Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Cards

Last year I ran so far behind in the holiday season that I never did cards.  I felt like I'd failed on a basic, important rite of the season.  It's not like I have a list that stretches around the house.  I don't send cards to people that I work with or otherwise see all of the time.  This is a way to reach out and let my far away friends and family know that I'm thinking of them, looking forward to seeing some of them when I travel up north, and let them have a look at my life.

Yes, when I moved to Florida I became a fan of holiday photo cards.  Who wouldn't if, like me, they could include photos of themselves posed with dolphins or sea lions? 

This year, I was determined to get cards out before Christmas actually happened.  While I was in the process of writing them out and addressing envelopes, I couldn't help but think of my Mom.  She had a system for doing her cards each year.  Good thing, because I believe she did a few hundred every year and wrote out a message and signature on every card.

Right after Thanksgiving she got out the card table and set it up in the corner of the sun porch with her address books, boxes of cards and special pens.  That way she could still sit in the evening and watch television with the family while she worked on the cards.  Over the course of several days and nights, she first wrote out the envelopes, carefully sorting those for friends who lived in other countries into a separate stack.  Once she'd addressed all 200 or 300, she wrote the messages on the cards, slipped them into the envelopes and sealed them.  Some years she had our return address printed on the envelope, but sometimes she used a gadget that impressed the address into the envelope flap before she sealed it shut.  Once the cards were assembled, she affixed pretty holiday stamps and stacked them into the now empty card boxes for easy, neat transport to the post office. 

As you know from my previous post, my handwriting is less than stellar, so the only way that I could help was to seal and stamp cards.

This was a big task every year, but Mom seemed to enjoy doing it and I don't remember her every complaining.  Judging from the number of cards she received each year, the recipients loved the fact that she took the time and made the effort. 

I do about 80 cards each year.  This year I finished over the course of two evenings and only complained to myself twice about hand cramps.

For everyone who doesn't get a card from me in the mail, allow me to take the elctronic route to wish you a very happy holiday!

Do you send out holiday cards?  Are you an annual letter writer, too?  Do you prefer traditional or photo cards, or do you send out your seasonal greetings via email?  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Penmanship Blues

Those of you of a certain age will remember the penmanship exercises that were required of us in school around third and fourth grades.   We clutched our #2 pencils in our little hands, gritted our teeth, checked the samples and painstakingly practiced over and over again on lined paper.  I clearly remember that pensmanship was a particularly big deal -- a right of passage, actually, when our progress was tested and assessed.  Those of us whose penmanship passed muster were awarded with our first pens.  Oh, so grown up!

I also remember the whole thing being a difficult, frustrating time in my scholastic career.  My handwriting was so lousy that I was the next to last student in 4th grade to make that transition from childish pencil to mature pen.  The only kid behind me was the class goof off who was repeating the grade. 

Sad to say, my penmanship is only marginally better now.  It's legible, but only if I really take my time, and by no stretch of the generous imagination is my writing pretty.  This has always bothered me, probably because such an emphasis was placed on good handwriting when I was a kid.  Plus, my mother, grandmother, aunts and female cousins all had excellent penmanship.  Even my older brother writes more neatly and clearly.  Only my father's writing was worse and he got the free pass under the old stereotype of "all doctors have messy handwriting".

Thankfully, I am an excellent typist with great speed and accuracy.  My fingers fly over the keys and words, sentences, even paragraphs, pour out onto the screen.  This is an enormous benefit because, as a writer, ideas sometimes come so quickly that I'd never be able to write fast enough to keep pace.  If I tried, the words would resemble a mish-mash of illegible ink. 

Unfortunately, I can't type out the messages onto my annual holiday cards.  Oh, sure, I can have my name printed professionally on the card, but I like to include a few words of my own.  I've been scrawling messages and addresses and signing my name for hours.  Sometimes I look at the words and wonder if the recipient will have any trouble reading what I wrote.

 Here's a sample:

Not sure why the picture's loading sideways, but at least you can see the messy, cramped, less than textbook cursed cursive.  Told you it was bad!

I know it isn't something I can really change at this late date, particularly when there are so many other, more important things to accomplish.  Instead I try to remember to take my time and not rush writing.  This helps me reduce the errors and sloppy look of the letters. 

Do kids in school today even spend time on penmanship, or do they just go on by their own after someone introduces them to cursive over printing?  Is it a forgotten art or now-overlooked skill? 

What do you think?  Do you have good handwriting or bad?  Does it matter?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sleep, Perchance to . . . Beep?

I'm currently involved in some proactive health assessments and evaluations.  I'll be 54 soon and I'm overweight, so there are things that need to be checked.  This lead me to my first ever consult with a pulmonologist earlier this week.  I had no idea what to expect but went into it with a positive outlook.

I was impressed right from the get-go when the nurse took me back for my vitals.  Paper charts and manila folders are so yesteryear in this practice.  The woman carried an iPad loaded with a special medical record program (app?) into which she typed my deets.  She then took me to another room for a breathing test.  Yes, I know it's obvious whether we're breathing, but it's all a matter of degree and this test analyzed things like my lung capacity, how much capacity I used and some other stuff I assumed had something to do with the efficiency of my breathing.   Again the equipment was connected to a computer and even if I had no idea what the patterns and numbers meant, I could at least watch them appear.

The tests weren't complicated.  Just put my lips around the mouthpiece and blow.  (Points if you know the actress I just paraphrased and what actor she said the line to.) 

It wasn't that easy.  It started out with regular breaths, which was fine.  While I breathed, a line appeared on the computer screen, moving around and creating circles, sort of like an air-powered etch-a-sketch.  Then the nurse instructed me to take the deepest breath possible and blow it out as hard as I could and keep pushing.  To emphasis her point, when it was time to exhale, she clapped her hands together and yelled, "BLOW!"

Readers, I blew until no air remained and with her urging me on with "More! More! More!" continued to force still more air from my lungs.   Not so easy when one is a romance author who immediately thought up innuendos and had to fight back laughter.

My reward was to repeat that particular test.  The next exercise required me to force myself to hyperventilate.  I did that one so well that my head spun and I subtly grabbed the desk to steady myself before I passed out.  "I'm okay," I assured the nurse, ignoring the throbbing temples and pretty sparkling lights dancing in front of my eyes.

She adjusted the equipment for the final test.   My wooziness cleared in time for me to breathe in against resistance.  Again, I'm not sure what that test indicated.  I would have asked but my head began to spin again and I needed my concentration to stay upright in the chair.

Thankfully, everything steadied while she clicked some keys on the computer laptop that had tracked my results.  I'm fairly sure she also magically beamed the results to the doctor's laptop because he had everything at his fingertips when he met me back in the exam room a few minutes later.

I really liked this doctor.  He's warm, friendly, and a smart aleck, but he talks to patients like we're intelligent and capable of understanding his explanations.  I respond well to that kind of personality and within a minute was kidding back with him.  He reviewed my medical history and that of my family and then gave me a heart-to-heart, in depth explanation of sleep apnea, which is drastically underdiagnosed in women.

