when it comes to talking about their home life with outsiders. Sometimes, this is an excellent thing especially if they are in an abusive situation. Other times, well, let's just say it can make things iffy if someone decides to call in the authorities.

Take the time someone gave us a couch. We stashed the old one out in the garage until we could arrange to borrow a truck to take it to the dump. During this same time period, the two boys were going through a very normal stage where they didn't want to share a bedroom. Our older son decided he would sleep on the couch in the garage. No problem. We left the house door to the garage unlocked, and I figured the new arrangement wouldn't last long.

That wasn't exactly the way it went. He went to school and excitedly shared the new arrangement with his fourth grade class and teacher. Only what he told them was he now slept in the garage. Period. A very nice CPS lady came out to check out the situation. After an exhaustive discussion over coffee and cookies and a good laugh, she went off to file her report, clearing us of any wrongdoing. And a couple weeks later without comment, he decided he'd rather sleep in the bedroom with his brother.

My children are all grown now, some with children of their own. I freely admit I have a private laugh when they call me, ready to pull out their hair over something their children have done. They do say what goes around, comes around.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book of the Day

 Recently, on my Facebook page I've started a Book of the Day post. It's not long. Book of the Day. Title. Author. And, just to be clear, these are not books I've written. They're books from my library.

It used to be book recommendations were passed along by discussing books over coffee or at a party or heck, even in line at the grocery store. That doesn't happen much, anymore. Some people check out on-line book groups. I don't. Many are genre specific and others are...unfriendly. I tend to talk about books I've read on a face-to-face basis, even if that is on social media.

So. Each day I'll post a title and author from my own library. Perhaps a reader will reminisce about the enjoyment they received from reading it. Maybe someone will discover a new-to-them author. Why some folks might even step out of their comfort zones and try new genres. I hope so.

This is my way of spreading the wealth. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Grandmother

When I was ten my mother died in a car accident. My family was literally in the process of moving from Arizona to Indiana when the accident happened so on top of losing my mother, I also lost home, friends, and all that was familiar to me. When we settled in Indiana, my grandmother lived with us as a surrogate parent/caregiver. I didn't know her as we had lived too far away to visit very often.

My grandmother taught second grade for many, many years--long enough that the grandparents of her current students frequently showed up to remind her she had also been their teacher. My mother was the quintessential stay home mom so I was unfamiliar with a female role model who went to work every day. We had the summer to get to know each other and then in the fall, it all changed.

Dad was home in the afternoons, still grieving and mostly hibernating, while Grandmother went off to work each day. I vaguely remember that my brothers did not adjust well at all that year to all the changes. I was too busy dealing with my own problems. Fortunately, I discovered the bookmobile and books became my salvation.

But, I did learn important lessons in that year after my mother died. I learned to be independent. My mother was a model mother, cooking, cleaning, doing everything and expecting nothing from us kids. It was pretty normal child-rearing for the 50s. The thing was--we didn't know how to do anything. We never learned.

On the day my mother died, my father was caught up in trying to find a place to unload our possessions so he could use our pickup truck to drive back to Arizona for my mother's funeral. I vividly remember him handing me a can opener, a can of tuna, and a loaf of bread and telling me to feed my brothers (who were all younger than me). I had no idea how to use a can opener. I had no idea what to do with the tuna. I had no basic survival skills.

Well, that summer I learned. My grandmother was not one to do all the work while idle hands were available. Her teaching method was basically, learn by doing. And there was a lot to learn. It had never occurred to me to wonder how food arrived at the table. Oh, I knew my mother did 'stuff' out in the kitchen and then 'poof', food was ready. My grandmother involved me--willy-nilly--in the whole messy process.

I learned how to wash dishes. I took out the trash. I made my bed. And helped with the laundry. All normal things to learn at my age, but let me tell you, I wasn't impressed. I wanted to go back to the old model where I played or daydreamed or read all day and I wasn't happy when I realized that life was over. Grandmother was firm about her expectations. Everyone works. Everyone. Even my little brothers learned to pick up after themselves.

