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Family and friends: the best or worst people to read your book?

Shortly after I published my first novel, x0, I was surprised by this question. “Did you let family members read your book before you published it?” Of course I did. What kind of question is that, I thought. I mean, maybe if I wrote certain kinds of books then no, but ….

I realize that I am lucky that my family is fairly open minded and mature and I was able to rely on my husband, my sister, my three children, a cousin and a handful of friends for encouragement and plot hole hunting before I ever sent my first manuscript off to a professional editor. I couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, have done it without them.

beautiful life2Now that I’m in the home stretch of putting my fifth novel, d4, out on kindle, the question makes a lot more sense to me. I am lucky in that I didn’t have to avoid the obvious problems caused by dysfunctional friends and relatives sabotaging my efforts, but I have learned how even the best of loved ones don’t always make the best of beta readers.

For starters, those close to you can be too encouraging. If they truly care about you, they will be so proud of your work that you may be lulled into not giving it the harsh scrutiny that it needs. It is a delicate balance between letting loved ones help you be confident and letting them convince you that every odd phrase you produce is golden.

If one is persistent about this writing thing, like I turned out to be, one is also likely to wear people down. One book was fun to read. The second less so. By the time you send your fifth book off to them, at least some of these caring souls will have decided they are not willing to drop everything yet again to meet your deadline. Expect people close to you to avoid your phone calls and ignore your text messages. It can be a little painful all around.

I discovered that those who remain enthused can cause other problems when they go recruiting for you. With this latest book I had a couple of family members talk others into reading, and the coerced aren’t always so helpful. Yes the old high school friend did have a great background in investing, which was useful for a beta reader of d4. However, as he pointed in in his critique, he rather hates books about paranormal abilities and therefore a novel about the havoc wrecked on the stock market by a clairvoyant didn’t exactly interest him. The feedback went downhill from there and ended with him asking why I bothered to write books anyway.

Good question. Among the many answers is the truth that writing novels has been a journey of growth for me. Just the technical abilities I’ve acquired have made this well worth the effort, but the personal growth that has come from handling bad reviews and gushing fans (yes, I do have some) and the self-discipline needed to make it all happen — well, that eclipses the factual knowledge. Yes, some of that personal growth has come from letting those closest to me be part of the process. Good, bad, or indifferent, my family and friends have been a facet of my journey. I’m glad that I included them, because the journey so far has been quite good.

(Visit my post Time Traveler Looking for a Good Time to read about my strategy for thanking beta readers, and check out my post on whether strangers make the perfect beta readers instead. Also please drop by the Facebook page of Your Beautiful Life and give them a like for the great image used above.)

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in writing

 

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My iPod works as a fortune cookie

SurpemesMy tiny nano iPod works like a Chinese fortune cookie. It’s so small that I only use it with my alarm clock, and every morning it greets me with a random song that has an uncanny way of setting the stage for my day. You know, just like how you are thinking of maybe going to visit some old friend in another town and the little piece of paper in your dessert says “You are about to embark on a wonderful journey”. So you go. Well, from the Supremes singing to me to “Stop! In the Name of Love” on the day I almost had a car wreck to Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” on the day that I got hopelessly lost in a previously unexplored suburb of Houston, I’ve decided that it’s eerie how these little things know so much.

I woke up Sunday September 21 intending to write a heartfelt blog post about how it was the thirty-third International Day of Peace, a twenty-four hour period during which the United Nations invites everyone on earth to honor a cessation of both personal and political hostilities. I really like the idea of such a day, but time got away from me. I wrote part of what I intended but postponed finishing the post until the next day.

September 21 was not chosen randomly. It coincided with the opening of the U.N General assembly that year, and in fact the United Nations convenes every year in New York at about the same time. Monday September 22 was opening day this year, and of course it was the day President Obama picked to announce his offensive against ISIS in Syria. It was a wise choice of a day, in that leaders and representatives from almost every nation on earth were going to have to look him in the eye and explain why they would or would not stand with him in this endeavor.

