Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Partying Facebook Style

Yesterday, I celebrated Christmas in July on Facebook, talking with a fun group of ladies about my books, my blogs, my characters and even my Pinterest page. I knew a few of them, but most of them came to the party because they found it online or because they know Paige, who helped me keep things running. I got to meet new people, and they got to meet a new author. (If you missed the party, you can find the transcript here).

Today, I have a pile of packages to mail -- envelopes filled with books, Christmas socks and even a few beachy items in keeping with the theme. Over time, I've learned to choose prizes that are theme specific but won't require me to take out a loan to mail them to the lucky winners.

Although my usual procrastination prevails, I have fun getting ready for these parties. In fact, they play right into my wheelhouse. I don't have to clean my house (no one's coming here), I don't have to get dressed up (no one will even see me) and I don't have to cook (no one needs to be fed). And I can still debate the merits of unadulterated chocolate vs. chocolate and peanut butter, and hot chocolate with or without whipped cream and marshmallows.

Instead, I get to write a script (so I don't make a fool of myself by winging it), create graphics (something I love to do) and put together theme-related prizes (Shopping? Sign me up!) All of these tap into my creativity. They also take time, though, and sometimes, my work-in-progress takes a back seat.

For the author, the best part of one of these parties is the opportunity to interact with readers and get to know new people (and potential new readers). Guests get a chance to meet an author in a low-stakes environment; in my mind, if the Facebook party is done well, the author stirs up interest in his or her work, but doesn't engage in a hard sell. I had just as much fun talking about food and holiday traditions yesterday as I did talking about my writing and my characters.

Although I'm happy to have a quiet day today to get caught up, I'm really glad I spent yesterday afternoon in the company of readers. I can only hope that my guests enjoyed the party as much as I did.

If you have the opportunity to go to an author's Facebook party, check it out! It might be more fun than you expect, and I'm pretty sure that simple act will make an author's day.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dance as Though the Internet is Watching

When I was in my twenties, I looked forward to becoming a feisty old lady -- some day. I wasn't in any hurry, but I imagined my twenty-year old self, still of sound mind, if not body, actively a part of conversations and the general narrative of society some seventy years down the road.

When I was in my thirties, I became a mom. This wonderful life choice helped to keep me young in some ways, while making me feel old in others. My daughter was born when I was thirty-six, quite over-the-hill for the area in which we live. As she grew into a young teen and then a young adult, her tastes were not my tastes. Her music was not my music. But she was the center of my life and keeping up with her interests kept me not only active in her life, but on top of things as well. Looking at the world through her eyes, it was easy to see a young adult perspective on life long after my own young adulthood had passed.

In my early fifties, I retired. (Clearly, my life plan does not involve consistency in traditional timing). Suddenly, I was part of a group where I was the youngest member -- quite a difference from my motherhood experience. Faced with some of the same challenges that concerned not my contemporaries, but those a decade or more older, I was in a great position to get an early start on that cool old lady vibe.

But the opposite happened. Considering things like the cost of health insurance and medication (alongside the cost of college) and recognizing the value of an early bird special led me dangerously in the direction of becoming old before my time. Just as I had to fight to stay a young-at-heart mom because I started late, now I had to fight to remain a young-at-heart retiree because I started early.

Not staying retired helped, and getting a teaching position at a college, where I once again got a first-hand view of the young adult perspective, helped even more. Still, as I immerse myself in serious adulthood (as opposed to the more frivolous variety I enjoyed in my twenties and thirties), it's easy to become, well...


Take last weekend, for example. I had the wonderful experience of being invited to the wedding of a former student. The groom had been one of my students in elementary school, and then again in college. I was so honored to be part of his day, to be included among the family and friends he wanted to celebrate with.

At the reception, my husband and I enjoyed having the opportunity to dance. I'm a decent dancer, but I don't dance like the twenty-somethings. I'm not as limber as I once was and I need to be reminded of the steps to the wedding reception standards from one celebration to the next, but I have fun.

Or, at least I was having fun until I discovered the plethora of cell phones scanning the crowd on the dance floor. I know no one was filming me in particular, but my ability to dance like no one was watching was greatly hindered by the idea that strangers could film me and post what was not intended to be a performance in a public forum.

Photo: Geralt via Pixabay
Crochety. I know. This is what the young people do.

And I love social media -- I do. I just don't like being part of it without granting permission.

The fact is, we behave differently in the private arena than we do in the public arena. I wasn't doing anything to be ashamed of, but suddenly, every mistake felt magnified and every misstep no longer my own business. It wasn't as though I wasn't aware that I was visible; it's just that there's a difference between being seen and going public. I could no longer dance like no one was watching.

Back when I was in my twenties, I could envision myself as a feisty old lady with very little trouble, but I never gave a thought to what I'd be like in my fifties. Middle age was old, but not cool, and not something young adults give much thought to. In my fifty-something mind, I'm still my twenty-something self when I get up and dance.

