Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Old Scammer, New Clothes...

Some of us just have to keep learning the hard way...but if I can keep you from having to do it with this guy, it's worth a link or two. As always, writer beware! More later, Janny

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Make Money At Home! Easy New System! :-)

Now, why didn’t I think of this? Here I am, minding my own business in the heartland, doing the writer thing of getting ideas, thinking about those ideas, mulling those ideas, having a spark come to me that prompts those ideas onto the screen and onto paper…and working all this around the normalcy of having a day gig. Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggling act time-wise, and it’s even more of a juggling act money-wise. And here, all I had to do to relieve the strain was figure out how to structure a raffle! Man, what a great idea to rake in some freelance income. Just wish I’d thought of it first… (sigh) Janny

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Beware the Tyranny of the "Shoulds"!

Q. When does a blog cease to be "just" a blog? A. When it becomes a tool you’re using for some other purpose.

Q. Well, that's a great idea, right?

A. Not necessarily.

I found myself in bit of "blog" and "should" overwhelm this week. I was reading a blog from one of my compadres in which it was asserted, quite strongly, that author blogs should be aimed at marketing themselves, and nothing that doesn’t have to do with promotion and professional image/branding should be there. I.E., if your written body of work has to do with, say, nineteenth-century music, amateur sleuthing and metallurgy, nothing else should be on your blog but aforementioned music, sleuthing and -lurgy. That means should you have the urge to talk about your children, your pets, your religion, your football team, or your latest recipe for spinach dip…those things need to be on another blog (if they need to be anywhere at all). The rationale is that you want readers who come to your blog to learn about you as an author, not necessarily as a person. Therefore, if they come to your blog expecting to read about what you already write about and, instead, come upon a blog entry about your cats, they’re going to be upset at you for wasting their time, your blog will be a marketing failure, and they’ll go elsewhere, convinced you’re a hopeless amateur. Do we all really believe this? And if so, why? I don’t mean to poke holes in any particular point of view here. As far as marketing, branding, etc., go, the advice is probably good. It may even be the Gospel According to the Latest Marketing Gurus, and/or people who have sold a heck of a lot more books than I have. But I think it’s a serious mistake to look at this advice, swallow it hook, line, and sinker, and take it as the only way to go, with any other way marking you as unprofessional. The comments about this post were telling. Some agreed it was a great idea. But I also remember one particularly adept author saying something along the lines of, “I’m just starting to figure out how to have one blog working, and now you’re saying I need to have two? Forget it!” To which I said, “Amen, sister.” The internet has brought us an unprecedented opportunity to get information in what can be a very solitary and isolated occupation. This is a good thing. It’s wonderful that we can, with one click, avoid re-inventing the wheel in so many ways. Thanks to instantaneous communication, we can avoid a lot of mistakes and get some very useful instruction, sometimes instruction that we would have had to pay big bucks for in the “olden days” of only being able to get this stuff from a classroom. We can also, however, go into overwhelm very quickly if we try to take all the information available as the only way we “should” be running our writing careers. Because there’s no such thing as a single way a career “should” go, in any enterprise—and especially in a creative one. So consider today’s entry a voice for caution. For reading all the information out there, and still trusting your gut as to what’s going to work for you. And above all, for avoiding the notion that anything “should” be the way to go for you, the only way to go, so help you God. I for one couldn’t disagree more with the frantic branding and marketing blogs that I see from authors. Not that marketing isn’t important; of course it is. Not that setting up a good website isn’t a good idea; of course it is. And if you truly want to have one “marketing” blog and one “personal” blog, and you honestly have the time and inclination to keep up with both of them…more power to you. But for this blog reader? I go to agents’ blogs to hear about agenting, and I go to editors’ blogs to hear about editing, true. But I also enjoy hearing about them as people. And when it comes to fellow authors, this goes double. Yeah, sometimes we can go overboard—or have a series of blog entries that makes people wonder what we’re really about. I don’t enjoy author websites that have inferior writing samples posted…but superior quality photographs of their horses. (Someone might be in the wrong line of work!) If all your blog talks about is your kids’ achievements, or your farm in Connecticut, I may or may not visit it very often. If you’re purporting to be a writer, at least some of your blog probably needs to be about writing! :-) But overall? A blog with a personal touch means I’m more likely to stick around. Yes, information about book signings is pertinent…but so is your perception of the industry from a purely personal POV. Yes, information about your upcoming releases is valuable…but not if that’s all I read, and it sounds like a press release. I'd much rather see a whole person in your blog. Tell me some of your opinions. Be multi-dimensional. That, to me, is what blogging is for. The rest of it we can use news sites, publisher sites, our writing groups, and our publicists (especially the unpaid ones, otherwise known as family and friends!) for. In your blog, I want to get a glimpse of who you are. I can’t get that if you transform your blog from a glimpse into your thought processes, work style, and life to something that’s clearly structured to be a marketing machine. Those things turn me off, each and every time. This is only one author’s opinion, as a reader and as a writer. But I think it’s sad that in this brave new world of information we’re all experiencing, we’re in some senses being put into the same restrictive boxes we would have been without it. We can even more easily get awash in “shoulds,” get convinced we’re missing the boat, and get down about failing (yet again) to recognize the “secret handshake” that’s “going to make all the difference.” Let’s not go there, because in reality, there’s really no such thing as “the way your blog should be.” Your blog “should” be what you want to make of it. That’s only fair for creative people on a creative, worldwide bulletin board. Here’s to blogging for the sheer joy of it— Janny