Prior to this appointment I knew that with sleep apnea you can momentarily stop breathing sometimes when you sleep which is bad for your heart and contributes to high blood pressure, and can make you sleepy during the day.  I now know that it can also contribute to a variety of other conditions including diabetes, restless leg syndrome and night terrors.  It might also cause global warming and be responsible for our national debt.

Wanting to help our enviroment and economy while also increasing my chances of surviving my next nap, I naturally consented to a sleep test.  They scheduled me an appointment for last night and sent me off with my instruction sheet.

1) No stimulants (coffee, tea, drugs) after 12 noon.
2) Bring pajamas or something comfortable to sleep in.
3) Make sure my hair was clean and dry
4) Bring toiletries but there were no shower facilities
5) No nail polish (I clarified that one bare nail would suffice.)
6) Eat dinner since there's no food in the sleep lab.
7) TV would be available but I might also want to bring a book.
8) No wild parties or loud music after 10 p.m.  (Oh, sorry, that was a dorm rule back in college.)

The instruction sheet assured me that I would quickly grow accustomed to the monitoring equipment and that many patients ceased noticing it at all.  (More on that.)

At the door, the sleep tech met me and the other two patients who were booked for accommodations that night -- both men -- and escorted us to the sleep lab.  They went out of their way to make the rooms look like home bedrooms.  Mine had a double bed and warm gold comforter-pillow sham decor with wood night tables, a comfy recliner and a flat screen television.  I assume the other rooms were similar.

I filled out the consent paperwork, including the paragraph that said they could videotape me while I was sleeping and use it for instructional seminars.  About that time it struck me that I was going to spend the evening in my pajamas with a couple of middle-aged men and two twenty-something sleep techs.  With cameras.  That's considered a good time in some situations, and illegal in several foreign countries.

The tech came back to collect the paperwork and explain the routine.  I had a couple of hours to settle in and relax and then, about half an hour before I wanted to go to sleep, they'd come in and hook me up for monitoring.  I went about my routine, appreciating that they'd given me the room closest to the restrooms so I wouldn't have to shuffle past the other patients in my jammies.  I stretched out in the recliner, watched television, did some sewing, text messaged with my friend and whiled away the time.

Right on schedule, the techs wheeled in a table and asked me to take a seat in a straighter chair.
"Are you allergic to rubbing alcohol, rubber or latex?" they asked.  When I told them no, they got to work.  I soon learned why they wanted my hair clean and dry.  They needed to part their way through it to my scalp so that they could first clean the area with alcohol, and then apply some rubbery adhesive stuff to stick electrodes to my head.  They strapped stretchy belts around my chest and abdomen with additional electrodes, planted a couple in the area of my collar bones, put one on each leg and one on the bottom of my left foot.  I'm pretty sure there were 12 or 13 electrodes in all.

They placed an oxygen tube in my nose and looped it around my ears, then banded all of the wires and tubes together for neat organization and individually plugged them into a rectangular box.  That box was then connected via one cable into another piece of equipment. 

He then gave me what I like to think was the sleep lab version of a pep talk.  "So, all you need to do is relax and have a good night sleep.  We'll be monitoring you from the other room.  If you need anything, just talk to us and we'll hear you through the intercom and answer."

I nodded my understanding and he finished up his speech.  "While we're monitoring you, if we determine that you're having an extreme number of unusual breathing events, the doctor has given us permission to enter the room and place a mask over your face."

Ohhhkayyyy.  I could stop breathing so many times that they might rush in and put an oxygen mask over my face?  Oh yeah, I was sooo ready to relax.

The sweet sleep tech pulled back the covers for me.  I climbed in and pulled them back over my shoulders.  He clipped a pulse-ox monitor on my polish-less finger, wished me a good night and shut off the light as he closed the door. 

Unlike many medical tests where the patient is required to participate, all I had to do now was be passive, sleep, and breathe.  Should be easy, right?  Even with 13 electrodes, gunk in your hair, a tube in your nose and a clamp on your finger, there's nothing to it.

Except that the mattress was too soft and the pillows flimsy.  The electrode behind my right ear was jabbing me and the oxygen tube pulled too tightly against my throat.  I don't know who those patients were who don't notice all these things, but I'm not one of them.  Still and all, I managed to doze, probably for an hour, before waking up and then all of the things that were uncomfortable before seemed even more so.  I stuck it out for awhile before finally speaking aloud into the dark room.

The tech immediately answered and returned to help me out.  I figured I'd hit the restroom while I was at it, so he disconnected my cable for me to leave the room.  I explained the other discomforts and he made a few adjustments, then left me to my slumber once more.

It took awhile for me to drop off again, partly because I could hear the guy in the next room snoring.  You've heard the term "sawing wood"?  This man could fell a forest. His wife must sleep with ear plugs.

The next several hours passed in a weird fusion of sleep and awakefulness.   All night long I dreamed of being in the sleep lab.   When awake, I tossed and tried to get comfortable.  In my dreams, I did the same thing.  I think at one point I had the hand with the oxygen monitor lodged under my pillow and the tech had to come in the room and ask me not to do that anymore.  For the rest of the night, I thought about that in dreams and in reality.

Finally, I woke up and went through the process of getting disconnected, talking to the day shift, and having to demonstrate my morning balance by walking a small obstacle course they'd set up in the hallway.

Oh, no, that's the dream I had right before I woke up for real.  I figured that out when I opened my eyes and realized I was still in bed with electrodes pressing into my scalp.  Just to be sure, I propped myself up on an elbow and looked around the still dark room while my brain roused the rest of the way.  I checked the time on my phone and figured 5:45 was late enough.  I called out to my keeper observers.  They were pretty cheerful for having been awake all night.  Gabe carefully removed the leads and electrodes.  It only hurt once when a little too much of my hair went with the adhesive.

Still, I kept a bright attitude.   "I don't know how much sleeping I did, but at least you didn't have to rush in with the mask!" I said.  "You really did sleep and you didn't need a mask," he agreed.  "But that doesn't mean you didn't have some events."

Ahh, a pre-dawn reality check!  Just what I wanted. 

He packed away all of his wires and gear and told me I was good to go whenever I was ready.  I padded off to the restroom to wash my face, brush my teeth and dress.  I remembered seeing a Starbucks when I drove in and my mood elevated over the thought of a steaming cup of tea.  Maybe I'd even treat myself to breakfast at Cracker Barrel before driving home!

 After checking the room to make sure that I had everything, I stuck my head into the monitoring room to thank the guys.  "Our pleasure," Gabe said.  "Oh, one more thing.  The gunk that's still in your hair will wash out with hot water."

Gunk.  In my hair.  Clearly, I hadn't had enough sleep because I'd looked at myself in the mirror and not even reached for the hair brush.  How could I have forgotten about the adhesive?  

The idea of a hot breakfast was shelved and I breathed a thank you that Starbucks had a drive-through window.  With a caffeine boost in hand, I hit the road, glad that my first ever sleep test was behind me.

I'll find out the results at the end of next week.  I'm hoping that any "events" of stopping breathing are few in number.  If not, then I might be told that I have to schedule a return reservation at the Sleep Lab Hotel.