The other thing I learned was personal responsibility for my behavior. I remember pounding into the house, all hot and bothered about something a friend did, just bursting to share my story. Grandmother listened. Then she told me to sit at the table and she pointed out several problems with my story. She showed me the event wasn't one sided. And when I wanted to argue, she shut it down. "If you can't say something good about your friend, then keep it to yourself. That way you won't have to apologize later for hard words you wish you hadn't said."

Unbeknownst, that was a lesson I was already dealing with. The day before my mother died, I was angry with her and shouted out, "I wish you were dead!" Months later, Grandmother's words reinforced the painful lesson.

Grandmother is long gone now. All my grandparents are gone. They were a powerful influence in my life. And I'm so thankful I was privileged to know them.  

Friday, April 6, 2018

How'd you like it?

One thing I have learned in the last eleven years...never ask a reader how they liked my books. They might tell me--and if they were 'meh' or worse--I don't want to know. I suppose I should clarify here. If I'm asking an editor/beta reader for their opinion, it's an effort on my part to improve my writing. I do want to hear what they have to say. I am actively soliciting their opinion.

But once the book is published, I won't ask for a review. I gratefully accept all reviews. But asking (for me) borders too close to expecting a positive outcome. Several years ago, when I first started my blog, I did Friday reviews of my fellow newbie authors' books. I saw the reviews as a way I could help out other new authors.

A very wise friend pointed out a huge pitfall in my Friday reviews. What would happen when I read a book I didn't care for? Then what was I going to write? After all, there's a big difference between a friend reviewing a book--and a professional reviewer. For one thing, that reviewer doesn't know the author. A friend? Well, that's different.

It's the same in reverse. What will they say if they don't like the book? New writers, in particular, have very fragile egos. A bad review can be devastating. A good review might be a lie.

I confess I love a good review. I'm enough of a perfectionist that I agonize over a four-star review, wondering what I could have changed to elicit a five-star review. And the truth is it's all subjective at best. It so often depends on how the reader feels that day, what their past is, what the weather is like...

I once received a one-star review because the book was too short. It was a book advertised as a 'quickie'. Another time I received a one-star review from a woman who totally trashed my book, then concluded by saying she had cramps and couldn't sleep so she was looking for something light to read.

There's only one way to deal with a bad review. Read it carefully to see if you can learn any thing from it. And then, walk away. Some bad reviews are simply irrational. There's nothing you can do about them.

And for the rest? Enjoy the good ones. Ignore the bad ones. And move on.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Road Trip

I LOVE a good map. I have an extensive collection of road maps, old maps, atlases, and home drawn maps. I've talked to some authors and readers who don't understand the importance of a good map. After all, we have GPS...right?

I don't. Never had it. Don't want it. It's just another way for folks to know where I am/what I'm doing. If anyone doesn't believe that, they haven't been paying attention to your average crime show. I haven't gone anywhere exciting lately, but who knows? I might.

I use maps to plan my strategy when I write. Are there mountains nearby? Caves? Rivers? How can I use them in the story? Often, the geography of an area can serve as an antagonist.I don't understand authors who fail to use this resource.

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who have inherent direction finders in their brains. And those who can't find their way across the street without their GPS. This is exactly why I advocate everyone learning how to read a map. When/if the power grid goes down, everyone should know how to get out of town. Seriously.

Waaaaay back when the hunk and I first married, we decided to celebrate our six-months anniversary by taking a road trip. Chicago to Arizona. We were about two hours down the road when the hunk told me to check our next route change. And we discovered the atlas was at home. Well, he panicked.
I told him I would get us there with no problem.

Not to put too fine a point, he didn't believe me until I directed him to turn into my grandparents' driveway...three days later. We drove straight there with no detours. No getting lost. He never got over it. And that's how I ended up as the family navigator. I can get us almost anywhere, but I always like to check out the maps first.

Speaking of checking...if you're an author and you're going to mention a specific route number, make sure you check that it actually goes where you say, because I once threw a book across the room when an author didn't check...wasn't even close...and I never read another of her books. It's a simple thing to check--and if you can't check such a simple thing, what does that say about the rest of the 'facts' in your book?

