Don’t assume, ask–a rule to live by

When I was a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, one of the highest honors you could get was to be chosen as a school Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signcrossing guard. Remember those kids? They would wait with the professional guard and help others cross the street, take care of stragglers, all that sort of thing.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid, Ohio, in order to be selected as a student guard, you had to have all A’s and B’s and be a good, reliable student. I’d transferred to the school in fourth grade, so I didn’t get chosen right away, of course, and that was fine. So in fifth grade, I was ready when they announced the names, because I always had good grades and was a teachers’ pet kind of gal. But they didn’t announce mine.

So I worked even harder, and when they announced the names for sixth grade, I just knew I’d be included. They nominated other girls who lived on my street. They nominated just about every one of my classmates in the top reading group. But they didn’t pick me.

I was devastated.

What was wrong with me? I mean, I remember being one of those nerdy kids the cool kids picked on. My stepmother had an odd sense of children’s fashion, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But this could have been a real self-esteem builder and verification to the other students that I wasn’t a total loser.

It took me awhile, but finally I got up the courage to ask my teacher why I hadn’t been selected. She smiled quite fondly and said, “Oh, Barbara dear, we didn’t think your parents would let you participate.”

So they hadn’t even given me the chance to ask if I could–the school officials had just made that decision for me. Expecting I’d be disappointed by my parents saying ‘no,’ they were being kind by not inviting me.  Forty years later, I still feel that disappointment and loss of vindication.

Raising children on the spectrum brings me into a confrontation with this issue a lot. How often do others–or even us as parents–leave our kids out of activities because it’s assumed they won’t like it/do well at it/be interested? Are we being kind when we shield them from potential failure?

If I assumed that Little Miss couldn’t deal with loud activities because of her sensory issues, she’d never have signed up for chorus, which is one of her favorite classes at school now. She loves singing at concerts. IMGP0394

She would have missed one of the greatest concerts we ever attended–and one she loved–because we’d have skipped it rather than helping her cope with a set of good headphones and a blanket to cover her head when it got overwhelming.

We might have assumed that she couldn’t compete with other children in the county fair contests, but she tended her flowers and won a ribbon every year. She attended dance classes, even though she opted out of the performance. That was okay with me, because I asked her opinion first. She wanted to dance with Miss Heather, but she didn’t want to participate in the end of season event. I don’t see that as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, I see it as someone who’s empowered to make their own choices for age-appropriate activities.

The boys, too, have been offered options–martial arts classes, music classes, theater classes, after school gaming sessions. They don’t choose many, not being particularly ambitious. But they get the first chance of refusal, which I believe is the right way to go.

What about you? Have there been events or activities you’ve offered to your children that you thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t like or be able to participate? Is it better to keep them from the disappointment of failure? What have they tried and succeeded at that surprised you?

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VoodooDreams_w7507_medOn the same note, I will not assume that you don’t like free books, but I will ASK if you’re interested in this, the third book of the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyers series, standalone novels of romantic suspense, all with a heroine who’s a lawyer in the great city of Pittsburgh. VOODOO DREAMS is FREE for Kindle December 17-21. You may get one for yourself and as many friends as you think would like it for Christmas! Here’s the storyline:

When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious–but handsome–lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast.

Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He’d much rather devote himself to her–especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger.

Strangely compelled to follow the riddle’s clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?

 

Thinking outside the traditional writer’s box

There’s a big debate going on over at Pennwriters right now between those who have been published traditionally and those who aren’t about which writers “should” do.

The old guard insists that if you want to write novels you must get them to one of the five big houses, get the publicity machine and promotion. Of course this means you have to get an agent. If you’re a writer who has tried to do either, chances are 99 times out of a hundred, it’s just not happening.

The old guard then cites the urban legends of authors who just kept sending out until sure as heck, that 101st letter did it. And maybe they did. More power to them.

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a lot about the state of publishing, and indeed about the world of communication in general. Time Magazine did a whole series of articles about publication in the digital age, and their conclusion is that the traditional routes are no longer exclusive.

Lev Grossman’s article says that “Publishers Weekly (PW) predicts that 2009 will be ‘the worst year for publishing in decades.’ A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done.”

But at the same time, newspapers are closing their doors, magazine and book publishers alike laying off staff, and paying markets, in the way we have always thought about them, are drying up.