Unfortunately, there's nothing like a plethora of cell phones to prove me wrong.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Feature: Sensory Friendly Baseball

We live close enough to PeoplesBank Park to hear the fireworks some nights. But last night, it was quiet, despite the fact that the York Revolution was hosting the Sugar Land Skeeters. And, it wasn't just fireworks that were missing.

In addition to hosting the Skeeters, the Revs were hosting Sensory Friendly Night. From the pre-game through the end of the game itself, loudspeakers were less loud, mascot DownTown was more tame and promotions and graphics were less in evidence, all in an effort to welcome kids with autism and others who are put off by the sensory overload of a typical baseball game.

And the Revs aren't alone. Sensory Friendly Nights are becoming more common, making it possible for everyone in the family to enjoy the game.

In this particular game, the Revs beat the Skeeters, 11-2, albeit more quietly than usual.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

News and Updates, A.K.A., Whaddaya Mean Writers Don't Just Write?

When I first embarked on my writing career, writing time meant literally that -- time spent at the computer, or with paper and a writing implement, putting words on the page. The Internet was in its infancy. There was no blogging or social media. Writing meant physically placing oneself into a chair (there were no treadmill desks either) and putting stories on the page or the screen.
Now, nearly 25 years later, I think it's fair to say that this is still the most important part of a writer's job. Clearly, it's the defining part of a writer's job. 

What it isn't, however, is the only part of a writer's job.

I'm not complaining. I happen to like the Internet, blogging and social media. In fact, I prefer all of them to what is arguably a writer's second most important task: editing. I enjoy exercising my creative muscles doing things like making graphics, pinning ideas and trying to fit fun and meaningful thoughts into 140 characters. 

It's a good thing, too, because, for better or for worse, these activities are no longer considered optional for those who wish to embark on or maintain a writing career. Whether we publish independently or traditionally, whether we represent ourselves or have agents to do the heavy lifting, authors are expected to help spread the word about the things we write. 

The fact that I like doing this stuff makes me one of the lucky ones. I truly enjoy interacting with my readers online and offline, with other writers in cafes and at conferences and with wannabe writers, well, almost anywhere, which is exactly where I tend to find them. All of these things create a sense of community and reduce the loneliness inherent in a job where your best work gets done when you're alone.

This week, I've been playing with my blog (you might have noticed a change in the background). Look for a bit more tweaking over the next few weeks as I get it to just where I want it to be. I've also created a header to use when I share these posts on Twitter and I'm preparing for a Facebook party next week, creating a script of sorts, making graphics and putting together prizes.

If you fit into any of the categories above (reader, writer, wannabe writer), or if you're just curious, I hope you'll stop by. Last year's Christmas in July Facebook Party centered on Chasing a Second Chance, which had come out eight months earlier. Since I have no new book (yet), my Second Annual Christmas in July Facebook Party will have a different focus, but I can still promise conversation, games, a character Q & A and prizes, but no hard sell. Christmas, whether celebrated in July or December, isn't supposed to be about selling stuff. And parties are supposed to be about talking to people, not whipping out our checkbooks.

So, if you happen to be free on Tuesday, July 25 from 3-6 pm (EST), I hope you'll stop by. That way, you can find out a little bit about what I do when I'm not writing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Calendar Conversations

Photo: Cook Diary
(Jewish Apple Cake)
When I was in high school, I loved to bake. Not just stuff out of boxes and tubes (my current go-to when I can't convince my daughter to bake for me), but recipes I selected from cookbooks. My mom and I had a great deal -- I baked and she cleaned up -- one that allowed each of us to do the thing she preferred.

Cooking, on the other hand, is not something I've ever really enjoyed. I don't mind cooking, but I dislike meal planning and, as someone who works from home much of the time, I resent the time meal preparation takes out of my schedule. Once upon a time, putting together a great meal appealed to my creative side, but, with rare exceptions, those days are gone.

Shortly before my husband and I got married, I changed jobs, moving from a full-time position to a Monday-Thursday work week. Over time, that job also morphed into full-time, and Friday night dinners out became part of our routine. We'd become parents by then, so these dinners were never anything fancy, but they became a family tradition of sorts.

Initially, we aimed for restaurant consensus, and later, when my daughter was old enough, we began taking turns choosing the restaurant. She loved the power it gave her when she picked a restaurant, and I loved knowing we'd go somewhere she'd find something to her liking.

Samuel1983 via Pixabay
As her schedule grew more hectic, I began to take the family calendar to dinner so we could plan the week ahead. This elicited groans some weeks, so I tried to keep it short, but remained firm in this part of our dinner agenda. Five minutes between ordering dinner and receiving our food was a key part of keeping everyone on track and creating a built-in reminder system for the week ahead. One of us always remembered the items we discussed (and it wasn't always me) and we rarely double-booked.