I hate bullies, and I can understand drawing a line and acknowledging that a group is so horrible that they sit on the wrong side of this divide and must be stopped. Analogies abound. Fear of ISIS by those living in the region speaks volumes. There is a spectrum of bad behavior that eventually crosses into atrocities that no human should stand by and watch. Perhaps we have reached that point. It appears that ISIS is making every effort to convince us that we have.

growing bolder 7I also hate war. You don’t have to study a lot of history to discover that the death and suffering we so often call “a brave sacrifice” is in fact the horrible toll taken by those trying to advance political, religious and/or economic agendas that have little to do with the noble words spoken as men and women go into battle. Our involvement in Persia and Arabia seems to be creating a worse monster with every new involvement, not to mention the immense tolls it takes on the lives of our soldiers and on our own resources. It is reasonable to ask whether we shouldn’t walk away from this mess and let those who live there sort it out.

I never finished my half-written stirring blog post about the virtues of peace. After listening to the president justifying his actions and all the talking heads demanding to know why he hadn’t done this sooner, I just didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. My iPod does not suffer from the same uncertainty, however. Monday September 22 it woke me up to Dionne Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now is Love.” I think it has a good point..

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2014 in music for peace, peace

 

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Everybody is shouting

Light Within 3The truly skilled telepath is admired for her or his uncanny ability to listen to the feelings and thoughts of others. At least that is how it works in my imaginary world of x0, in which any old fool can transmit emotions but only the adept can receive them. Clearly I am making an observation about ordinary conversation as well. Listening is an art, and actually understanding what one is hearing is a high level accomplishment. Yes, most of us do spend our non-speaking time figuring out what we are going to say next. But at least in conversation, we pretend to pay attention to others.

Enter the world of social media. There is no question that I love writing my blogs and I love reading the blogs of others, but in my humble opinion the exchanges that take place in the comments sections can hardly be called conversation. They appear to me to mostly consist of (1) you are sooooo right or (2) you are soooo stupid or (3) the ever popular thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. (I’m not going to count the various spam comments that show up every day saying things like “I simply stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to say that I get actually loved account your weblog posts.” Who writes this crap and why?)

Facebook and the various Pinterest/Instagram type spin-offs are largely ways of shouting out what you are doing and what you like and don’t like. Yes, it is entertaining, but no isn’t conversation either. Maybe if we had a few more choices on the “like” button …… you know, emoticon responses of dismay, embarrassment, maybe a wink….. nah, probably a bad idea.

Then there is Twitter. I’ve had an account for years and I every so often I would read tweets on a topic of interest. I hardly ever tweeted anything, however, because I didn’t see the point. Seldom does anyone have a unique take on a subject and usually dozens of people had already said what I thought. I could hashtag all I wanted, but it seemed to me that I was just one more person shouting “Listen to me! I think this!” Shouting isn’t satisfying and it isn’t the way to make friends.

True voice 4Then I became an author. To my own surprise, I discovered that I was as desperate to be read as all the other authors you know. “You’ve got to use Twitter” they told me. Okay, I tried. And I found that all of us are out there, shouting about our wares and running little giveaways trying to snag another 100 followers when we can.That’s nuts. All the people out there shouting advice to authors (and there are a lot of those, too) think it is nuts as well. They say you shouldn’t peddle your books, you should engage socially. That sounds like reasonable advice, but I’ve got a problem with it. I am basically posting tweets to sell my books. It’s the truth and I don’t like pretending otherwise.

I found a solution that works for me, and it was in my first book all along. Act like a telepath. Act like a good one. Every time someone new follows me on Twitter, I now try to read their mind. Not really of course, but I pretend. Who are they and why are they there? If the answer is to sell me something, win a contest, or give me no information, I ignore them. But if they write, or read, or support a cause, or create or otherwise have a voice, I try to listen. I spend a few seconds looking into them online and I try to really hear them. Then, I thank them personally for following me and wish them good fortune with their passion. It gives them a tweet to like and retweet, and it makes me smile when they do.

No, I’m not making friends. Two or three 140 character exchanges does not a friendship make. And no, I’m not selling books from this, because my sales haven’t increased either. However, I am having some interesting exchanges and some fun. This “listening” is good stuff, no matter how it works out. Looks like there are ways to do it everywhere.

