When a fake is nearly as good as the real deal

When I look at a situation that needs changing, I first try to imagine how the flawed situation would look in a perfect world. That at least gives me a target to shoot for. I then either rearrange things that can be rearranged to head in that direction, or I camouflage the situation such that it at least looks closer to the ideal. I’m not sure how well this works on a small scale but I find it pretty effective for big-picture scenarios. And maybe that’s because the details don’t matter quite as much.

For example, when I was younger by a couple of decades, I used to imagine myself a published author. In addition to stealing hours from the night while the baby slept or from my lunch hour on my job in order to write, or to read craft books and structure endless query letters and so forth, I had this habit—usually indulged while I was driving when nothing more constructive could be accomplished—of imagining myself as a successful author being interviewed by Oprah on her show.

Feel it, baby! You're almost there!

Feel it, baby! You’re almost there!

Just the feeling of stepping into that role—smiling benignly when asked by the Big O about where I got my story ideas or did I feel guilty receiving eight-figure advances when there were still starving people in (fill in the blank)?—helped me feel more confident in my dream of becoming an author. And trust me, as with a lot of things, feeling the part goes a long way to being the part.

There’s a lot to be said for feelings following behavior. I once dated an actor who was wonderfully good—brilliant, in fact, in the way he could transform himself from an impoverished, not particularly witty thirty-year old living in Atlanta, Georgia to a smoldering powerhouse in the character of Silva Vaccaro from Tennessee Williams’ 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. It wasn’t just my fondness for him that made me think his portrayal was one of the most mesmerizing performances on stage I’d ever seen. He was that good. Which was why when he scraped the makeup off it was so perplexing to have him resort to a whiny, depressed artiste—nothing like the characters he brought to life on stage.

Oh, fie! Where is yon lip gloss...?

Oh, fie! How canst thou smile if yon lip gloss is gone mayhaps forever?

When “Robin” complained to me about some amorphous tragedy he was in the midst of (it was never anything specific like needing rent money or having an annoying boil on his nose or something), I would say: “You’re an actor. Just pretend you’re happy! If you smile—like you do on stage—you’ll eventually end up feeling that way!” (BTW: This tact totally didn’t work with him. OTOH, I imagine my Pollyanna advice was at least as irritating to him as his whining was to me.)

19088982I’m not saying I believe that we can necessarily control how we feel or what we think. I get that unwanted thoughts and emotions squeeze into our minds during our daily round derailing our best intentions, our plans, our goals. But I think creating a pretend-world is a lovely exercise in make-believe that can, for at least a little bit, supplant reality when you really need reality to be blotted out. Or if you just need a level playing field to get your mood up, your confidence running, your mojo topped off—and I think once you’ve done that—and even gotten in the habit of doing it quite a bit—you’ll end up feeling a little better.

Anybody else subscribe to the fake it ‘til you make it line of thinking? Does it work for you? Got another idea?

 

Passing the Baton on the Reality Blog Award

Last week Matthew Wright awarded me the Reality Blog Award. I was surprised and, of course, delighted. Thank you, Matthew. His is my favorite, number-one most-read blog so it’s annoying I can’t turn around and nominate him for this award since nominating awesome bloggers is a part of the responsibility of winning it, but there you have it.

The award also requires me to answer several questions:

If you could change something what would you change? Well, I have to say I’m not in love with this whole mortality thing so if we could all live forever, well, that would be great.

If you could relive one day what would it be? This one was a stumper for me. I guess I don’t dwell much in the past. I’ve had wonderful days that I’d happily relive: the day I eloped to Chicago with my now-husband of 22 years, the day I gave birth to my only child, the first time I saw the Bavarian Alps when I was ten…but I guess I would have to choose, over all of them, any day with my Dad, gone now these past 25 years.

The one thing that scares you? A phone call in the middle of any night that my child isn’t sound asleep in his own bed in my house.

One dream you haven’t completed? I’m in the middle of my dream right now—making a living as a novelist.

If you could be someone else for a day, who would you be? Myself, twenty years younger.