Next time, I might bring my own pillow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Random Sunday

Well, we're almost at the three week mark of the Month of Thankfulness.  I'm grateful that I've easily thought of something different each day for which to be grateful.  If you're playing along, how's it going? 

There's a lot of stuff going on to think about these days.  I find it interesting that friends or co-workers have asked me more, by way of discussion, what I  think about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University than about the various Occupy ______ protests.  For the record, I'm heartsick that, apparently, the venerable institution Penn State totally messed up and by their inaction and ineffectiveness allowed one of their own to be a long-running, serial sexual abuser of children. 

Regarding the Occupy movements, I'm not sure they have a clear mission statement at these protests.  In the coverage I've seen, the protestors seem to be protesting a number of different things.   Maybe they should change the name to Protest Fest and then we'll know that multiple causes are represented.  The rest of us could stroll through, like it's a street fair, and learn about each issue, and then decide which one we want to stand with on any given day.

The First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden were introduced at the NASCAR race today and some people in the crowd booed.  I think that's tacky and mean-spirited.  On the other hand, we're in America and I'm glad that we have the right to boo or other wise express our feelings in public... unless, of course, you're at an Occupy protest, in which case doing so might result in authorities hitting you with tear gas or pepper spray.

My Philadelphia Eagles have played pretty lousy the last few weeks.  Prior to tonight's game against rival team the NY Giants, all I asked was that the Eagles do their best to not suck too badly.  Their defense has really held up and they're now locked in a late game tie.  I'm sleep and would love to go to bed, but if I do and they lose, I'll feel terribly guilty for withdrawing my support.  Right, like the team knows and cares what I think or whether I'm watching.

I had a dream last week that I was making a presentation to the mob on how to improve their business with better marketing.  Can you think of any industry less likely to successfully make over their image?  Except for Penn State that is.

Eagles scored!  Woohoo.  Glad I didn't go to bed yet.  Now let's see if they can hold the lead for 2:45 left in regulation play.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Month of Thankfulness

I was reminded last week that we have a chance to choose our attitude every morning before our feet hit the floor.  That reminded me of a book called Simple Abundance by the author Sarah Ban Breathnach.  I first heard of her and her book via the Oprah Show.  Oprah and Sarah introduced me to something that helped me immeasurably 13 years ago -- the concept of keeping a gratitude journal.

In 1998, my mother was suffering multiple health complications and slowly dying from cancer.  I was taking care of her in our family home.  Knowing that we were inevitably going to lose this remarkable, loving woman created a soul-deep sadness.  I wouldn't let it show in front of her, but I couldn't banish it either.  On top of that, there were nights when I was just so tired from the doctors' appointments, the medications, the shopping, cooking and laundry.  I could feel my strength ebbing at a time when I needed it most.  When Mom most needed me to be strong. 

That Oprah show talked about the practice of keeping a gratitude journal and every day writing down five things for which I was grateful.  Doing so, they said, would cultivate an attitude of gratitude and help in even dark times.

These times were pretty damned dark, but I chose to embrace the idea and give it a shot.  Every night, I searched my thoughts and my heart for five things that I was thankful about.  Some nights it was easy.  Mom enjoyed a short walk on a sunny day.  A friend left homemade soup for us to eat that evening.  My brother and his family came down for a visit.  You get the idea.  There are days when reasons to be grateful are abundant and we can pick them up like pretty flowers in a garden bursting with blooms.

There were also nights when it simply seemed that everything had gone wrong.  Mom had a fever.  The dog snuck the filets I planned to grill off the counter.  I twisted my ankle.  I forgot to put the just-washed clothes and bedding in the dryer.    On those nights, I really just wanted to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and cry.

Instead, I pulled out the journal and searched for five things.  Did I mention that each night, they had to be different?  No cheating and flipping back to a previous page to repeat items from another day's list.  When you're finding five new things a day, you're not always going to set new records for being profound.   Some nights I wrote down things as simple as, "I'm grateful I breathed fresh air.  I'm grateful the car started.  I'm grateful Mom likes grilled cheese sandwiches.  I'm grateful that funny show was on tv.  I'm grateful I took a nap when Mom did."  Quantity often won out over quality.

Turns out it didn't matter.  This wasn't a contest.  I didn't need to have big, wonderful things happen every day.  Grand or basic, I only needed to be aware that something, anything, took place that was positive.  Or, I could dig deeper into the negative and find something positive anyway.   If there was no silver lining in the clouds, then I could appreciate the form and beauty of the clouds themselves.  Storms don't always create rainbows, but rain can wash out oppressive heat.

At a point when I was dangerously close to being completely overwhelmed and almost caved into despair, nurturing the attitude of gratitude saved me.  It became the lifeline I could hold onto to steady myself and stay upright.  Repeating the exercise every night helped put my anxiety to rest so I could sleep better at night and wake up with positive energy.

I continued the practice for months, even after Mom died and it helped me cope.  Gradually, I fell out of the habit of nightly gratitude-naming, but when rocky times have hit me sporadically over the years, I often return to the technique and it helps all over again.

Later this month, we celebrate Thanksgiving in this country. A friend posted on Facebook the other day that she'd picked up the idea to celebrate thankfulness every day in November.   This made me think of the nightly gratitude journal and I wondered why I only turned to it in times of sadness or stress.  Why shouldn't I also cultivate a grateful attitude when life is good?

I've adopted the idea from my friend.  Every day on my Facebook page, I'm posting about something else that I'm thankful to have in my life. It's not that I'm only grateful for that thing on one day, just that I've chosen that day to share about something that touches me heart and soul.  When the month is over, I might stop posting daily to FB, but I plan to check in with myself and do my gratitude acknowledgements instead of letting the habit fall out of my life again.

Some other friends have picked up the idea, too.  It makes me smile to see what they're thankful for.

Join us, if you like.  The comments are open.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bad Asses, Jerk Whisperers, and Recognizing Our Own Awesome

Honey, I'm home!

I'd love to say that I've been absent from the blog for several weeks because I was whisked away on an exotic trip by a thrilling man.  Or because I was on the verge of a breakthrough on fixing every world problem.  Or because I've been in deep negotiations to sell my books for major motion pictures.

Lies, all lies.  Yes, I've traveled recently to the fabulous Novelists Inc. conference in St. Petersburg Beach, FL.  Yes, I've fixed a few snafus and problems, but only in my own world and not the global sense.  Major motion pictures?  Hell, I haven't even been to see a movie in a couple of months. 

The truth is that a whole bunch of things have been going on that add up to one big sum of something called daily life.

How about you? 

Although I haven't frequently blogged, I've been exploring social media to greater extent through Twitter.  I can't decide if I like it or think that it's a huge waste of time.  On one hand, I'm entertained by snippets of info zipping around like warblers drunk on fermenting berries.  Twitter's like the haiku of email or Facebook.  Make your point in 140 characters or less.  I love writing haiku, so this brevity challenge appeals to me.  On the other hand, some people tweet or retweet others' tweets in constant streams to the point where it becomes visual noise.  If I see a person list more than three Tweets in a row, I start to scroll past them to the next Tweeter, or is it Twitterer?  Done right, Twitter is amusing and fun.  Done wrong . . . ugh.