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our "PC" Society Strikes Again

Last night, Chief Illini-wek danced for the last time on the Illinois home court. It’s a sad day for all of us. And no, I don’t for a moment think that the NCAA is cracking down on so-called “offensive mascots” out of anything other than monetary incentives…the same reason Illinois caved on this. That, and a little embarrassment. Too bad they’re not embarrassed about the outrageously low quality of education many of their member schools offer to the students. Not to mention the oxymoronic term “student-athlete,” at least when it comes to the moneyed sports. Or the fact that the university system has been overtaken so completely by the liberal mindset that more than one student has actually risked a failing grade in a class simply by expressing a conservative point of view. In many places, God help you if you write essays that way. (In many places, God help you if you say the word “God” too loud.) We live in a society today that’s running scared, and for no good reason. When does it stop? Are we so afraid of being labeled that we’ll cave to anyone, for anything? Then why don’t we quiver and tremble at the repeated blasphemies that occur against the holy name of God? Against His commandments? And against His perfect will? An entire society is going to hell right now. Literally. But if we say that, we’re religious right-wing nutjobs who are just out to “impose our will” on everyone else. Never mind that far less worthy people than God impose their will on us every day, in countless little ways…the great majority of which diminish our lives in some sense. The message is loud and clear: it’s okay to impose your will, your political correctness, and your agenda on someone else, if you’re on the right (or should I say the left?) side of the aisle. But God help you if you try turnabout and fair play on the other side. Occasionally, we do try to fight back…but usually, only to a point. Illinois fought back. But only to a point. When the NCAA threw a tantrum, they gave in. But of course, I want the NCAA dictating to me what a proper social conscience looks like. Don't you? Like I said, it’s a sad day for all of us. And it’s gonna get a whole lot sadder if some of us don’t find a way to get a backbone transplant. All it would take is a few. And then a few more. And then a few more. It begins with one. And, sometimes, I hope…it begins here. Let’s stop being afraid of everyone and everything that could possibly embarrass us. Let’s start calling spades spades again… …and sin sin again… …and nonsense nonsense again. Are you with me? Janny

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Ash Wednesday!

Happy beginning of Lent! I haven’t even thought of “giving up” much of anything for this Lent, to be perfectly honest about this (and we should be perfectly honest, even though we’re imperfect, capisce?). But I am seriously considering actually trying to observe the old-fashioned 40-day fast that my mother’s generation got used to. That'll be sacrifice enough, even if I only manage it part of the time! We’re pretty soft nowadays—we only need to observe a “real” fast on two days out of Lent, and abstain from meat on a few more. But when I was growing up, my parents were obligated to fast all weekdays of Lent…and I think I remember a lot more meatless days in there, too. My only problem is that I do verge on low blood sugar problems, so I can’t get too enthused about this fasting thing or I start to get this other, lightheaded thing. But today’s going well so far, I’m not obsessing on food (although I can’t promise that I won’t be reallyreallyreally looking forward to a fairly decent sized dinner this evening!)… ...and I’ve already been warned not to give up both chocolate and wine, as I did during one noble year. Apparently, I got a bit more feisty that season than anyone has a right to be. (!) Anyhow, be sure to pay attention to those ashes. And I love the fact that our priest says the old-fashioned admonition,”Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” After years of the more “modern” version (something along the lines of “turn from sin and embrace the Gospel”)—which sounded for all the world like it was written by someone more concerned about our self-esteem than self-sacrifice—it’s nice to have the “old rugged” version in mind during this special season. So for Day #1, think dust…ashes…and “Long Live God!” What’s your favorite part of Lent? Janny

