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Archive for August, 2012

All my writer-type friends are talking about this article from the New York Times.  (I’ve always wanted to say that.)  It seems that a man in Oklahoma made a good deal of money by writing, or hiring others to write, positive reviews for books on Amazon.com.

It’s not all that surprising.  I’m so gullible that my former co-workers used to call me Polly Anna, and even I could tell many reviews were fake.

At the same time on Authonomy, a writer whose book just dropped out of the top five, and who followed a fairly aggressive strategy for making the desk, suddenly reports having been ‘away’ for a week because her son is dying.

There are many reasons to dislike this author.  She used a stock photo from the internet for her avi.  She never participated in forum conversations, choosing instead to read as many books as she could and leave fairly generic, useless comments.  She backed nearly every book she read for a brief time.  It’s a strategy that has gotten many writers to the desk.  This writer added another level:  she sent messages to the authors of the books she’d reviewed and ask for a reciprocal backing.

On the other hand, her book is pretty good.  It’s well written and interesting.  It’s a book that I think would have made the desk no matter which strategy she chose to use.  And there’s also concern that someone who would claim to have a sick child in order to get a review from Harper Collins may be suffering and making a cry for help.

All this speaks to the question of tactics.  Is paying for reviews a moral or immoral practice?  Are generic comments and 2-day backings sincere?  Is it smart promotion to check in with the people you’ve backed to ask for a backing?  I don’t really know the answers to these questions.  I just know which tactics feel comfortable to me.  Others may feel differently.

But if I decide to self-publish, I won’t be paying anyone to write reviews for my work.  In case you were wondering.

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You Exist, and I Love You

On Sunday night, one of the Associate Pastors delivered the sermon.  We can always tell when an Associate Pastor will speak as we enter the parking lot; attendance tends to drop a bit, which leads us to believe some people check the website to find out who will be preaching and make their plans from there.

Well, they missed out.  Kevin, a member of the Youth Ministry team, knocked it out of the park.

Kevin told us about a class he took years ago.  Students spent their mornings in the classroom, then had lunch and went outside to practice their learning.  He told us that the most profound practice took place on the first day.  Students were instructed to look everyone they met in the eye while thinking, “You exist. You are a Child of God, in whom he is well pleased.  Because God loves you, I also love you.”

Of course, he shared, it was awkward.  It’s much more comfortable to say hello, or even look away, than it is to look upon others and contemplate their value.  But he did it.

A few years ago, I realized something similar.  I was friendly enough, chatting amiably with waitresses and store clerks and the other people I met throughout my days, but seldom did I make the effort to look into their eyes.  I’d have entire conversations with people and fail to make eye contact for any length of time.  I decided to change that.  It was much easier than Kevin’s task–but well worth the effort.

What about you?  Do you look people in the eye, or glance away?  Do you strive to make eye contact?  What does it mean to you when someone connects with your eyes?

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The Sparrow Story

A friend recently shared this Paul Harvey story.  I thought it was remarkable.

One raw winter night the man heard an irregular thumping sound against the kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny, shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass.

Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn door for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights and tossed some hay in the corner. But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, hid in the darkness, afraid.

The man tried various tactics to get them into the barn. He laid down a trail of Saltine cracker crumbs to direct them. He tried circling behind the birds to drive them to the barn. Nothing worked. He, a huge, alien creature, had terrified them; the birds couldn’t comprehend that he actually desired to help. The farmer withdrew to his house and watched the doomed sparrows through a window. As he stared, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: If only I could become a bird – one of them – just for a moment. Then I wouldn’t frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety.

At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He grasped the reason Jesus was born.

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Sometimes a book on Authonomy tickles my fancy and I want to share it with as many people as possible.  Losers, Creeps, Jerks, and Weirdos is such a book.  Author Cynthia Cerny offers up tales from her thirteen years in the dating scene, where she has learned there are worse things than going dateless on a Friday night.

Something I really liked about Cynthia’s book is that she never loses sight of who and what is important on these dates.  During a date with a professional basketball player, he insists that she should be more willing to, er, do what he wants to do.  Cynthia throws him out of the house.  She demonstrates the positive self image all moms hope to see in their daughters over and over again.

The truth is, not all of Cynthia’s dates are losers, creeps, jerks, or weirdos.  But they fail to respect her or treat her as an equal, and that’s reason enough to show any guy the door.

 

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Every now and then I have to remind myself that the purpose of this blog is to promote my writing.  I want to get myself a little supplemental income, pay off some nasty debts, and maybe go to Palm Desert more often.

With that in mind, I’ve been revising the first third of Forgiveness Fits.  Too many reviewers thought Caroline was whiny and annoying and several–men, especially–didn’t like reading a first person story about this whiny girl.  Reviews that identify problems are great, but the ones that suggest solutions are pure gold.  One reviewer suggested switching to third person, and I agree it solves many problems.

Below, you’ll find the new beginning.  The rest, as always, can be found at http://www.authonomy.com/books/36529/forgiveness-fits/

-1-

Caroline MacDougall eased the Monahan’s Suburban into a parking space near the Ferris High School gym and put it in park.  “Got everything?” she asked the eager football camper at her side.

“Duh, Caroline.  You sound like Mom when you do that.”

Caroline smiled.  John hated thinking of her as the family’s nanny.  He’d much rather think of Caroline as something else.

“I’ll be back at four,” she said, as she noticed the player coming toward the car from John’s side.

Caroline’s smile disappeared.  “You better go.”