Also at the same time, the whole concept of access to the masses has changed. Once upon a time, you needed to be cherished by Harlequin or Doubleday to even have your book see the light of day, unless you wanted to type out versions on your old Royal typewriter, one at a time, to circulate them. The Internet has changed that game.

Now authors have options. They can self-publish through Lulu.com or iUniverse, or epublishers which pay a royalty for books available digitally, or in print books.

Writers don’t need the fancy publicity tour, either. Authors like CJ Lyons and Christina Katz, aka Writer Mama, do  tours online by guest blogging in as many places as they can. Cost? Your time. The Internet has millions of outlets to reach the people who want your work.

Many professional artists are choosing non-traditional routes to promote work they want to do, and it’s starting to make headlines. Musician Jill Sobule found the traditional music business wasn’t working for her–and didn’t get money in her hands– so her latest album was funded entirely by donations from fans, and giveaways.  Screenwriters like Joss Whedon are thinking outside the box with projects like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, which first appeared on the Internet for free, but only afterward started collecting revenues.

Communication venues like Twitter bring the celebrity even closer to fans.  Time this week has a story about celebrity Tweeting that shows how Shaquille O’Neal, Levar Burton and John Hodgman all use Twitter to connect  directly with regular people. Email and forums bring artists directly to their public, for the kind of one-on-one connection that sells readers, just as it sold Barack Obama to the American people at election time.

So we can all dream about that blockbuster sale, movie rights and New York Times listing right out of the gate. We can even work at it around busy lives of work, parenting and other distractions for 40 years. Maybe some of us will get it.

But in the meantime, don’t you have something to say? Maybe instead we should be out there exploring the new digital publishing world, meeting our readers, and sharing what we have to offer.

Writing does a body good

I have a sign on my computer that reads: “Getting published: it’s just like milk, except without the milk part.”

(Anyone who recognizes that reference, leave a comment. I mean it.)

If that reference means that getting published is heady, frothy, nutritious, wonderful, refreshing, and ultimately, just what your mother wants for you– well then I’m in!

In additional to a number of small sales I’ve made in recent months, I’m very excited to share this book:

my latest book

my latest book

My story is one of the 50 collected in here, entitled “Under the Big Top,” and it tells the story of how I hosted a graduation party for my daughter and stepdaughter, with two ex-husbands, two ex-wives, several ex-in-laws, a current wife, a current girlfriend, Halloween spiders, a young man with condoms and a watermelon fight. But no blood or death.

The Cup of Comfort series book that came out in November was for Military Families , and I had shared the subject matter with a woman named Julie Whan from our Erie Writing Group. Her son Matthew was doing a tour in Iraq, and she sent in a heart-warming tale that was accepted, too!

julies-book

So the two of us are setting up joint booksignings around the area, the first on Saturday, Dec. 6 at Tattered Corners, our local store. If you can’t get there, feel free to stop at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com and check it out!

So that’s exciting, because somehow all the hours spent writing alone in your little garret can be justified with something concrete like this.

That being said, let me also congratulate my friend Nacie Carson on her ebook entitled The Life Uncommon: How to Leave the Rat Race, Pursue Your Passions, and Succeed Financially, and available here.

carsonbook

Carson discusses lifestyle design, and the ability to shape your life based on what is important to you, using time management, business building and visualization techniques to help you get from where others’ expectations have pushed you to where you really want to be.

My sister, Shawna Coronado, whose blog has been in my list for some time, also had a book self-published this fall, entitled Gardening Nude; a Common Sense Guide to Improving Your Health and Lifestyle by Increasing Exposure to Nature, Cultivating a Green Mindset and Building a Strong Community.

shawna's book

Despite the picture on the cover, it is NOT about naked women in the shrubbery, but about how to get yourself healthy by digging down underneath your barriers and really taking care of yourself by getting outside and getting Green.  (Apparently she’s had some interesting inquiries from men in India looking for porn. THIS IS NOT IT.)

So for all of us who are writing–best wishes and break a pencil! For all of us who are reading–you’re the reason writers are here! It’s a happy cycle, and you’re invited onto the carousel!

Oh no! NaNo!

So the madness is spreading across the country and around the world. People (140,000 of them!!) have embarked on the adventure of a lifetime (sometimes for the second, fifth or even tenth time!) as they endeavour to create a novel of 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. National Novel Writing Month, in the first two days, has the participants collectively reporting the writing of 109,450,891 words.