I hate the recent pages inflicted on us by Facebook, but I still go there every day to catch up, or try to catch up, on what's going on with friends, family and acquaintances.  Face it.  I can't call every single person every day.  With FB, I feel in the know in between chats and visits.

One of my friends recently posted this photograph.

Now that's a philosophy I can live with and remember everytime someone who is being a jerk tries to manipulate me. 

In addition to the written work, YouTube brings us more videos than we could ever have imagined.  What did all these everyday, super funny and creative people do to share their creations with the world before YouTube?

A friend brought one video to my attention and within days, multiple friends who live in different parts of the country and don't know each other are quoting it.  The thing has over 21 million views on YouTube.  21 million!  I'm sure you've seen it.  If not, click here.  Oh yeah, honey badgers are bad ass.

In that vein, I also want to share a very cool realization that came to the young daughter of a friend of mine. 

I don't care what you think about me.
Unless you think I'm AWESOME.
In which case, you're right.
Carry on.

More kids, and a huge number of adults, could benefit by recognizing and embracing our own awesomeness instead of fretting our lives away over other peoples' opinions.  This terrific saying has now been emblazoned on shirts, mugs and other articles.  Check them out here!  I definitely want a mug.

Go forth my friends, in all of your awesomeness.  Be bad ass honey badgers and get your needs met.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Part Two - The Keith Cronin Interview

Clearly we aren't the only ones who think Keith's debut is a promising one.  Here's some of the advance praise he received for Me Again.
"A beautifully wrought tale of courage, hope, and awakenings of all kinds."
~ Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants "Heart and humor are inseparable in Keith Cronin's engaging debut."
~ Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue
"A work that will make readers laugh and think."
~ Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of The Thin Pink Line
While it's always interesting to read what other authors think of a book, I also wanted to find out what Keith's rock and roll colleagues thought about his "other" career.

MS: How did your rock 'n roll friends react when they heard about your book?

I think some of them are scratching their heads about this different side of me, but others are extremely supportive, and some of them have been very patient and enthusiastic readers and reviewers of early drafts of my work. I got to chat with Pat Travers recently, and he was thrilled to learn I had a novel coming out. He's the first person I can distinctly remember telling me I should write a book, and I think he was pretty happy to learn that his advice had actually led to something, some 20 years later.

MS: How do you manage two very different creative careers?

By taking what I learned from one and applying it to the other. From my music career, I know how to do the hard, focused work necessary to attain professional results, so I apply that discipline to writing. And I learned the hard way how crazy the music business was, which prepared me for the equally bizarre world of publishing. I also learned the importance of people skills. You can't succeed in either industry without a lot of support, and you won't garner that support by being a jerk. (At least not unless you can prove your ability to make other people rich while still being a jerk.)

But balancing the two careers has actually been pretty easy, because each one gives me a break from the other. But no matter which direction I'm pursuing, I'm still involved in some kind of creative effort. That's essential to me: the desire to constantly create has been a defining characteristic for me and my immediate family for as long as I can remember. So it's nice to have more than one option for pursuing that desire.

What's next for Keith Cronin writer?

KC: Tough call. Promoting this book seems to be a fulltime job, but I know that the next book won't write itself. I'm currently toying with a modern-day retelling of a famous old novel I dearly love, with the added twist of putting it into a rock n' roll context. But in the interest of following my own advice, I first want to think it through, and make sure I understand where the market might be for such a story.

The other thing I want to do is to learn to write faster. The two novels I've written each took more than two years to complete. I'd like to see if I can take what I've learned over the past decade - both about writing and about project management - and try to condense the process. This market is so challenging, and I hate the idea of putting years of work into a book that may not sell. But one thing I'm sure about: I want to continue to write for female readers. I think that's the audience where the kind of thing I write will most likely resonate; plus, they're just so much better-looking than male readers!

MS: One more question: Is it a spoiler for you to reveal why there's a Buddha in the cereal bowl?

Well, you may never see the Buddha actually in a cereal bowl in Me Again, but he does keep turning up in some unexpected places. And the Cheerios? They put in a brief cameo during one of the bigger emotional revelations in my book. How I ever came up with the idea of combining those two disparate images is something that probably wouldn't make sense to anybody who isn't familiar with the weird way my mind works. Ah, but you've seen that first-hand, Mary, so you can probably easily imagine the warped logic behind that creative impulse. If nothing else, I don't think there are many book covers that will be confused with mine. I mean, I never heard anybody say, "Oh, no - not ANOTHER Buddha-in-a-cereal-bowl book cover!"

Is there anything you'd like to add that I didn't ask? Go for it!

Lots of authors are offering freebies to try to attract readers. So here's mine: I would LOVE for you to read my book for free. All you need to do is ask your local library to order the book. Five Star, my publishing house, specializes in selling hardcover fiction to libraries. So by asking your librarian to order my book, you're helping my book succeed, and getting to read it for free. How cool is that?

MS: Keith, thanks so much for taking part in this interview.  Me Again is next on my TBR list.  Can't wait!

Readers, as further evidence that Keith is an all around cool, nice guy, he's donating 25% of his earnings from Me Again to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association that focuses on reducing risk, disability, and death from stroke through research, education, fund raising and advocacy. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chatting with Keith Cronin - Debut Author of Me Again

Miracles can be damned inconvenient. That's what thirty-four-year-old stroke victim Jonathan Hooper learns when he wakes up after spending six years in a coma. Everyone calls Jonathan's recovery a "miracle," but since nobody had expected him to recover, his sudden awakening becomes an awkward intrusion on the lives of his family and friends. To make matters worse, Jonathan doesn't even recognize these people. The stroke has wiped away most of Jonathan's memory, while the coma has withered his body.
In short, Jonathan's not the man he used to be - whoever that was.
The only bright spot for Jonathan is Rebecca Chase, a young woman he meets in the hospital's long-term recovery unit. A stroke has drastically changed her personality, making her a stranger to her husband. Gone is the vivacious trophy wife, replaced by a shy, awkward woman with a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing.
Constantly reminded how badly they fit in, Jonathan and Rebecca find much in common with each other as they work on rebuilding - and rediscovering - their lives. But while Rebecca copes with her husband's frustrated attempts at "fixing" her, Jonathan finds mounting evidence that the man he used to be was not necessarily a very good man. And everywhere he turns, Jonathan keeps discovering more secrets that his own loved ones are keeping from him.
A steadily accelerating story exploring the irony, humor, and opportunity that can accompany personal calamity, Me Again follows the intertwined paths of two people forced to start over in life: one looking for his place in a world that has moved on without him, the other struggling to navigate a relationship with a man who wishes she were someone else.

Since first meeting Keith last winter, I've looked forward to reading his debut novel Me Again.  Keith's a nice, interesting, very funny guy and I had a hunch that I and other people would enjoy learning more about the writer behind the book.