As for passing the award on, I’ve listed, below,  some blogs I regularly read. Some of these are about facts and insights on publishing or writing, some are amazingly spot-on revelations about life (Post Departum Depression—(Karen) who focuses on empty nesting, but the posts are usually true no matter where you are in life and not depressing at all (a lot of the time)), and France because of that whole life-long love affair thing I’ve got going on with it.

Merry Farmer

Julian East

Dean Wesley Smith

Post Departum Depression

David Lebovitz

Roni Loren

Easy Hiker

 

Time to Reboot and Refresh

Don’t you just love computer language? Since computers are so much a part of our lives, it make sense that we would share vocabulary that pertains to them with reference to our own sense of wellbeing. That fact has to be made all the more ironic because computers are, of course, part of our big problem, too.

It’s true we each of us have control over computers and how much time we spend sitting in front of them. But this so-called control is not unlike, in my mind, how we have control over not smoking or stuffing Twinkies in our mouths. On the face of it, it looks like this is something we control, at least in theory, but do we really?

The US government doesn’t think we do. It actually encourages us to believe that we DON’T have control by affirming to us that the reason we’re all getting fat is not because we can’t stop eating the wrong thing, it’s because there isn’t a law forbidding us to eat the wrong thing.

The point I’m trying to circle around to is the one that says, once again, we are the authors of our own misery—caused invariably by the fact that we refuse to stop for a minute and see what we’re doing and see the damage we’re doing. And that’s true whether it’s cigarettes or iHop pancakes or six hours of staring at a computer screen. Six hours probably won’t kill any of us, but doing it every day—or bumping the six hours to ten like I can EASILY do—just might. And not in a grab-your-heart-and-keel-over-the-keyboard kind of kill you, but in a TS Eliot life-measured-out-in-coffee-spoons kind of death. Bit by byte. (Forgive me; I clearly have no control over easily resistible puns either.)

Six years ago, an anthropologist named Cheryl Swanson, a partner in the trend-tracking firm, Toniq, was quoted as saying that we (she was speaking about Americans but I can comfortable extend the target to my entire blog audience) are now processing information at 400 times the rate of our Renaissance ancestors. But we haven’t yet adapted physically or mentally to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise our health.

Added to the 400 times more information we are all attempting to process is the fact that it does not come with 400 extra hours in the day to do so. Without really agreeing to it or even realizing it was happening, how we get those extra hours is by giving up other stuff that used to enhance our lives and heighten our quality of life: sleep, staring at a sunset, walking instead of riding, watching a chrysalis hatch, eating a slow meal with loved ones. I’m a baker and a Martha Stewart zealot. I used to fantasize about a place setting for twelve for Thanksgiving dinner complete with matching turkey saltshakers at every place. And yet, the last year my son was home before he went off to college, our family meals consisted of the three of us standing at the kitchen counter to wolf down our meals (half the time our son took his meal in his bedroom with his calculus homework.) Swanson’s research indicated that in the sixties, dinner was 45 minutes long. By the nineties, it had shrunk to fifteen minutes and today—well, let’s just say that, sadly (forgive me, Martha!), I’m a poster child for family dinners of today. Standing. In fewer than five minutes. It takes more time to make it and clean up after it than to “enjoy” it. And of course, food manufacturers have been hard at work to help us with that part of the equation by creating cheap mix-and-go food that’s a snap to make and even digest. Of course it tastes like donkey dung and brings no moment of pleasure or satisfaction beyond killing hunger pangs but at least you can skip the wash up and just dump the cartons in the trash and call it done. (What next? An IV drip?) I guess there was some big fat reason that forced us to live like this. There was obviously some important trade off that made it worthwhile. I quake to think it was just so we could get extra time in front of the computer terminal or worse, the TV set.

Bottom line? We’re left with a population of people—of all ages—strung out, sleep-deprived and jittery with hyper-enlarged concerns (from ingestion of too much news) that we’re convinced matter very much and probably don’t at all.