Wow.

Only 3,500 of those are mine. But I’m on the way to a new novel too.

The NaNoWriMo people consider that you “win” their competition by completing the objective, i.e. 50,000 words in 30 days, whether your novel is complete at that stage or not. There’s no magic publishing contract, or a sum of money, or anything else except a beautiful certificate that you can display and the knowledge that you gave your personal best to succeed.

(Although Chris Baty managed to get the folks at CreateSpace to agree to give the 2007 winners a free proof copy of their book in paperback form…which is pretty fabulous in itself.)

For those of us who write over at the Red Room, we’ve now been offered a new incentive: one lucky NaNo winner will receive a three-hour manuscript review and one-hour book coaching call with Red Room Founder and CEO Ivory Madison. Red Room says, “The prize is “priceless” because Ivory no longer does book coaching. When she did, she would’ve charged at least $2,000″ for this work.

To join the Red Room and become eligible for this prize, go check out the contest.

Meanwhile, the office is moved, kids are all well, and I’ve got my other writing tasks complete. No more excuses–other than Election Day– so I’m back to writing. The world of Trek may never be the same! Come by and see my progress! Be patient over the next few days while the site catches up to the author load. You might be surprised to see who else is there!

For love or money?

Thirty-five years ago, I received my first check for a piece of writing. The Peru Tribune paid me five bucks for a sweet little piece about my grandmother’s Indiana farm. It was hokey as hell. But they printed it. And they paid me.

That’s the big dream of a lot of writers–to be able to earn enough money pursuing the muse to be able to pursue the muse. Such a small proportion of writers actually hit that mark that–well, Han Solo was right. Never tell me the odds.

Since then I’ve had articles and fiction printed in publications small and large, national distribution, some of them. One book in print, two stories coming out in Cup of Comfort book editions in the next year. All of which I’ve been paid for. Not enough to give up my day job by a long shot.

Fellow writers are confused about my devotion to my blog and my Firefox news writing as they don’t come with a direct paycheck. (Well, the Firefox gig pays with a share of ad revenue, but only as a result of clicks on the Google ads on the page. If no one clicks, then…nada.) Why waste your time publishing what doesn’t pay? You should concentrate on the works-in-progress that have monetary potential, they say.

I put some thought into this at the end of last year, when I created the blog. It was fairly quickly apparent that I couldn’t collect ad revenue at a WordPress-hosted site, so I put the ad on my homepage. Not exactly making money hand over fist. At Firefox too, I might earn pennies a day. But is that all that matters?

Writers write, so readers can read.

Oh, sure, there’s the “something flows from inside of me and I must put it down on paper, else I shall simply burst!” part. But none of that applies to a check, either. We write so others will read what we write. By this process, we share something special.

As you can see, this blog has been accessed some 13,000-plus times. Of course, those aren’t all discrete readers–I hope at least one or two of you stop more than once! But in about nine months, that’s about 1,400 times a month someone has read my words.

I totalled up the Firefox hits the other day–since I started writing for that site five months ago, I’ve had over 37,000 separate hits on my stories. Those are much more likely not to be the same folks over and over, just because of their fanbase.  So between the two, I’ve had someone read my words some 50,000 times this year.

Sure, I keep writing the other, the novels, the short stories, the travelogues, hoping they’ll catch the eye of an editor or agent somewhere, so that I can invest in my pursuit shoes. In the meantime, there’s 50,000 people who have read what I’ve written, people from all over the country–maybe all over the world.

These may not have “paid,” in the way so many of us would like to be. But I’ve got to believe the words have paid off, in the way that has been true since the first storytellers began, in the connection of one person to another, an idea that sparks from one mind to the next, changing both people, even in some small way, forever.

Why do we write?

Some people write for themselves. Their journals or dark poetry or rants help clear their heads and remind themselves where they’ve been.

Some people write because it’s a job. They’re technical writers or copy writers, and they churn out words in response to demand to advertise or explain the topic of the day.

