Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012 what a year...

From many accounts, 2012 has been The Year of Change. I’ve heard many stories from people regarding the changes in their lives, and a lot of these changes do not feel good. In fact, many people suffered outright this year. So, what’s up?  From the end of the Mayan calendar to preachers talking about Armageddon, all signs point to an “end of days”.  Hmmm, we all made it through 12/21/12.  But an end of days may not necessarily be about rapture and hellfire.  Maybe it’s an end of days as we know it, which heralds, not brimstone, but change.   And maybe instead of digging our heels into the ground in painful resistance, we should embrace what these changes mean for us.

What does this have to do with writing?  Heck if I know.  I just thought the subject should be discussed.

I think cavemen suffered a lot.  Think about a skinned knee or an infection before Neosporin. Our advances in medicine and technology and agriculture and in just about everything else have given us a sense of ease.  It’s easy to go buy a steak and throw it on the grill.  Think about if you had to actually kill a cow to get it.  Could you kill the cow?  You probably could if you were hungry. But maybe having to kill a cow would make some of us vegetarians.  There’s a lot of blood involved in killing something.  Could you do it? 

Because things are easy, we’ve become more and more afraid.  You wouldn’t think that would happen.  You would think we would become emboldened in our relative state of ease. In some ways, we are bolder. We’re haughtier with each other, that’s for sure.  Some people have quite the sense of entitlement.  But when you get farther and farther away from something, you forget how to deal with it.  There was a time, not too long ago, where children died of childhood diseases.  There was nothing a doctor could do.  People lived relatively close to heartbreak, and yet they danced. They still found the heart to dance. They lived and enjoyed their lives. They reached out to other people and found comfort in sharing their woes.  They created community because they all knew how fragile their lives were.  Maybe they appreciated their lives that much more.  

And that brings me back to suffering. ViktorFrankl wrote about suffering in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.” He says, “If there is meaning to life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life… without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”

Maybe the question isn’t, “What did I do to deserve this?”  Maybe the question is, “Now, what?” The only thing left to do, is to deal with the catastrophe.  And as much as we don’t like to suffer, that is when we begin to learn.

Of course, the first thing we need to do is take some responsibility for the things that befall us.  It’s much easier to blame someone else for our problems. You lost your home, so you blame the bank that took it from you. You suffered. So did your family, most likely.  But was there some part of your ego that was attached to that house?  I mean, why stay in a place that you are fast not being able to afford? Was there something that stopped you from selling when you could?  Denial is a pretty powerful force.  I’ve seen it at work in my own life.  But playing the victim is like staying in that relative, misguided, sense of ease.  You’ll always be terrified of the unknown. Now, there are true victims.  People who have inoperable cancer. Accident victims. Truly in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But so many of these people become role models for coping.  They don’t remain victims.  They deal on an everyday basis with issues that terrify the rest of us.  If 2012 has brought some of us closer to the precipice, maybe that wasn’t meant to be a horrible thing.  Maybe it’s an opportunity to reevaluate our values.  Maybe it was a little shakeup in a world fast becoming immune to suffering. 

I went to an inter-faith program where the clergy spoke about the Book of Job. Job, of course, is the biblical poster-child for suffering. The main thing I got out of the lecture was what God says to Job when it’s all said and done.  He says, in so many words,  “Brace yourself.” Actually, the words are, “Gird up now thy loins like a man.” Maybe God meant, “Man up now.” And then God proceeds to berate Job. Again, in so many words, He asks Job why, throughout all his suffering, did Job not recognize any of the amazing things that God created?  Okay, I’ll give you some examples… “Out of whose womb came the ice?”  “Doth the hawk soar by thy wisdom?” “Will thou hunt the prey for the lioness?” At first, I wondered, in the midst of suffering, why would one care about ice, hawks, or lioness prey? I didn’t see the point. But at a second look, I realized that those amazing things are exactly what we should focus on in the midst of suffering.  In the face of all that, Job admits he is but “dust and ashes.”  Comparatively speaking.

Job’s humility.  Well, there’s one for the guys with the sense of entitlement!  Maybe I should throw a bible at the next driver who cuts me off on the freeway.
We can all use a little 2012 now and then.  I hope your 2013 is filled with amazing things and that you reach out to your fellow man. While we may be “dust and ashes” and life may be fragile, the act of reaching out to others is infinitely strong. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Building Your Brand