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Annoying Day Jobs, part 2

A friend and I have coined the acronym "ADJ" to refer to our day in Annoying Day Job. The theory, of course, is that if we didn't have to do these annoying day jobs to make a living, we'd be home all day, drinking endless pots of coffee, holed up writing thousands of words a day on our Great American Novels. That, of course, would be the Good Life. We wouldn't have to put up with regimentation of our days, we wouldn't have to get out of our jammies if we didn't want to, yatta, yatta. It's a shame, really. We artistic types shouldn't be bound to having to slave away with irritating supervisors or coworkers that drive us nuts... Yeah. Okay. Right. You know that's a fantasy, don't you? Not the part where you sometimes have irritating supervisors or coworkers who drive you nuts. But the part where, left to our own devices, we'd be holed up with that large pot of coffee and writing endlessly, to the point where our production would skyrocket, we would be blissfully happy, and we'd at last be living True Artistic Lives. Fantasy, all the way. How dare I say that? Better still, why am I so sure? Well, I could name a couple of reasons, and they're titles of computer games (!)...but that's not the whole reason. It's just that I'm beginning to come to an "ugly" realization about myself, and I suspect many of us realize the same thing deep down...only we dare not speak its name out loud, under penalty of being considered somewhat less than a "real" artist. The ugly truth? On some level...we LIKE having day jobs. It's hard to shoot holes in the folklore and admit that because, somehow, it just seems to make us...less legitimate as artistic people. REAL writers, after all, despise routine. REAL writers, real creative people, loathe the ball and chain of going to a salaried job every day. REAL writers want that unfettered freedom of writing, submitting, being paid, lather, rinse, repeat. REAL creative people consider cubicle life as death, office worlds as stiflingly boring, and are only truly happy when they've busted out of those chains and are following their muses, come hell or high water. Hogwash. Yeah, there are days when we don't want to go into the office...but that's not because we don't want to work so much as it's because the weather is just plain too nice to stay indoors, period. Which means that, barring a convenient place to put a laptop, we won't be writing, either. Or even if we have a convenient place to put a laptop, we ain't gonna be in the mood to write...because we're too busy soaking up sun, enjoying the breeze, thinking about making iced tea or having a picnic. I know. I've worked from a home office, and I've worked "legitimate" day gigs. And there is a difference. Day gigs are easier. We as creative people have been sold a bill of goods for a long, long time. We've willingly bought it, too, especially those of us who are children of the Sixties, when the rallying cry was "Down with the Establishment!" and we were "flower children" who thought we could live on love. Hey, the idea of dumping a day job, or never getting one in the first place? COOL, man. HEAVY, dude. Or, as kids said a generation later...awesome! Too bad the bill of goods isn't real. When you don't have a steady day gig, how do you pay for your car to be fixed? What do you do when you need to go the dentist? When do you take the cat to the vet? When all you have is your own self, freelancing or selling novels, you have a LOT to pay for. You have a lot of responsibility, and no group insurance advantages to make it cheaper. And this frees up your creativity and inspires your muse...HOW? So as we look forward to another work week, I would submit it will go much less painfully for many of us if we stop lying to ourselves. If we stop beating up on our jobs, our employers, or ourselves for--on some level--feeling good about having the job in the first place. If we just admit that, for a lot of reasons, maybe we don't really want to be on our own. Left on our own, many of us would drift. Or waste time. Or wonder if what we're doing really matters.

Irritating coworkers or not...some of us would panic, or at least be at a loss, without them.

There's no shame in any of that.

There's no diminishment of "artistry" in saying, "Hey, I like feeling productive. I like feeling like I go to a place where my work is needed, where I perform a service that, were I not here, wouldn't get done."