Here's what his website bio says: 

Author of the novel ME AGAIN, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers.
He is also becoming informally known as "the title guy," having provided the title for Sara Gruen's blockbuster Water for Elephants, as well as Susan Henderson's HarperCollins debut Up from the Blue.
Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Now here's part one of what Keith says about himself and his work:

MS: Me Again is your debut novel. According to your website, you've written shorter fiction before, but it looks like you're primarily known as a musician. Has writing a novel been a long-held dream, or is this a newer trip on your creative journey?

KC: Back in the late 80s I toured with the Pat Travers Band, and Pat and I were both big readers, often loaning each other books to help pass the endless hours spent on the bus. Pat was always telling me I should write a book, but at the time I didn't feel I had a story to tell. I mean, I knew I supposedly had "a way with words," but I didn't know what to say with those words. It wasn't until the late 90s that I started getting serious about writing fiction. But I got very serious indeed, and ended up devoting the next ten years to learning the craft and the business, with the goal of becoming a published novelist.

MS: The description of Me Again is so different and intriguing. What moved you to write this particular story?

KC: I'll admit, at first it was just an intriguing "what if?" premise, making me curious to see what my characters would do. For many of us, the occasional desire for a "do-over" in life is a pretty universal thing, whether we're at a point where things are going so badly that we want to start over, or we're wistfully wondering what our lives would be like if we had made some different choices or taken some different paths. But in Me Again, I forced the issue, giving both of my characters a do-over that they never asked for.

But as I got caught up in the writing, I became far more focused on how my characters would feel under these circumstances, and it was their emotions that in turn drove their actions - all while I sat back and watched. I learned a lot while writing this book: both my characters and I made some major emotional discoveries along the way. That's the power of fiction, but I'll admit this was my first time tapping into that power so directly.

MS: I'm sure you've learned that it's unique for a man to write a book that's characterized as women's fiction. Is there a story behind that, too? Did you set out to write women's fiction or is did you realize that's what you had when finished?

KC: I really don't tend to think in genres - I'm an EORAW (Equal Opportunity Reader And Writer). But I did consciously set out to write a book that women would be interested in reading. For one thing, I believe there are more women reading fiction than men, and that they are more open-minded about what they read. But I was also at a point in my life where I felt ready to tackle some pretty intense emotional issues with my writing, viewed through a lens that seeks the positive - or at least the funny - side of even the darkest situation. I was hoping that this sort of world view might lend itself to some compelling and emotionally substantial storytelling.

When Five Star announced they wanted to acquire my book for their Expressions line of women's fiction and romance, I was a little surprised, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Although my first-person narrator is male, the main female character in my book goes through a major transformation, which I think is one of the essential components of good women's fiction.

MS: What's been the biggest challenge? What's the most important thing you've learned? Anything you wish you'd done differently?

KC: One of the biggest challenges is staying positive and focused in such a daunting pursuit. You hear so many more no's than yes's in this line of work, and it's easy to become bitter or jealous, but that's such a waste of energy. The key is to keep your eyes and ears open, and learn from your experiences, even if the lessons you're being taught seem illogical or unfair. That old "Serenity Prayer" comes to mind:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 That last part is tricky, though. Many aspiring writers become downtrodden and desperate, and begin to assume that they can't change certain things, when in reality they probably could change them if they tried. I'm always a little skeptical when I start hearing "that's the way it is in this business," or "that's the way we've always done it." So I'm definitely trying to approach my writing career from the driver's seat, not simply along for the ride. Obviously, I'm not alone in my thinking, as witnessed by the revolutionary changes we're starting to see in publishing, particularly with e-books.

As far as things to do differently, I think I could have worked even harder to understand how genres are perceived by the decision makers in this industry. I mean, even though I may not care about genre, you can bet the editorial and marketing departments of all the publishing houses do care. So rather than buy into the popular advice of "just write the story that's in your heart, and it will find its way to success," I think it's more realistic to look for how your passions and storytelling instincts intersect with the current market, and try to write something that aims for that point of intersection. Easy as pie, right? Next I'll explain how I would handle cold fusion and solve world hunger.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of the Keith Cronin interview where we discuss cold fusion, world hunger, handling a dual career and other interesting topics.  In the meantime, check out Keith's website to download an excerpt of Me Again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Keith Cronin - Debut Author / Rock Drummer - Interview Coming Soon!

A few months ago, I went to one of the monthly meetings of Florida Romance Writers and met a new member named Keith Cronin. As you might suppose, male writers are in the minority in romance groups. Men who are also rock and roll drummers are even more rare. Keith and I talked for awhile and my initial impression was that he was a cool guy, comfortable in his own skin, smart and very witty.

Okay, my initial impression actually was, "This guy's funny as hell!"

I learned that his debut novel, Me Again, would soon be published. Over the months I learned more about Keith's book and it really grabbed my interest. I think his personal story - rock musician turns author of a book marketed as womens fiction - is pretty interesting, too, so I asked if I could interview him for my blog.

Happily, he agreed. Stay tuned for the Keith Cronin interview in two parts on Friday and Saturday. In the meantime, check out this awesome trailer for Me Again, produced by and featuring original music written and performed by Keith's significant other Luna Jade.

To learn more about Keith and his debut novel, visit his website.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I love baseball.  Go Phillies!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Spicing Life with Variety

I'm having lots of fun this weekend and I realized that to some extent it's because life hasn't been the "same old same old".  Let me give you a quick recap. . .

Came home from work on Friday, put on my Phillies T-shirt and settled into watching the Phillies play the Marlins on television.  This was the perfect, relaxing way to end a busy day.  Saturday, I slept in a little, and then did some things around the house.  Ran up to the veterinarian's office to get heartworm preventative meds for Nat and Pyxi and then checked in at the salon for a mini-facial.  Ahhh.

Hit the supermarket to pick up the makings of meals over the next few days.  Got everything put away at home.  Read for a while on the porch.  Chatted with a neighbor.  Jumped into the pool for some exercise.  Made dinner, then showered and got ready to join friends at a small gathering to celebrate a friend's birthday and survey some, um, risque' products.  (Chocolate vodka and amaretto = delicious martini.)

This morning I had a personal to-do list: Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and read the paper; Assemble ingredients in the crock pot and get it started for dinner later;  Purchase a grease gun and marine-grade lubricant and attempt to grease the zercs on my boat.  (This meant learning what zercs are, not to mention figure out how to assemble and load a grease gun.); meet my friend back at the salon to get my eyelashes permed (no mascara necessary); Take Nat and Pyxi up to DRC to meet the DolphinLab students they'll be working with all week; Come home and attempt to grease said zercs (I was semi-successful but need a little instruction.); Add salt to the pool; Exercise in pool.

Whew!  Now that's a day.  I'm a little tired, but pleasantly so.  My muscles have that stretched, fluid warm feel.  My mind is completely content and relaxed.   My house smells delicious and I'm almost ready to enjoy that dinner that's been cooking all day.

Read as a list, no one thing that I did was all that exciting.  Certainly nothing to make you clap your hands with glee and think, "Wow.  Can't wait to get to it!"  Even so, each item on the list added up to a whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  The day, as a whole, brought some fun, some challenge, and a great deal of satisfaction.