Get a road map. Use it. Don't get lost!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Giveaways


Back in the day, back when I was a total newbie, I thought I had to have something to give to potential readers when I went to conferences. Everyone else was handing out pens and keyrings and little notebooks. Well, those things cost money--money I didn't have. So I gave out pocket rocks. And hair piks.

The pocket rocks were from my Camelot series and the hair piks were from my Mystic Valley series. I thought they would have the advantage of novelty. My daughter and her family were living with us. Everyone in the family was dragooned into painting or some other step in the process. When it was time for the conference, off I went, secure in the belief I had some fabulous giveaways.

Well, it didn't exactly go that way. At the end of the conference, I had a lot of rocks and piks. A reviewer stopped at my table and offered to take them to mail out in various reader packs, so I gave most of them to her. Every one of them had my web page painstakingly printed on them. They weren't expensive, but sure did take hours to make.

And the takeaway? I can't point to even one sale I made from them. And that was supposedly the point, according to all the author advice out there. Get your name in front of potential buyers!

I expect you're wondering why I'm bringing this up now. Well, everyday new writers stumble on to the publishing scene, overwhelmed with advice and helpful tips. Here is mine. Don't waste your money with giveaways in the belief you will attract new readers. Most of the people who take them are already fans. That's okay. Readers deserve extra little rewards. But you really don't need hundreds of them.

The other reality? Many of the folks I talked to packed the stuff from conferences, carted it home, and promptly dumped it in the trash. I have to say the few I discussed this particular conference with told me they still had their rock...or hair pik. So. I guess you could say my hard work paid off. My name is still sitting on their desk.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Message

The phone rang this afternoon. I glanced at the caller ID, saw it was a local number I didn't recognize, and ignored it. Until the caller said my name, her first name, and the admonition to "Call me."

Not so remarkable in the general scheme of things except A) I don't know anyone in this area named Ginnie (Virginia) and B) I didn't recognize the voice at all. Will I call her back? No. If she calls again and leaves a more detailed message, possibly. But based on a name I don't recognize, a phone number I don't recognize, and a non-message, no.

I know there are folks out there who answer every single phone call, but at our house, we don't. Our criteria for answering is: a phone number we recognize, a name we recognize, or a detailed message that identifies the individual calling and what their business is with us. Possibly harsh, but I've answered my share of scam calls and I'm not interested in answering any more.

The rule here is: State your name. State your business. Explain why I should return your call.

You'd be surprised at the number of calls that are hang-ups. Seems to me they must not need to speak to me if they can't give simple information. I feel it's a matter of good manners. A phone is just as much a portal to my privacy as my front door. No one would expect me to open the door to someone I don't know. Who would do that?

Do you want to talk? Tell me who you are. Tell me why I should answer the phone. Simple.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Insidious Censorship

Books, whatever form they take (print, digital, audio) are under attack. At the moment, the focus seems to be romance books, but there are rumblings about other genres taking the same hit. And what form might this attack be? Rankings on Amazon.

Now, I'll be the first writer to raise my hand and confess that rankings were never something I've been too concerned about because my books are so low in the rankings as to be invisible. However, the rankings are now truly invisible. Amazon has arbitrarily decided certain books are offensive. In order to make it harder for readers to be exposed to such books, they've stripped all rankings so those title don't appear in a reader query.

Censorship is a slippery slope--especially censorship based on some nebulous individual's idea of what is offensive. In this case, apparently, reading romance will lead to sex-trafficking. Yep, romance authors are in the forefront of world wide sex-trafficking because their books dare, I say dare to mention the S word...and I'm not talking about snow.

On another front, I read a couple pieces today stating Microsoft was going to take a greater interest in how their products are used (including Word) and to that end they will start searching out offensive material. There's that word again--offensive. Who decides what is--or is not--offensive? And again, recent legislation related to sex-trafficking has been cited for the reason for this sudden intrusion.