(Speaking of listening on social media, please drop by the Facebook pages of The Light Within and Your True Voice and give them a like for the great images above.)

 

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2014 in Telepathy, writing

 

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Think Globally, Act Nobley (Fail)

Thanks to the fine blog Ha! Tea ‘n’ Danger for this thought provoking reminder that there is another side to everything.

Think Globally, Act Nobley (Fail).

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in empathy, Nigeria

 

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Wearing many hats well

Many hats2We all balance a lot of identities as we make our way through an ordinary day.  I’ve managed girl, nerd, daughter, cook, wife, manager, mother, PTA  president (seriously) and irritable neighbor all in the course of single afternoon. Adding an extra persona like “writer” into my normal mix has challenged me, even more so because it seems to require several distinct pieces of head gear.

There is the wild creative hat that yields stories at traffic lights and helps me type with a manic fury when the ideas just won’t stop coming long after I should have gone to bed. I love that hat, and I wear it whenever I can.

Then there is the careful, tidy little headpiece that I wear when I proofread, edit, rewrite, add links, check everything and check it twice again. What? The font for the chapter five title is twelve not fourteen point? How did this happen? It is a nit picky little hat, but I have to admit that there is a lot of satisfaction to getting something perfect. At least I think it is perfect until the next time I proofread it.

It’s the third writer’s hat that just doesn’t seem to fit me very well. It feels to me like a loud gaudy thing and I hate to put it on. It is the hat of sales. Writers of all sorts, whether they produce self-published works, short stories, or trade novels found in the front racks of brick bookstores, all have to get out there and sell their wares. Fiction is a product. If you want to be read, and I do, then you need to convince people to read your work.

Now that d4 is off to my real editor and I have promised my family and myself that I will pause and breathe before starting the next book, I decided to play with this awkward hat for awhile. I returned to scouring writer’s forums for ideas to increase purchases and I finally let myself take a long hard look at my sales statistics. Yes, this area could use a little more work..

x0_sw final

Click to get x0 for free at Kobo

Turns out I sell books in places I have never heard of. Thanks to my opting in for everything at Smashwords, the ebook distributor I use, I can be found at a cool new online store called Inktera. You can also find me at Scribd, this great new service where for only $8.99/month you can read all the ebooks you want. I have got to get out more.

Even better, I made a list of thirteen new ideas to try to increase the visibility of my books. The first was to do an interview at Smashwords. Please check it out, I think it turned out pretty well. The second was to make my first novel free for awhile, ideally to generate sales of my other books. I decided to give this a try, and you can now grab x0 FOR FREE at Smashwords, or at another surprising site called Kobo.

How is this free thing working out for me? Well, when I posted on my Facebook page that x0 would be free for a short time, 915 people liked it. 915! That is probably a record for me for number of people ever liking anything I have ever done. However, how many have downloaded it? Zero. That’s right. Not one, so far.

As I look at this post, I think I see the problem.  If I was better at wearing that sales hat, this post would have started off with FREE BOOK in big bold letters at the top. Instead I started it out by writing what I thought was more interesting. Oh well, I’ve still got eleven more ideas to go. I’ll try to do better with the next one.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in writing, x0 and how to get it

 

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World Peace Update

Psychedelic 12I’ve been hearing the words to the protest song Eve of Destruction in my head a lot lately, and I don’t suppose that is a good thing. My mind likes to take the opening phrase “The Eastern World  — it is exploding” and substitute other places.You know, like Syria, Ferguson Missouri and the Gaza strip. Every day brings a sad new verse.

One theory is that I’m losing it. Another is that is world really does feel like it is exploding. Unfortunately, I’ve just found some evidence to support this second theory. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) latest study, out of 165 countries right now only 11 are not involved in some sort of conflict. Eleven. That would be 93% of the world that is at war, one way or another.