Maybe that’s why I find myself writing and reading apocalyptic fiction so much. I have been fascinated (and fearful) by the concept of technological over stimulation in our culture ever since I watched my nine-year-old son eschew a live-action fireworks display in favor of saving the planet from alien zombies on his GameBoy. My post-apocalyptic book Free Falling was written, largely, because of my helpless concern  and my desire to live in a simpler, less technological time.

Let’s face it. Wasn’t the last time we all slowed down, lit a candle and stared peacefully into space  sometime during the last power outage? Or how about that time you got sick and stayed in bed with magazines and a box of tissues and just the sound of your own sniffling and the cat purring? Wasn’t it kind of wonderful at the same time it was miserable?

What does that tell you?

A Hero’s Quest – The Legend of Anaise

And now for something totally different… I’m hosting my very first other-than-me writer promotion for Author Sheryl Steines. There’s a cool rafflecopter and a fun giveaway, plus a chance for you to get to know Sheryl and her work. I hope you check it out. It looks like an awesome read!

Okay everyone, look very closely… are you paying attention?  This is  a contest to see how closely you pay attention when you read The Legend of Anaise (below) from the recently released novel She Wulf by Sheryl Steines.

GET RAFFLECOPTER CODE HERE

Don’t forget to take a tour around the participating blogs and answer all the questions – there are FIVE questions so you will have numerous chances to participate and win! There are several prizes, too – ONE random correct answer will win a signed copy of She Wulf. (Don’t worry if you don’t get it right you still have a chance to win one of several other prizes just for trying!)

Prizes:

  • 1 signed copy; winner selected  amongst all correct entries
  • 3 eBooks; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • Gift Card $15; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • Annie and Cham Swag; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • BTW: if you have trouble reading the scroll for any reason, please go here for a plain text version

About the Author

Sheryl Steines is equal parts driven, passionate and inspired.  With a degree in English from Wright State University, Steines dedicates time everyday to her art.  Her love of books and a quality story drives her to share her talent with her readers as well as make the time to talk to book clubs and students about her process.

Sheryl has eclectic tastes and enjoys character driven novels.  In her own writing, the Annie Loves Cham series is driven by her love of the characters and her desire to place them in totally new situations. She enjoys testing their mettle.

Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise. Her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy.

Sheryl can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. She also encourages her readers to email her and let her know what you think of Annie and Cham!

Okay, everyone, that was fun! I’ll be back to whatever  it is I do here on this blog tomorrow with a new post. I hope you’ll look at Sheryl’s stuff in the meanwhile and catch up with me back here.

Keep Writing! And reading.

The 6 Road Blocks to Happiness

I debated titling this post “The 6 Barriers to Success” or “The 6 Reasons why your book won’t sell,” but bottom line, these barriers work across all goals, all genres, all endpoints. Whether you’re a writer or just a person trying to be happy in this life, fill in the blank where I’ve put “happiness” and you’re good to go.