Wonder if I can achieve the same level of satisfaction with whatever I do tomorrow?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Role Reversal

It's 10 p.m. and I'm safe at home with power and water.  The weather outside is calm and quiet.  We escaped hurricane warnings and watches this time.   Meanwhile, Hurricane Irene is battering family and friends in New Jersey and then running up to New York all the way to Massachusetts.   It feels so strange to monitor the television coverage, the forecast and tracking maps and feel such concern for everyone up home.

As one friend posted a couple of days ago on Facebook, there's something wrong when they're in the cone (the cone of death as we only half-jokingly refer to it down here) and I'm not.

This time last week, it looked like Irene would head straight for us here in the Florida Keys.  By Thursday (a couple of days ago.), I would either have been hunkered down at home or have evacuated the day before for safer shelter on the mainland.  My hurricane supplies of bottled water and food that needs no refrigeration are stored in the spare bedroom.  I know my plan an dhow to prepare.  Then with each forecast update, the track of the storm moved further east and, eventually, the storm traveled past with just a brush of gusty wind and some rain  from its outermost circle.

The television news and weather teams turned their focus to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the track that would take Irene right up the coast.  Evacuations for coastal areas of several states were planned.  The governor of New Jersey told people still on the beaches that they should get their asses off the beach and go.  New York City shut down their subway system.  The president returned from Martha's Vineyard. 

I talked to some friends who shared what they were doing to prepare.  "Don't forget to gas up your car and get cash from the bank.  If your power goes out, the gas pumps and ATMS won't work."  They hadn't thought of that, they said.

"Fill up your tub with water, too.  Then if your city water gets shut off,  you can use the water from your tub to flush your toilets."

Something else they hadn't thought of.  Of course they hadn't.  Flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable food, move things indoors, board up big windows -- those things almost instinctively come to mind.  Not being able to flush your toilets isn't something that springs readily to the front of your brain when you live in the Northeast.

Here in the Florida Keys, we know these things like we know that the sun will burn you if you stay out in it unprotected.

I watched some interviews with people in vulnerable coastal areas who insisted that they would "ride out the storm".  One guy was insistent that nothing would hurt his house.  He could be right, but he's on the coast in a flood zone and sure to get hit by big-time storm surge.   I wonder if he thought about his car(s).  Back in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma hit Florida, the Keys didn't get as much of a wind event, but the storm surge was big -- 7 to 10 feet in some places.  At work, we had ground level buildings that were so flooded they needed to be gutted, including the interior walls ripped out, and new wiring and walls installed.  That happened to plenty of homes as well.  But even those people whose homes are on stilts found out that while they were safe, their cars were ruined by the flooding of salt water.  Hard lessons, but we learned. 

The family members and friends who are on islands in Jersey have evacuated to friends' homes further inland.  I'm glad they didn't take risks and try to "ride out" Irene in their homes.  I hope when they return, they'll find their homes free of damage.  Thankfully, the hurricane is not the Cat 3 that it was before, but make no mistake, there's no such thing as "just" a Category 1. 

Some of the people up north are bitching that government officials panicked and that the evacuation and preparation decrees were excessive.  I hope it turns out that they were, but officials were still right to make these plans.  Although forecasting technology improves every year, it is still impossible to know for sure exactly how strong a storm will be when it hits or know precisely where it will come ashore.  Storms expected to remain a Cat 1 have exploded to Cat 3 or higher.  Others that showed every sign of being monumental in strength suddenly ripped up or veered away. 

Until the day that we can know without a shadow of a doubt at least 36 hours before a storm hits, it makes more sense to plan for what it appears will happen rather than ignore the danger and act as if the storm will perform like you hope. 

People have already died in this particular storm.  Everybody, please stay safe.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Vulnerability versus Weakness

A few minutes ago, I wrote an entire post on the inherent vulnerability of being a single woman.  I decided that posting it made me feel even more vulnerable.

I don't like feeling less than strong, capable, and able to take care of myself in every situation.   One of my self-truths is that I'm single and, therefore, I can successfully rely on myself. I better be able to, because I refuse to wait around for someone else to do for me.  I don't like admitting that sometimes I need assistance.

You might have guessed that I don't much like feeling vulnerable.  Ever.

In addition to taking care of myself, I like taking care of others and being there for them.  If I'm on an airplane, I want to grab a mask, put it over my face and help the person sitting alongside.  I don't want to be the other person waiting for someone else to grab a mask to help me.

This emphasis on self-reliance is all well and good, but somewhere along the journey I got my signals crossed a little.  I decided that vulnerability meant weakness. 

I was wrong.  Weakness is something in our structure, a point in our foundation where we can break.  A weakness can make us vulnerable, sure, but the opposite isn't true.  Being vulnerable doesn't make us weak.  In fact, it helps us shore up our strength.  Recognizing our own vulnerability is an effective defense mechanism.  It's the awareness of my vulnerability that keeps me from walking down a dark street in a bad neighborhood or from putting myself in another dangerous situation that common sense tells me to avoid.

Admitting that I sometimes need help is neither a weakness, nor a vulnerability.  It's a realization that sometimes a task is bigger than one person can accomplish.   It's an acceptance that no human is immune to being overwhelmed and when that happens, it's absolutely okay to wave a hand and get some assistance.

We're a species that thrives on relationships.  Even though I'm not in a man-woman love relationship, I'm still a member of a community of friends and family.  These are people I'd help on a moment's notice and I know that they're happy to help me, too.  We can be the person who puts the mask on first for each other, and none of us is weaker being the recipient of the assistance.

I asked for help this week which was a big deal for me.  I say was because, after the asking I couldn't for the life of me understand why I made so much of it beforehand.  I was also offered help in another manner even before I asked.  That moved me to tears.  I'm grateful in both situations.

Not only will I receive the help that I need, but these are both examples of friends and family showing me that it's safe for me to admit my vulnerability.  Nobody will exploit it as a way to hurt me.  Help will be there for me and I am made stronger by the knowledge.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Some People

I don't know how many people I interact with on a daily basis.  Even if you don't count Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail, the number still must reach into dozens.  I guess it's only natural that not every interaction leaves me with the warm fuzzies.

Nat - back when we did Rally Obedience class

The normal routine in the morning is that I get out of bed and let Nat and Pyxi out into the yard so they can run around, sniff, do their doggy business, and have some exercise.  I spend the time getting ready for the day.  It's a good arrangement for all three of us.

Pyxi doing Rally O
Yesterday, however, I heard a truck pull up to the house next door, guys voices, and then my dogs began to bark and wouldn't stop.  Since this gets annoying to me even when I'm in the house, I know it has to bug other people, so I went back out to the porch and called them to come in.  They ignored me and continued to bark at the guys next door.

"It's okay, lady, we're playing with them," said this one smiling guy. 

I thought that was kind of nice . . . until I realized that what they thought was playing was actually freaking out the dogs.  Pyxi has issues with warming up to other people.  She startles easily.  Even my friends who she's known since she was 7 months old know to ignore her when they first come in the house and then to let all interaction come from her.  They don't make loud noises and they definitely don't reach for the top of her head, which she hates.  Instead, they let her come up and sniff their hands, remain calm, and then, if she sticks around, they'll rub under her chin or her chest.