John looked toward the player and made a disgusted noise.  “Chase Gillespie.  I forgot he’d be here.”  But he opened the door and hopped out.

While the door was open, Chase shouted.  “Monahan!  That your babysitter?”

John slammed the door.

Caroline contemplated Chase from behind her sunglasses, grateful for the tinted windows and air conditioning, as John jogged to the back of the Suburban and jerked out his equipment bag.  Tall and slender, Chase appeared better suited for basketball than football, but she knew him enough to know he probably liked the contact.  That, and trash talking his opponents.  John turned and waved as he trotted past Chase without another look.  Atta boy, thought Caroline.

She pulled in to the lot again just before four, and waited along with the moms there to retrieve their sons.  Michael gurgled in his safety seat and Aiden escaped from his seat to stand at the window, watching for John.  Just as she’d expected, they erupted with joy at the sight of their oldest brother, filthy from sweating all day on the football field in the sun.  Michael kicked his fat legs and Aiden jumped up and down on his seat, pudgy hands pressed on the window.

“How was it?” she asked, as she handed him a cold bottle of Gatorade.

“Good.”  He tilted his head back and swallowed half the bottle in one gulp.  “Thanks.”

“Chase give you a hard time?”

John shot her a curious look.  “You know him?”

“I know of him.  I know he’s not very nice.”  Caroline knew more than that, but wasn’t about to unload her sob stories on an eighth-grader.

“Well, then, you know him.”  John shrugged.  “He’s a creep.”

Caroline smiled to herself.  She’d been worried John would spend a day with the football players and come home indoctrinated with their beliefs about Caroline MacDougall.  She should have known better.  John adored her.

A loud “ga” from the back seat drew John’s attention.  “Hey, Mikey.”  He reached back to grab Michael’s toes.  “Didja go for a ride with Caroline?”

He smiled and repeated his catch-phrase.  “Ga!”

Aiden still stood on the seat next to Michael, sucking his thumb.  He opened his mouth enough to say, “Ca-ine said.”

“I know Caroline invited you,” John reassured him.  “Hey!” he added.  “When you come to this camp, you’ll have Matt and Mark as coaches!”  Matt and Mark were the seven-year-old twins.  “You’re so lucky.”

“ManMark!” agreed Aiden, nodding.  “ManMark,” he said once more before returning his attention to his thumb.

When they arrived back at the Monahan’s house, just across the street from Caroline’s, John carried Michael in and deposited him in his playpen before returning to the car for his bag.  He disappeared down the hall to shower while Caroline added Aidan to the playpen and helped Barb get ready for dinner.

While Caroline extracted loaves of French bread from the oven, she watched in wonder as the kids tended to their assigned chores.  Frankie, age nine, sprayed the picnic table with cleaner and wiped it down before his siblings prepared it for the meal.  Next, Reagan, the only girl, set out the eight placemats and pointed out any the spots Frankie had missed.  The twins were allowed to set out the silverware and napkins, though seldom did Barb allow them to touch the knives.  John and the next oldest brother, Chris, brought out the glasses, filled with ice and homebrewed iced tea.  John and Chris then carried the two high chairs outside, one for Michael and one for Aidan, setting them both across from the chair Caroline would perch on while feeding them.  Once everyone was served and seated, Bill said grace and when he finished, asked John about camp.

John sat up straighter when his father addressed him.  “I liked it.  They worked us hard.”

“I hope so,” mused Bill.  “What did you learn today?”

“We did some handoffs and agility drills.  We ran a lot.  They timed us.  I’m faster than some of the sophomores.”  John waited for his dad’s reply.

“Don’t brag, son.”  Bill peered over his glasses at John.  “Did you talk with the coach?”

“No, sir.  He sort of had the Varsity players doing everything.”

“Hmpf,” said Bill.

John’s face signaled his disappointment.  Then he brightened.  “Paul Corbin was there.”

“Was he?” asked Barb, suddenly interested in the conversation.

John nodded, glad to have said something at least one of his parents liked.  “He said to tell you hello.”

“We’ll have to have them over,” Barb said to Bill.  She leaned closer to Caroline in her seat at the end of the table.  “Have you met our friends Greg and Nancy?”  As Caroline shook her head, Barb continued.  “You’ll love Paul.  Everyone loves Paul.”

Caroline wanted to answer but knew her remarks would sound like self-pity.  She liked many of her classmates.  But they didn’t much like her.

After she’d spooned the entire jar of baby spaghetti and half a jar of apricots into Michael’s mouth, Caroline excused herself to take him inside and clean him up.  Wiping his face and hands, she repeated her mantra about starting school in three weeks.

Smile, she instructed herself.  Say hello more often.  Reach out in kindness and friendship.  No sarcasm, no matter how funny you think you are.  You’re good at this, Caroline MacDougall.  You can do it.

Caroline knew life in the military.  She knew a dozen schools, people of all races and backgrounds, and cities across the country.  She recognized change, disruption, and friendships based on little more than a momentary need.  Hey, let’s go play on the swings!  Because they giggled together as they pumped their legs and swung high enough for the chains to go slack, they became inseparable.  Wanna come over and watch television?  They stayed up until after midnight watching an old movie and quoted the lines the following week at school, best friends.  You!  Over there!  We need someone to play outfield.  Caroline missed every ball hit in her direction but made five new friends that one afternoon.

And then her dad retired from the Air Force, and the family moved to Spokane to be near her mom’s sister.  Caroline recognized nothing.

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