Eventually, my daughter grew out of this family tradition, preferring to just chill out on Friday evenings instead of going out to dinner (usually followed by our weekly Target run). Reluctant to let this family time go, my husband and I made a new rule: she could opt out of one dinner a month. By the time she finished high school, our Friday family dinners were once again becoming dinners for two, thanks to a busy schedule, a new driver's license and burgeoning independence.

In retrospect, these Friday dinners became the perfect metaphor for her growing up years: offering choices, letting out the reins a bit, communicating about necessary changes as she asserted her independence.

Making compromises. Showing respect. Finding the balance between her heart's desire and ours.

Last Friday was one of those rare Fridays where we all gathered for dinner out together. Accustomed to my calendar-itis, the only cringing my husband and daughter indulge in these days is of the inward variety, but I honestly don't think there's much of that either. The nine-year-old who reveled in picking the restaurant has become a nineteen-year-old who is a part of the conversation. A year in college has taught her to look beyond the week ahead, and the calendar conversation quickly morphed into to-do lists and necessary back-to-school errands.

A month from now, we'll be packing her up again, and she'll be heading to a place she's come to think of as another home. I remember those days and my own enthusiasm to get back to the friends who'd scattered across the country again after spring semester. Rather than being hurt or insulted by her excitement, I am instead happy that she has found a place worth going back to.

And just like that, my role has changed again. Through an intricate mix of Friday dinners and family vacations, movie nights and card games, informal chats and respect for the independence she's proven ready to handle, my job now is to make sure that home #1 is always a place she finds worth coming back to.

I'm up for that. Just don't ask me to cook on Friday.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Feature: Successfully Maintaining Momentum

This has been one of those weeks where I've had a hard time maintaining momentum. I've either hit the ground running, then run out of steam midway through the day or drug my feet getting started until the morning was half over, unmotivated to get started on even the tasks I set for myself because I wanted to to them. To make matters worse, I've spent an inordinate amount of time on activities that neither enrich my life nor shorten my to-do list.

I get it. I do. Not every week will be stellar, especially during the summer when I'm in vacation mentality. Besides, I learned a long time ago that my energy balance is a lot like a toddler's preferred diet -- all junky and non-nutritious one day and filled with what's good for me the next. As long as the balance is okay, it's probably healthy overall.

Unfortunately, that awareness doesn't do much to reduce my frustration with my own inertia. Consequently, I waste a lot of energy in pointless self-chastisement instead of just letting what is be.

Despite the fact that I'm more social scientist than hard scientist, I found this paragraph in Success magazine's article on maintaining momentum fascinating -- or at least more helpful than the loop of "I Can't Get Started with You" that was running incessantly through my head:
In chemistry, you need a big burst of initial energy to start a chemical reaction. This explosion of energy is called activation energy. What does it have to do with your personal goals? Everything.
Activation energy. So that's what was missing. Gotta get me some of that.

Meanwhile, the article shared four simple concepts (at least one of which I was already doing) that would help reduce my frustration while I struggled to establish momentum, let alone maintain it. Arguably, these could create a stockpile of activation energy.

As someone who has an easy time engaging in R& R, but a hard time justifying it, perhaps I also need to adjust my expectations just a tad. Maybe simply accept the fact, as Alexander concludes, that
Some days are like that. Even in Australia.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writer's Block in Disguise

Geralt via Pixabay
In one of her recent Facebook posts, author and author success coach Deborah Riley-Magnus posed this question:
Author survey question of the day ... I don't believe in writer's block, but I do believe in fear that can paralyze the fingers. What are your tricks to get over the blank page and get the ball rolling on those rare occasions when you're uncertain or concerned about the project at hand?
My response came quickly and easily:
Just write. Anything. Words on the page are easier to edit (even if you delete them all when better words show up) than a blank page. 
I believe that. And, like Deb, I don't believe in writer's block, or, at least, I refuse to call it that. Sure there are extenuating circumstances, but when it comes to day-to-day writing roadblocks, it's much easier to slap a handy label on them and go do something that's not as much work than it is to sit down and put words -- any words -- on a page or screen.

It only occurred to me after I responded to Deb's post that my writer's block (again, assuming there is such a thing) comes in a different form.


I'm very good at following my own write something -- anything advice once my butt is in my chair. Unfortunately, I'm equally good at not sitting down to write in the first place. I can create a day's worth of things I should do instead, thus completely circumventing Deb's question in the first place.

In theory, the answer to this dilemma is equally plain and simple:

  1. Stop doing everything else.
  2. Sit down.
  3. Write.
It's not that writing is that easy; some days, pushing a rock up a mountain would be less difficult and more fulfilling. But there's only one way to get better at it, only one way to fill pages with words, only one way to turn those words into stories and books and articles and that is to sit down and write. Write messy, write nonsensical, write garbage. 

Just. Write.

Now all I need to do is practice what I preach.