While I watched yesterday morning, Pyxi barked, and then bravely ran up to the fence to sniff the guys' pant legs.  Instead of remaining calm, the guys thought it was fun to roar, wave their arms, and then reach over the fence as if to grab her.  So, of course, she jumped back and started barking again. 

If you know dogs at all, you can tell by their body language whether they're playing or agitated.  Clearly, Pyxi was not playing.  On top of that, the guys even scared Nat who is much calmer and relaxed, usually, around people, so they wound him up, too. 

I was dressed only in my sleep shirt (sans bra), so this was not the place or time to explain things to the guys.  I just called the dogs again until they came and went back in the house.  Inside I was fuming.  I know the guys thought they were doing was okay, but all I could think was, "Thanks for reinforcing my dog's anxiety about approaching people."  Grrrrr.

On the drive to work, I was behind a Ford Escape.  The driver put on the left blinker and pulled into the left-hand lane in order to pass a car.  He' never turned off his blinker so the left light continued to flash red red red.  Unfortunately, he got stuck behind a truck, which meant that I gradually pulled alongside.  All of a sudden, he veered into my lane.

I honked the horn and he pulled back into the left lane -- and then started to cuss me out through his window.  Apparently it was my fault that he didn't see me and, I guess, that I didn't divine that he was about to pull over. I could have pointed out that A) I'm not psychic and B) His left blinker was still on so how was I supposed to know he was going to pull over in the other direction?  Instead, I decided not to argue with someone while we were both driving and simply continued on my way.

I'd like to think that, in both situations, I elected to take the high road instead of just the path of least resistance.

Some people just don't get it, do they?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome to Lani Diane Rich

A few years back, one of my goddess author idols Jennifer Crusie began blogging about a book named Dogs and Goddesses that she was writing with Anne Stuart and someone I wasn't familiar with named Lani Diane Rich.  When Jenny writes about the writing process, it's not only informative, but it's darned near almost as entertaining as her books.  I was also already a big fan of Anne Stuart and I figured if this Lani woman was writing with them, she sure couldn't be a slouch.  Plus, getting to know her a little through Jenny's blog, she sounded smart and funny.  So, I bought some of her books  - Wish You Were Here and Crazy in Love - and became a fan.  Some time later, Lani created a blog called A Year and Change under her pseudonym Lucy March.  I was drawn to her gut-wrenching honesty and the story of where her life had been, where she was, and where she hoped to go.  So were many really remarkable women and somewhere along the line we all became Betties.

Okay, that's enough backstory.  Like many wonderful authors, Lani has regained rights to some of her books and made them available electronically.  Plus she has a new book (as Lucy) coming out in January 2012.  I think Lani's a terrific writer and teacher, and one hell of a woman, so I asked if she'd let me interview her for the blog.  I'm delighted she agreed.  Without further delay, here goes!

Me: You describe your books as Funny Women’s Fiction. Could you explain for us how women’s fiction differs from romance and why this genre appeals to you as a writer?

Lani: From a genre perspective, romance is focused on the relationship, and women's fiction is focused on the protagonist's journey. When I say I write "funny women's fiction," I see all my books under that umbrella, because they're all funny books that appeal to women. I know that writers who write for women tend to get less respect, but I don't really care. I don't need respect. I like writing stories about women who transform their lives through adventure, love, adversity, and I'm damn lucky that I get to do it.

MS: I personally believe that, in every book, an author wants to explore something with her story. What did you want to explore or investigate in each of these books?

LDR: It's funny, because every book I've written, I've had one goal I wanted to achieve. With The Fortune Quilt, I wanted to write a story about a woman whose entire life falls apart. I wanted to walk her through that process of rebuilding, redefining what's important and figuring out what she really wants. With A Little Ray of Sunshine, I wanted to write something intensely emotional, to pull out all the stops and not shy away from that vulnerable space. Both books were an adventure to write!

MS: You started, and completed, a blog you called A Year and Change in which you were brutally and refreshingly honest about your life. Do you think the process ended up being more about self-transformation? What’s the best thing you learned in the journey?

LDR: 516 days, blogging (almost) every day, counting down to my 40th birthday. Sounds crazy, huh? It was intense, definitely, charting the course of my divorce, wading through the mess that was my sense of myself, and even - to my great surprise - falling in love again, all in this very public space. That process was very much about transformation. When I go back and read those early posts, I'm amazed at how many things I struggled with all my life that are simply gone now. Everything hasn't been fixed - I still have a tendency to stress out and imagine that everything in the world is my responsibility - but I'm so much more at peace now than I have ever been. I think the best thing I learned on that journey was that it's not just okay to be vulnerable and brutally honest, but necessary. Had I not confessed everything in that blog, I don't think I would have healed the way I did, and I definitely wouldn't have been ready for my new marriage, which is one of the greatest joys of my life. That blog, and the community that formed there, has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, and it taught me how to be truly honest, not just with others, but with myself.

MS: When you read a book, what sparks the “Wow, this is terrific” reaction for you?

LDR: Different things. Sometimes it's the author's sense of humor, sometimes it's her sense of adventure. In my classes, I teach that there is an innate magic to every author, and that the one thing you can bring to the page that no one else can is you. I think it relates back to what made my blog such a heady experience; there are certain things that are just you, and even if every story has been told a thousand times before, it's never been told quite this way. When an author relaxes and trusts that her unique voice matters, a book becomes fresh and exciting. Craft is important, getting the technical stuff down so it doesn't get in the way is essential, but nothing beats an author's own magic. That's what authors need to honor in their writing, and when they do, it's truly magical.

MS: You’ve started a new journey in your own writing career with the name switch to Lucy March. How is A Little Night Magic different from your Lani Diane Rich books? What about it will still connect with your current Lani fans?

LDR: A Little Night Magic was my attempt at writing a bigger story. I'm really enjoying adventure and magic and bigger themes. What happens when an ordinary woman is called upon to save the people she loves from death and catastrophe? That was fun to play with. It's different from the Lani Diane Rich books in that the magic is outright and manifest; this is a different world from ours. But I still wanted to hit all those notes that I loved hitting with the Lani Diane Rich books - humor mixed with strong emotion, tears and laughter. That savory-sweet combination has always been a lot of fun for me, and I don't think I could write a book without that.

MS: You’re also embarking on a “re-publishing” venture with the rerelease of Little Ray of Sunshine and Fortune Quilt. How did you reach this decision and what do you think about the whole e-pub/self-pub movement that’s going on?

LDR: NAL was kind enough to give me my rights back, and I decided to jump in. I love those books, passionately, but now they're older and out of print and that bums me out. They're great books. I know that sounds arrogant, but I don't care. Everyone should love their own writing. In my classes, I make everyone end every class by saying, "I'm a great writer." I think it's important. I love my writing and I love these books and I'm so grateful that I'm living in a moment when I have the opportunity to help these books find new readers.

The new revolution in e-publishing is fascinating to me. I love that authors are able to take their work and make it available. I love watching this whole new world unfold before me. I'm still in traditional publishing because I have the best editor in the whole world, and she makes me a better writer. I think it's important to do your best work, make sure it's good and that you give the reader the best possible experience; I don't think it's important that you publish with New York. I love that authors have new options out there. It's wonderful.