Of course, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd rethink lots of my life decisions and situations. I might even quit my day job. But then again............. Thinking about Monday through Friday, Janny

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Reading" People

This started out to be a ramble about my latest reads, but as I thought about it...well, you'll see. This rumination began when I started (and really tried to read) an old Grisham book, The Broker. I’ve never read Grisham, and he’s one of the authors I keep telling myself I ought to read, so when I saw this title in our work library, I thought I’d give it a try. The premise sounded intriguing enough; however, I just couldn’t get into it. I gave it several chapters (probably 40 pages or so—I gave it a good sampling) before I gave up. I just couldn’t care about anybody in the book…and unfortunately, for me, that usually means it hits the wall. It did get me thinking, however, about reader expectations. Those of us who call or have called ourselves “romance” authors over the years are fairly steeped in this notion of characters the readers can care about. Whether or not you buy into the notion that these are just elaborate and printed fantasies in which women place themselves really doesn’t matter: bottom line is, readers of genre fiction and romance in particular expect to make the acquaintance of a character for whom they can “root” early on. This doesn’t mean that the character is necessarily all that sweet to begin with…although it usually does. What is necessary, however, is to build a character about whom we care. For whom something is at stake, something we can identify with, something we also care about. The problem is, what I care about may not be what you care about. This explains the phenomenal success of someone like Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb…who I just cannot get into, no matter how I try. I’ve tried to read her stuff three times, and lost interest before I got through the first twenty pages. I just didn’t care about her people. I don’t know why that is; I know people who gobble up everything this woman writes, and there are a LOT of people who do the same thing. Me? No, thanks. Can’t do it. Don’t have the slightest interest in her characters. They leave me cold, and once they do, I leave the premises. The flip side of that is Jan Karon, whose books I devour, but whom I found out (to my surprise) not everybody “gets,” either. When the Mitford books were still pretty much the hot new thing on the block, I actually heard a multipublished author giving a talk in which she said, “Lots of people love these books, and I suppose they’re okay…but you go through At Home In Mitford and nothing happens. I mean, the whole story is nothing more than this preacher’s trying to decide whether he’s going to keep this stray dog or not. That’s the whole book!” Dumbfounded, I waited for her to elaborate further along the lines of “Well, okay, so that’s not ALL there is to the book,” but she didn’t. And she wasn’t kidding. Which left me wondering how she’d managed to read that whole book and completely miss the story question—a story question which had been spelled out, in quite poignant terms, in one sentence in the very first chapter. One you couldn’t miss…or so I thought. And, no, it wasn’t about whether Father Tim was going to keep the dog. :-) Why did this happen? Who knows? This was a bright woman speaking. Normally, she was pretty quick on the uptake. So I had to wonder if it wasn't a case of there being such a subtlety to that early Mitford book that people who are used to slam-bang in-your-face characters just couldn't take the time, or didn't know how, to walk at a more leisurely pace and get to know the people in this particular book a little better. I bonded with Father Tim from that first story question/issue, and I’ve reread those Mitford books probably each at least four times. This despite the fact that I have no particular love for “southern fiction” (and these are set in North Carolina)…that the books are overtly preachy at times…and that my ex-husband’s name is Tim (so I have a hurdle to get over automatically!). All of these things could have put me off the books; none of them did. Why? Because the first story was much bigger than a man and his dog—and mostly, because the people moved gently into my world and became so real that I couldn’t wait to find out what they were going to do next. Lawrence Block has been quoted as saying “Fiction is folks.” For this plot-driven writer, sometimes that’s hard to wrap her fingers around when she’s trying to write it—but I certainly know it when I see it, and have an inevitable sense of letdown when I don’t. So…read any good characters lately? Janny

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Apologies, apologies, apologies!

Haven't posted in awhile...what with Super Bowl (I'm still recovering) and being buried under a heavy work load, I've been remiss in keeping up with this blog. Been trying to upgrade my web page, too, which has stalled out somewhat here. Ayeeee! Today, however, has been Snow Shoveling Day. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be Valentine's the card. Husband has done nothing else for V-day. No other plans. So now, the project will be to try to inject some more romance into that we've dug our cars out. (sigh) More later. Home for snow day, probably need a nap! Janny