So, I just wonder how the Bible would stand up to this form of censorship...considering all those stories about sexual slavery, incest, rape, stoning...not to mention child marriage, etc. I have nothing against the Bible. I was reared in a Bible reading home. But it's strange how censorship is in the eye of the beholder. Folks out there cheering the current wave of changes might want to consider how those same standards could be used to censor almost all sacred texts (Bible, Koran, etc.) because they all contain passages that would apply.

I've always found it interesting how people don't understand how laws that restrict rights of others can be used to restrict their own, with the right government in power. I say, be careful how you rejoice in your victory. When all the writers are silenced, who will they come for next?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Tribe

I read a lot of posts on social media...many of them describing discouragement or loneliness or anxiety and yes, even anger. I suppose such ailments have always been around. But in this day of instant media, perhaps we are more aware of our fellows and their feelings. Perhaps the very anonymity of the Internet permits them to admit to such feelings.

In my younger days, it seems to me there wasn't as much angst and worry. I think it might have been because we had a tribe. Now, the Internet is the tribal substitute and let's face it, it isn't doing the job. It's okay for fast communication, but less efficient when one person needs to have a heart-to-heart with another. This substitute cannot arrive with a 1/2 gallon of ice cream and listen to our woes. It can't provide a week's worth of meals for our family when we're in the hospital. It can't hold us when we suffer the loss of a loved one. And we can't provide those long distance, either.

That's why we have a tribe. Tribes are comprised of family and friends. The friends might be co-workers, though my experience tells me this is not likely. They might have other things in common with us such as church, sports activities, or hobbies. Mostly, though, they're simply friends of the heart. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think most folks have fewer members in their tribes.

One reason for this is mobility. We live all over the world, often thousands of miles from each other and it's inevitable that we gradually lose the intimacy necessary for true tribal cohesion. For instance, I have four children, three siblings, various cousins, aunts and uncles, and parents. The closest are my two children who both live five hours away from me. I have vague ideas about how their lives are going, but no real involvement in their lives.

For true tribal cohesion you need immediacy. And frequent contact. Somehow, so gradually we missed it, we've allowed social media to take the place of our tribe. And when an Internet 'friend' wanders away, well, we don't miss them for long because we're not really involved, are we? They really aren't our tribe.

If we are going to have the comfort and support of a tribe, we first have to build one. We have to exert the effort to join our lives with others around us.

Or we can just sit back and let the fleeting relationships on the Internet act as our substitute tribe. In that case, we shouldn't be surprised if we are lonely or anxious or any of the other separation issues that seem rampant in our world today.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Skill Sharing


I think we don't share enough. Our skills, that is. Now, you might believe you don't have a skill worth sharing, but everyone does. Everyone. So what kind of skills am I talking about? Well, anything that can be passed on to someone else.

I learned to embroider from my grandma. She taught me how to cross-stitch on checked gingham. Simple patterns were easy to follow by only using the white squares. And the corners easily defined where to stick the needle. But in addition to that, I learned some other basic skills, such as how to use a thimble, how to thread a needle, how to make a decent knot, and how to take care of my tools. When my project was finished, I also had something to show for my work.

A friendly neighbor taught me how to knit when I was newly married. I made a sweater for my oldest child, and a few winter scarves before life took up so much of my time and knitting went by the wayside for quite a long time--but I never forgot the actual skill of knitting. Forty-plus years later, when I wanted to learn how to knit a sock, those old skills came back.

Another friend taught me how to crochet (which in some ways is an even more practical skill) and after the hunk had double carpel tunnel surgery I taught him how to crochet, too. Over the years, he's crocheted probably fifty blankets/afghans, several placemats, and a bunch of soap hangers. I on the other hand, have crocheted two or three blankets, half a dozen baskets, and some little squares we use to protect our furniture from tea, water, coffee, hot chocolate, and hot mugs. I forget what they're called.

By now, I can see the fellows rolling their eyes. But you know, that's sexist if you are. My dad taught me how to use a screwdriver and hammer and how to measure things before I used a saw. A hand saw. I've changed oil on several cars. I've changed tires. And when we had a vehicle that wasn't so tall, I filled my own wiper fluid, checked the other fluids, and put air in the tires. You know--all those manly skills.