  1. Availability. Here’s the example I always think of: I am constantly monitoring my weight and would no sooner buy grocery store cupcakes to have on hand in my kitchen than I would spoon sugar directly into my mouth. And yet, when there’s a party at work or when my local Whole Foods is giving away free samples of just about anything, I line up at the trough as if the calories don’t count. (This is also true with just about every job I ever said “yes” to.) The idea behind this barrier is that we often settle for what’s convenient or available instead of holding off for what we really  want.
  2. Momentum. Self-explanatory, really. If you’ve been doing the same thing forever—regardless of how happy or successful it makes you—the sheer fact that you’re familiar with it can keep you doing it ad nauseum or until you die. Whichever comes first. This goes for your book marketing efforts, or your job, your hobby. If whatever you’re doing is not so good, it’s time for self-examination. Which brings us to…
  3. Ignorance. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied, maybe you don’t know how to change that fact. If you don’t know how, you could get off your butt and learn what you need to know to change your life. (This kind of overlaps with Momentum.) Ignorance is only bliss if you’re blissful. If you’re dissatisfied, you need to wise up and figure things out.
  4. Group decisions. As an ex-advertising agency copywriter I can tell you for a fact that committees spoil everything good. They take the magic out of a great line, they stomp the crap out of any subtlety, and they put you on the fast track to mediocre. Whether you’re trying to please a client (and honestly, what do they know?) or just a half dozen people-with-opinions, your end result will always and absolutely be the lowest common denominator.
  5. Comfort Zone. This is my particular sticking point and I bet it is for a lot of people. While you might not know it from the way I rabbit on in this blog, fact is, I’m a little shy around people-in-the-flesh. Not unlike a lot of writers, the idea of a bookstore signing is weighed and equated by me with the same relish as anticipating a root canal with no Novocain. I’m not exactly the Unabomber, but I like my comfort zone. And that’s no place to be if you want to be  successful. It’s always going to be easier to stay home, to not make that phone call, to stay in the corner instead of approaching people, to watch TV instead of knocking out word count. I used to have a line that went off in my head when I would collapse on the couch instead of at my desk: “Stress-relieving is not goal-achieving.” I think we give too much weight to our so-called stress-relieving activities. Nothing relieves stress like success.
  6. Passivity. It takes a lot of energy to be obstreperous and practically none to go along with the crowd. Somewhere in the middle is probably where we all need to shoot, but once you see how easy life gets when you just agree to most things, you may be tempted to make it a habit. Or, more likely, you won’t have any say in it becoming a habit. It just will. It takes energy and focus to examine what feels right to you and then stand up for it. It also pays off (or so I’m reliably told) in forward movement toward your goal, whatever that is.

So there you have it! Six roadblocks to happiness or success that you might not have even realized you were allowing to set up camp in your life. Do you agree? Can you think of any more?

What Are You Reading?

I love the emails I get from Amazon that, based on what I’ve bought in the past, suggest books I might like in the future. So far I haven’t clicked through to the check-out lane on any of them. Maybe it’s because of my background as an advertising copywriter, I know what it takes to write sales copy and I know when I’m being “sold.” Sometimes I get a mental image of the copywriter knocking out copy for the day before lunch: “Hey, Beth, we need some sexy copy for these five new thrillers.” “Great. Are they any good?” “Who knows? Just give us a couple of lines.”
Exactly.
Last summer, I had a conversation with my brother that set me on a literary journey that lasted—without a whole lot of time for housecleaning, eating, drinking or sleeping—a full five months. He clued me in to George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series. My ensuing summer was a bloody cornucopia of slaughter, haints and “shape-changers.”

Great rip-roaring tale to help guarantee you get nothing done until you finish the whole series. (Not unlike The Hunger Games in this way.)

During my extended time in Westeros, I would occasionally notice a book flit by on the New York Times Bestseller’s list—or in one of the above-mentioned Amazon emails—and mentally earmark it for when my time with Mr. Martin was done. But honestly, without an honest-to-God recommendation from someone you trust to know a good story, what good is a pretty cover and a snappy title? I’ve read plenty of cover blurb promises which the content within did NOT deliver. When I’d finished reading the “Game of Throne” series, a Facebook friend of mine was in the process of adoring “The Help.” It was nice that she actually talked about it while she was reading it. Mind you, I had heard of “The Help” before she mentioned it. Everyone in North America had heard of it. It had received an amazing publicity splash that was relentless that year. And yet? Somehow I got the idea that “The Help” was a self-help book along the lines of “The Secret.” Every time I saw the bright yellow book cover, I mentally tuned it out because I’d already decided

I was a one-woman word-of-mouth machine for this book!

I wasn’t interested in that kind of self-improvement.
When my friend gushed all over the place about it, I picked it up (or loaded it down, whatever) and loved it, and turned around and Amazon-gifted it to three other friends I knew would love it, too.
Recently, I’ve been reading Indie books to try to support the movement but it does take forever to find something good on the Internet. Not that authors aren’t doing a fairly good job of pushing their books in my face—at nearly every juncture on Facebook or Twitter—but like I said before, sales copy and I are intimately related. I know what bullshit looks like. I wrote it for years.
The size and shape of the literary world is changing out there, not just for writers but for readers, too. So how do you find the books you like to read? Do you count on word-of-mouth or is there a book review publication you depend on?