Some people write because Mrs. Cowan in 10th grade lit made them do it. Ugh. Another essay on Great Expectorations. (And yes, we used to call it that. Along with the other fine American classic, Ethane Chrome. Ha. Science majors are so funny. )

Me? I write because I have to. Some small voice starts nagging at me as the wisp of a plot coalesces in a shadowy form, growing as characters emerge half-constructed from the miasma. They, in turn, draw lines of tension, which stir the cauldron of story line, that then marches inexorably on to spark the final climax and denouement.

Like now. I’ve got the next story leaking out. I’m taking notes on scraps of paper at the office, next to the bed, on coffee filters, just so I don’t forget this urban fantasy, a takeoff on the Cinderella story. But I can’t work on it. Not yet.

Three other writing projects stand in the way: the first, the final edit of my new YA (that’s Young Adult, for the neophytes) novel so I can submit it for possible publication; the second, a review of a book forwarded to me by WolfPirate Publishing, where I’d like to be published one day; and last, commentary on a YA novel currently being penned by my 17-year-old niece in Chicago. And then there’s the continued sucking hole that is the blog, whispering “you have to write againnnnnn…” every couple of days.

That’s the problem. I write for others to read. I need others to devour my words, collaborate with me, share the journey, make comments, enjoy the experience. So it follows that “the writing” is not enough. I must then make the effort to get the writing out into the world for the Others. The blogosphere makes that pretty easy. I have an average of 50 people a day who come by and see what I’m babbling about at any given time. (And I’m grateful. I am.)

But for poetry, short stories and novels, it’s a little harder. No. It’s a lot harder. It’s a huge effort to find an agent or editor to even consider your work. For every 50 letters you send, you might get someone willing to look at some chapters. Even good work gets passed these days because of the vagaries of the market; you need to catch the particular reader at the right place on the right day, or you’ll miss out. But you have to send the letters if you want the chance to get your words into the hands of Joe or Jane Reader. So I’m sending them. A few at first, but maybe 20. Or 50. Or 100. If I really believe in the worth of the manuscript, I should be willing to go to the mat. Maybe Editor 101 is the right one. Maybe not.

Either way, it gives me fodder for reflection here and a goal to work toward. After all, that spare eight minutes a week is calling.

***

This week’s carnival event is the Moms Blogging Carnival

Words: The Voice of Your Heart

I remember my first bit of serious writing when I was 8, the story of how my cat killed and ate a rabbit. My mother made me show my teacher. I got a special paper from the principal for extra credit.

I’ve written a lot since then, paid work the last 30 years, for news writing, short stories, a book. It hasn’t come easily. A uni major in English improved my high school basics. I read about writing from people I consider experts, like Stephen King and Anne Lamott. Writers’ groups and conferences give me a fine opportunity to polish work and learn new skills. I’m still no expert. I don’t sell everything I write. But I keep trying.

Over the years, I’ve noticed periods of time when the writing flows well, six months, a year or more, and then other times when life just gets in the way. During one of the struggling periods several years ago, I found a new writers’ group in my area, and I was thrilled, hoping the stimulation of interaction with other writers would help jump-start my stalled work. I spoke with the leader of the group, a woman like myself who’d been writing for many years, and came to the first meeting with great anticipation.

I left under a dark, dark cloud.

As we passed around pieces we’d brought for critique, she calmly shredded each offering, with all good intention. She was a master of rules. There was only one way to write anything. Those who did not write her way were wrong. She could cite an author or handout that demonstrated each of her mandates, so there was no point in explaining. Our humble offerings dripping in red ink, we were silenced.

I’d just about given up writing altogether when a friend suggested a different group that met in a nearby city. My first meeting, I shared my dejection and tentatively offered a short story, prepared for the worst.

They loved it.

No one insisted on the grammar or rules, though they made gentle suggestions. They listened to the essence of the story and appreciated it for its individual voice. They encouraged all those who shared a piece that day to grow their own voice. It was restorative. I could have faith in my work again. I could write.

Since then, I’ve published dozens of pieces and have written three novel-length manuscripts. I’ve stuck with the writers’ groups that feed me and discarded those that don’t. The lesson, of course, is that you don’t have to write by anyone’s rules. You should never give someone else the power to take your work from you.

And if someone asks your opinion of their creation, don’t take their work from them, either. Ask what they’d like in terms of your level of commentary, and be honest and encouraging with your words. Let them write differently. The diversity of the written word has fascinated the literate world for centuries. Be diverse. Be perverse. Write in verse! But never let someone make you stop.