I've painted walls/ceilings, built bookcases, sided a house, helped roof a house (twice), changed a muffler during an ice storm, repaired a water pipe under my house that broke during a freeze, and repaired numerous toilets/sinks/and disposals.

All of these I consider life skills.

My neighbor and friend--actually several of them--taught me how to cook. When I married, I literally burned water more than once. But friends stepped in and I have a pretty wide variety of dishes I know how to cook (most of them are nutritional) and a growing lists of baking skills. I was never much of a candy maker, and that's no doubt a blessing. I made sure all of my children had basic cooking skills. And basic sewing skills. And knew how to do laundry. But I know there are people out there who don't have those skills, so if you see someone struggling, offer to teach them how to do something. In this world of increasing food costs and rocketing obesity, good cooking skills are important. Maybe even life-changing.

But, you know...homey, cozy skills aren't the only ones we need to share. I bet you've never thought about sharing driving skills. There's more to learning how to drive than turning the ignition key and keeping the car in your lane. Long range planning is important. Know where you're going. Make sure you're in the correct lane well ahead of time before you need to turn. Know how to read the traffic. Know how to read a map. I figure if the power grid ever crashes (taking all those GPS' with it), the folks that get where they need to go will be the map readers. Know more than one route to get where you want to go. And for those people who know someone with dyslexic issues, consider the fact that those issues can also affect directional problems and number problems. Help them learn how to drive with landmarks and other aids.

We live in an illiterate world. A staggering number of adults don't know how to read. If you know someone like that, offer to teach them. The hunk made it all the way through school--and graduated--without learning to read above 2nd grade level. I taught him to read when we married. I've taught co-workers to read. And friends. And neighbors. Not knowing how to read isn't shameful, but knowing someone is struggling and not offering to help, is. One way to help while preserving the feelings of someone is to barter teaching skills. That non-reader might be a whiz woodworker. Learn from each other.

Everyone has a skill. Instead of hanging out on the Internet or vegging out in front of the TV, get out there and find someone to share your skill with. Somewhere, someone needs exactly what you know.



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dreams

Most children don't wake up one day and decide they have a dream, a destiny to work toward. Most meander along, watching life pass by, believing they have years to worry about their dreams. And then life stops. And the dreams are unfulfilled.

Thousands of children die every year, every month, every day in horrible, horrible ways. They might die by gunshots. Or car accidents. They might be abused, raped, and tortured--and then die. Some are starved to death or locked in dark closets. One child I read about froze to death. Another was drugged. Some die from bombs or other forms of terrorism. For every child who dies, a dream is unfulfilled.

Lost dreams.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pain and Agony


Every day I wake up with pain. Every day. I believe most people over thirty wake up in pain, deal with pain, go to sleep with pain every day. Here's the thing...it's so pervasive, people don't notice it, or ignore it, until it reaches well past the manageable stage. Mostly, what people do is make excuses for pain.

"It's probably arthritis." Arthritis gets blamed for a lot of pain, maybe unfairly. Maybe...it's overusing a joint. Or repetitive motion. Could just be sleeping in the wrong position. And it might literally be something you ate.

"It's just a low grade fever." Yeah? So what's causing this low grade fever? Is you body fighting something you're not paying attention to?

"I have back issues." Number one reason for back issues is? Sitting, sitting, sitting. If you don't have 'em now, you will if you continue to sit. Move around. Set a timer to remind you.

However, few people complain about pain because they don't remember what it's like to live without it. You can actually become so inured to pain that you ignore it in the general business of living--until you're incapacitated. Then it becomes a life changing issue.

I think we're wrong to ignore it. We do ourselves a disservice, possibly preventing an issue from being treated in a timely manner, because, well--it's just a little pain. Women, in particular have been taught their entire lives to just deal with it. Horrible menstrual pain? Deal with it. Vague chest or back pain? Deal with it.

Well, damn it! No. Don't deal with it. Do something about it. See a doctor, and if he/she waves it off, see another until you find one who takes you seriously. Because the doctor isn't living with your pain. You are. Male, female, old, young, if you have chronic pain, speak up. Fix it.

Fix it before you have to live with pain and agony.