 

Why Point of View Matters So Much

 When my son was a baby and being fussy, my husband would sometimes hang him upside down by his feet and John Patrick would almost instantly become quiet, widen his eyes and stare about as if fascinated with his new upside down world. My husband usually said something like “alternative perspective” to explain our baby’s reaction but the take-away was: sometimes you just need to look at the world differently.

I’ve discovered that that idea translates to grownups, too. I really believe that you can’t really see your world by sitting still (or upright). To see a thing (or a problem) properly, you have to get up, walk around it, squat down, close one eye and then move to the other side. The way an artist stalks around his model, squinting at her from every angle before attacking the canvas is, I firmly believe, how you need to tackle your life. I used to think that summing up what you’ve done and where you thought you were going—almost as if you had sixty seconds on the Oprah Winfrey program to tell the world about who you were—was an effective way to get a snapshot of your life. Kind of like the famous thirty-second elevator speech we’re all supposed to have. But like a lot of things that sound too easy, I don’t think a simple statement can cut it. I’ve come to believe that the effort of standing up and moving about your life to get a better view of it is essential. I bring this up for two reasons. One, I just read an awesome piece by Claudia Welch in this month’s Romance Writers Report called “Playing with a Full Deck” where she talks about identifying theme in your novels. She says, basically, that beyond the specific, obvious, theme which is evident in any one particular book, if you look at your work as a whole—all your series, your short stories, your stand-alones—you’ll find a theme that comes from the very heart of who you are and one that shows up in all your books in some form or another. I loved this exercise and was astounded to realize that all my books have me putting my protagonist on foreign soil or in an alien environment of some kind. I clearly have a “fish out of water” focus that finds its way into all my books. Now, the reason for that isn’t too earth-shattering (I’m an ex-military dependent and moved about the world relentlessly as a kid), but the fact of it, was. Knowing yourself and what drives you is always helpful when it comes to your work.

Looking down on the town of Freiberg, Germany

The other reason has to do with the fact that I just got back from an overseas trip with my husband and that now seventeen year old baby, and the experience impressed upon me yet again the amazing benefits of travel for perspective in your life. I asked my husband when we got back if he thought he might do things differently in his daily round now that we were back and he replied: “Of course.” See, it really is that obvious. It’s like stepping out of your body, out of your present lifestyle and being able to see, almost clinically, how you live “back home.” And that’s important because until you take the emotion out of it, until you step away and view it from an alternative perspective, you can’t see how many short cuts you’ve started to take, or how many habits you’ve created that don’t work.  I hope my new point of view of how I live stays with me. But if it doesn’t, I know where I can buy a plane ticket to get it back again.

How to Steal Your Life Back

I have been reflecting recently on work infrastructure in an ideal world. While writing books fulltime would definitely qualify as an ideal work life, as I have not won the lottery yet (and, much to my accountant’s horror, it is totally a factor in my retirement plans), that “ideal” has to live side by side with less-than-ideal money making schemes.

This is a conundrum that writers down through history have struggled with. There is the school of thought that says if you are a writer you must find something non-writerly to do for your “day job” or you’ll burn out. The usual scenario suggests, if you’re young enough, waitressing by day and writing by night. As exhausting (and probably uber-annoying) as waitressing sounds to me, it does give you an opportunity to study the human condition and that is something that is generally considered very helpful (and fascinating) to most writers who are, at the very least, writers of the human condition.

I have to say I’ve written a few books “on the job,” so to speak, in my time. When an employer is paying you to dig so many ditches, I can imagine you dig the requested number of ditches and you rest or eat your lunch on your lunch break with little thought to squeezing in a paragraph on the brilliance of the morning dew dripping in fat globules down the stately cab of the backhoe. But when your employer is paying you to essentially “be ready in case I need you to write something” and you spend great wads of time staring out a window waiting to be needed, then I think flexing your writing muscles by knocking out a few novels is probably okay. (Hey, I would totally put aside any manuscript immediately if the boss needed me for something!)