Granted the study considers having a fighting presence in foreign conflicts as “being at war” (really ought to count, don’t you think), and it also acknowledges internal conflicts with clear sides and loss of life (i.e. civil war). The most disturbing fact, according to The Independent, is that from World War Two up to 2007, there was an overall growing tendency for less conflict in the world. The trend has now reversed sharply and it continues to go the wrong way. As I said, the whole freaking world, it is exploding.

There is a third reason I can’t get this song out of my head and I know what it is. As I move d4, my fun novel about the future, on to beta readers and my editor, I am letting go emotionally of beautiful Ariel and her wild adventures and turning my heart and mind to the next book, the last one in the collection. It will be about the whole Zeitman family but will feature Lola and her cadre of telepaths as they take on a type of menace that they thought could not exist.

It will all start when Lola finally writes her article Face Painting for World Peace and encounters those who want anything but a world in which people get along well with each other. I’m writing Lola’s article now and it’s got me thinking. The tools for understanding others and developing empathy have never been more available to all. How can we be fighting more wars in more places? Who stands to gain?

And where are these eleven peaceful places? Some may not be high on your list to visit, some may. Those of us who remember The Eve of Destruction being sung by Barry McGuire as a protest song against the Vietnam War will appreciate the irony that the eleven countries currently not at war are Switzerland, Japan, Qatar, Mauritius, Uruguay, Chile, Botswana, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil and  ….. drum roll please ….. Vietnam.

“Eve of Destruction” was written in 1965 by P. F. Sloan. Enjoy Barry McGuire’s recording on YouTube here.

Also please drop by the Facebook page of Psychedelic Adventure and give them a quick like for the great image above.

 

 

 

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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in peace, writing

 

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Finding Forgiveness in Costa Rica

I’m once again in Costa Rica, experiencing a week of mountain views, fresh food, water and air, and a recharge of the qigong practice that I began a year ago. The week has gone well, and I feel isolated from the troubles of the everyday world. On this last day, our sifu, or teacher, has chosen to focus on spiritual qualities such as gratitude and forgiveness.

Gratitude goes well, but forgiveness hits a glitch. Not everyone defines the word the same. To some it includes an element of reconciliation, forgetting or moving on and several of us agree that defined that way, some acts are unforgivable. We get into a discussion about the meaning of the word, and several well meaning people pull in child molesters, sexual predators, genocide in Africa and, of course, Hitler. I find the images disturbing and enter the next exercise with a churning mind.

beautiful life1Others have been harder hit than me. Two women in the group who identify strongly with their fellow Jews are angry and disappointed at having been pulled into the forgive Hitler discussion. Their reaction is not to be taken lightly. One fled Europe as a child at the start of World War Two, and still bears scars the rest of us do not comprehend. The other has been following the news and is dismayed by an out pouring of hatred in Europe that most of us did not even know was happening.

There are tears and harsh words. Our teacher was using examples he has used dozens of times, meaning no ill will, only trying to make his point. An angry student jumps in to defend him. Stances turn from gentle to hostile. His wife tries to offer an olive branch of no harm intended. A student from Mexico offers understanding. There are examples from the drug wars that would have been just as difficult for him he says. The positions soften just a little.

“Can I have a hug?” Sifu asks the woman who has expressed most of the anger. She hesitates, then stands a little stiffly and lets him hug her. “Hugs all around’ someone says and pretty soon everyone in the circle is hugging every one else, one by one. Eyes meet. Skin touches.Words of understanding are muttered quietly, person to person, until all is soft again.

Nothing we can do will dent the pain that these two women carry, and no one in the group is naive enough to think so. But we have diffused our own little crisis of understanding, and will at least all part with mutual appreciation for each other.

It works for twenty or so people at a mountain retreat. It would never work in the harshness of real life, of course, filled with all of its deep wounds and long-standing fears. Or would it?

For more on my own personal story of my Costa Rica qigong experiences please see
1. Embracing the Yin in Costa Rica,
2. Breathing Deeply in Costa Rica
3. Many Paths in Costa Rica  and
4. Animal Play in Costa Rica

If you would like to know more about qigong, please visit Flowing Zen
Please also visit the Facebook page of Your Beautiful Life and drop off a like for the great image above.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in peace

 

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