One of the catch-phrases you always hear in book marketing is “building your brand.” When I first heard that, I thought, “What?” The books are the products we’re supposed to sell, not the authors, right? Wrong. You would think that technology has isolated us. After all, we either have a Bluetooth hanging off our ears, our faces bent down toward our Ipads, our fingers busily tapping our laptop keyboards, or the cell phone always at ready for texting, chatting or talking. And while we may be physically alone when we’re on these electronics, we are in no way isolated. In fact, communication has gone into hyper-drive. There are more ways now to instantly get a hold of someone than ever before. Just try to imagine yourself waiting for a friend at a restaurant. How long will it be before you take out your cell phone and “check your messages” or check your e-mail, or even go on the internet and catch up on some news? I’d wager most people don’t last one minute.
What does this have to do with why you should build a brand as an author? I’ll tell you why.
In this brave new world of face-chatting and cell phone cameras catching any and all action, people are seeing other people, up close and personal. Your buying public is expecting to know who you are. That includes, what you look like, what you like to do, what you are doing at any given time (Twitter, for instance); in other words, they want you to be accessible, just like everything else nowadays. That’s why you need to build your brand. You need to be more than an author; you need to be a person of interest.
Now, before you go and hide under your covers, understand that you are already an interesting person. You write. More than likely, you’ve published a book. You just need to learn how to share yourself and your experiences with your fellow human being. A website is an absolute necessity. This is where people can go to get the whole person – you. Blogging is good; that gets you and your voice out there so that people can get to know your personality. You can blog on your website, on a separate blog site, and you can also guest blog on someone else’s site. I’ve been amazed at how supportive my fellow writers are. You should be doing interviews and trying to get your book reviewed. Trade reviews legitimize not only your work, but you as an author. All this online marketing is cost-effective and you can reach a broad spectrum of readers; however, nothing feels as good as coming face-to-face with a buying public. That’s one thing a cell phone can’t give you.
And while you can sit alone at your computer and join groups, join discussions, leave comments, (that’s all recommended), you really should get out there and meet people in person. Try to arrange book signings at stores and book festivals. There’s something magical and energetic about a live, personal discourse. Those conversations seem to have a more long-lasting effect on readers and because of that they will not be so quick to forget you. In a way, I find that fact rather refreshing.
Now, I’m not advocating for you to become the most obnoxious self-promoter on the planet. That’s a sure turn-off. The most important thing to remember in building your brand is to be accessible. Unless he’s already famous, no writer can afford to be the aloof, affected, “I-vant-to-be-alone” type. Not in this world, not nowadays. So, stop hiding and let your communication begin!

Monday, April 16, 2012

I just returned from DC and, having never been there before, I was amazed to see up close and personal, all the buildings of agencies I’ve written “dislike” mail to.  What has this got to with a community of writers?  Well, just that.  To be an author means you can also compose a good letter and then you’ll find that the pen truly is mightier than the sword.
Even if you are a fiction writer, you’ll know how to put words effectively on a page. Writing is a way we express ourselves, not only through fiction, but to venture an opinion.  Some people are great orators (our current president is one).  They know how to speak, they look good on camera, and they wear nice ties.  Authors can be just as effective. I visited the Newseum ( http://www.newseum.org/)  and was treated to a vast array of captured journalistic  moments, I mean monumental moments. It’s sort of mind-boggling. As an author, you have the gift to contribute to that. 
Now, I’m no journalist. I’d much rather space out within the confines of my current fictional tome, but, as I stated before, I’m an avid letter-writer.  If you are political at all, join Congress.org (http://www.congress.org/news/).  You can write all your representatives in about 30 seconds.  You can also get on your own soapbox and let the world know your views (or how crazy you are).
I’m pretty crazy myself. One day, I’ll have to post my fabulous letter to the Federal Trade Commission.  In short, it had to do with why they have ignored the anti-trust laws that are supposed to protect us from monopolies. That one got a response from Senator Dianne Feinstein. 
 I hear people say, “I can’t make a difference so why bother? No one is going to listen.”  It’s true that one ant cannot fight against the giant foot that is stepping on the picnic, but a colony of ants can do some damage.  So, if you see or hear something that stirs you up, utilize your gift of writing to make a difference. I bet you are wondering why the blog’s title has to do with ED. I myself often notice that in Washington DC there seems to be a lot of talk but a lack of performance. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Delving into Darkness - It's a good thing!

At a recent author event, an audience member asked me how I keep upbeat when most of my writing revolves around troubled souls who get into trouble.  The most obvious answers come to mind. I have a husband who pulls me away from the computer. I have kids to attend to. I have a great group of friends to have fun with. The most honest answer, however, comes from deep within. Simply put: I don't think delving into darkness is a bad thing.

Have you ever met someone who you know instinctively to stay the heck away from?  Do you know someone who is so needy, so clingy, that you suspect he or she has some big issues to deal with?  Of course, you do.  But I don't think any of us should be so quick to point the finger.  Not one of us has had the luxurious privilege of walking this earth unscathed -- it's just a question as to what degree we are scarred.  And if we do carry baggage around, shouldn’t we dump it?

As an author, what I most enjoy doing is creating a character with baggage. I then ask professionals, such as psychologists, how they would treat the particular issue.  Some characters, like real people, end up in denial. These souls don't want to address the darkness within. But like anybody traveling around in the dark, they cannot see where they are going. In other words, they can't decipher if the path they are on is good or bad.  That's how people (and characters) get into trouble.  Some of the villains take it a step beyond denial.  They don’t just deny that there is anything wrong with them; they blame everyone else for their actions. That makes it okay for them to commit the worst acts with a clean conscience. Since I am a big proponent of delving into darkness, my protagonist will consistently address his issues as they come up.  Some of the best scenes to write are the ones where the protagonist greatly fears tackling his own weaknesses and insecurities. We’ve all heard Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote, “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” and we all know that the only person we can truly change is ourselves. That’s about as much control as we have. So it begs the question: Why fear delving into the darkness?