I thought I was the only horrible (read: frustrated, poor and bored stupid) employee who did this until I pieced together part of a fellow-writer’s dossier online. I could see by what he said that he had a fulltime corporate sit-in-a-cubicle job, a weekend wait-on-customers at his uncle’s hardware store and yet another job working a deli counter somewhere. And he publishes end-to-end novels. We’re talking, easily four a year. And they’re good!  So while I was scratching my head wondering how this superman was doing this (granted, he’s single with no kids), he mentioned in a tweet how he was beginning his next WIP while he was at work at the office. A little light went on. A fellow time-thief! So that’s how it’s done, I thought. Just as I once did it, myself.

I must say, if everyone is happy, I consider this, totally, a victimless crime. (Although I imagine this post won’t win me too many interviews once I share it to LinkedIn). If the work is getting done, how is this time theft any different or worse than gabbing by the cooler or taking thirty minutes to apply your makeup in the bathroom or working your way through a Salem menthol six times a day on the back deck?

Exactly.

Getting paid to write books. Who knew it was so attainable?

Living Your Dream at the Worst Possible Time

Ten years ago I  wrote a book called “Quit Your Job, Move to Paris.” I wrote it after a young dewy-eyed college grad interviewed with me at the bank where I was working in the advertising department. (Dear God, I’m depressing myself just writing the words.) She’d recently graduated with a degree in advertising and wanted to know what she should do to, basically, get my job. I looked at her and asked: “Are you married?” She blushed prettily and shook her head. I said: “So no kids?” She reddened not so prettily and frowned at me. “Of course not,” she said. “Do you own your own home?” “I’m only 21,” she replied, as if speaking to a seriously mentally impaired individual. (Kind of like how my teenager speaks to me all the time but that’s another blog.) I said: “So, no ties, no mortgage, no private school tuition. My advice to you is…” She poised her little pen over her little steno pad.

Well, you can probably guess what I said (see above title of aforementioned book) and she did not appreciate being led on as she put it. In addition to being a new college graduate, she also happened to be the daughter of the bank’s vice president so I’m not sure why she even bothered to get my take on anything. She should’ve just gone to her Dad and said: “I want her job, please, Daddy.”

But see, I had a mortgage and a kid (plus two step-kids, but again, another time, another blog) and the idea of “living my passion” or waking up and smelling the croissants on the Rue de la Paix or spending a year writing a novel was about as possible as starring in a Broadway musical. She was young. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her choices hadn’t been made yet. From my perspective, I thought she should take advantage of her freedom while she had it, as if passion—for writing or travel or acting or anything—would dry up or run out like sand in an hourglass.

When I wrote the “Quit Your Job” book, I ended up researching various chapters on different life situations to suggest ways and ideas of how moving to Paris for a period of time might be possible: married with kids, single with kids, etc. During the course of my research, I discovered how it would be possible for me to go, too. The  information I came up with for my own situation was good and bad. The good news was: I learned I could go! I learned how I could make it happen! The bad news was: I chose not to. Yeah, I know. That part sucked. But it still helped to know I had a choice. I didn’t pack up the kid and the husband and shoot off to France in 2001 because when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I wanted other things more. Things that couldn’t happen if I took the Paris option at that time.

Funny thing about passion, though. If it’s real, it tends to stay with you. I don’t work in a corporate advertising department any more. I write full time. As for the Paris thing, well, my son is sifting through his college acceptances even as we speak which means, next year, he’s launched into his grand adventure. And guess what? Turns out, Paris is still there!

Seems that silly college girl was right about one thing: there really isn’t a time limit on passions after all.

Great Ways to Market Your Book!

I’ve scoured the Internet this last week to find every possible up-to-date article and blog post to help with the age old (and making us old) process of marketing our books. Since most of us are writers first and marketers, maybe tenth, (surely you’re a lover, mother, knitter, snowboarder and a bunch of other things FIRST before marketer?) we need every bit of advice we can get.

So here you are! Break out of the box a little and push that title. It’s not as much fun as having a full on root canal, granted, but it will reap so many more benefits. (Okay, no hate mail from dentists.)

Cheers! Until next time…remember, either click on the picture, above, or right here to access the articles.