MS: What else is on the horizon for Lani/Lucy?

LDR: Right now, I'm podcasting every day with my husband over at It's a free podcast for writers, with some instruction, some chit-chat, lots of wonky stuff like etymology and vocabulary and writing challenges. I'm also teaching classes at Storywonk; I'm really looking forward to my Magic and Discovery classes coming up in September and October, to help people gear up for Nanowrimo. In addition, we're just now launching an editorial service for people who are self-publishing; covers, editorial, back cover copy, conversion. We had a great time doing my titles, and it's fun. I'm also working on the next Lucy March book, and I have a few other side projects in the hopper.

Mostly, I'm having fun, and I'm incredibly blessed. It's a good life.

MS: Any final words/thoughts to share?

LDR: Just to thank you for having me here. Such wonderful questions, and such great discussion. Mary Stella, you are a gem. Thanks!

Lani, thanks so much for taking part in this blog interview, for creating the Bettyverse, for being an enthusiastic and helpful teacher and for being all around terrific.   Let's make it easy for everyone to find you and your books with some helpful links!
Little Ray of Sunshine   The Fortune Quilt  A Little Night Magic (w/a Lucy March)
Find Lani/Lucy online at and The Bettyverse!

Special Announcement!

Head over to the Bettyverse!  To celebrate her book launch, Lani's running a contest.  Help us build and move the buzz!  Click here for the Bettyverse.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lani Diane Rich - Here on Monday!

Well, she won't actually be here as in here in the Keys.  However, the uber-talented author, teacher, blogger, community-builder Lani Diane Rich graciously consented to be interviewed for this blog.  She has two backlist books coming out in new electronic versions and we'll talk a little about what's next for her alter-ego Lucy March. 

Join us this Monday, July 25th!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mattress Dancing

I'm going mattress shopping in a little while.  I guess that's more mattress rolling than dancing, but dancing made for a better blog title. 

We spend around a third of every day in bed, give or take an hour, so choosing the mattress is no decision to take lightly.  I've been thinking about it for awhile, testing and assessing different hotel beds when I travel and asking some friends what they've chosen.  Guess you could say I've been sleeping on the matter before actually going shopping.

I really like the beds in some hotel chains like the Hampton Inns, Sheratons or Westins.  Sealy makes the mattresses for one chain; Serta the other two, I think.  I'm also considering Tempur-Pedic but I couldn't find a hotel chain that uses them, so I don't believe I have first hand, or first body, experience with that make.

The commercials are certainly enthusiastic for the Tempur-Pedic and, honestly, people who own them stop just short of bursting into actual song when singing their praises. 

Choices, choices, choices.

Thing is, with the exception of the Soma watermattress I bought, and loved, years ago, I've never shopped for a regular mattress before.  Apparently there's a process to follow and I should be prepared to take my time.  Literally.  According to things I've read, I should lie down on each mattress I'm considering and stay there for at least 15 minutes to see how my body feels about the degree of support, plushiness and other qualities.  After narrowing down the options, before I make that final commitment, I'm supposed to lie on the chosen mattress for a minimum of half an hour! 

This could take hours.  What's the etiquette of mattress shopping in this manner?  Does the salesperson stay with you the whole time?  Do you converse during the trial period?  I read in bed every night before turning off the light and actually going to sleep.  Should I bring my Kindle, to help kill the time if nothing else.  What if I get sleepy?  I can't imagine taking an actual nap on display in a furniture store. 

Do they sanitize the mattresses after someone has taken them for a test lie?  Not for nothing, but it's freaking hot in Florida right now.  People sweat walking from their cars into the stores.  Do they wait long enough for the air conditioning to dry their bodies?  Are they leaving sweat droplets or flaky skin on the mattress I'm about to stretch out on? 

Come to think of it, are those mattresses marked as samples only or do they later get sold as new by the stores?  When my new mattress is delivered, how many other bodies will have been on it before it gets to my house?  Maybe I should sanitize it once it's home.

I can tell that shopping for a new sleeping system is far from restful.  I'd best get ready to go.

I wonder if anyone has actually worn pajamas to test out mattresses.

Have a great Saturday, everybody.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Care and Feeding of Your Empowerment

I was determined to take out my boat today.  Due to weather, travel, other responsibilities, a weekend when I was sick, etc. etc., the StardelaMar had not been off the lift for several weeks.  Lack of use is not good for the boat, nor for her captain.

I checked the tide charts to see when the water would be high enough to float the boat off of the lift and saw that a late-afternoon trip was doable.  Off and on throughout the day I kept an eye on the weather, hoping no sudden increase in wind or unexpected storm front would cancel my plans.

Around an hour or two before by ETD, I started feeling nervous.  This was completely unexpected.  I've had the boat for almost two years now and have taken her out by myself at least a dozen times.  I know I can handle her.  So why the nerves?   Little worms of insecurity tried to squirm into my conscious and undermine my confidence. 

The time drew closer.  I started worrying about the breeze.  Was it a little too much?  Would I have a problem steering the boat back onto the lift?  I wondered whether I should wait until the following weekend and line up someone to go with me while I reacquainted myself with the skills I needed to safely captain.

There are times when having a stubborn streak is a damned good thing.  Before I could talk myself out of the boat trip I'd been eagerly anticipating, I put my foot down and crushed the insecurity under my heel.  I grabbed my keys, hat and water, told the dogs that I'd be back in awhile and left the house.

I won't say that every last nerve was immediately satisfied, but at least I could look at them and know that being nervous about something didn't mean I should give up the attempt.  Instead of giving into the fear, I processed it by taking my time with every step in my preparation.  I reviewed procedures in my mind and then got on with the business of boating.

Even an hour on the water is good for the heart and the soul.  As soon as I smoothly backed off of the lift and guided the boat through the pilings into the open harbor, I felt my confidence flow back into my spirit.  Off I went, motoring smoothly through the harbor.  I love the ride out the pretty "creek" because it takes me past some lovely houses and then past the beach out to the open Atlantic.  As soon as I passed the last channel marker, I pushed up the throttles to increase the speed.  Within seconds the boat was up on plane, moving swiftly and smoothly over the waves. 

Before long, my hair was blowing back in the breeze, I'd turned up the stereo, and I was grinning!   Gone were the nerves and, for the life of me, I couldn't imagine why I'd considered cancelling the trip.

I cruised toward Sombrero Light, enjoying all the different jewel-like colors of the water. I spotted some regal frigate birds circling in the sky and wondered if they were searching for dinner in the ocean below.  After awhile, I began a slow turn toward the Seven Mile Bridge and headed for the channel markers to enter the harbor.  Slowing down gave me the chance to appreciate a few of the larger boats that are still docked at some of the marinas in town.  A few months ago, one that I swear was larger than my house, took up residence.  Beautiful on the outside, I can only imagine how luxurious it was inside. 

After a slow cruise past marinas, a restaurant, and dozens of moored boats, I was close to home.  The wind had come up a bit, but I just knew I could handle the docking.  I glided between the pilings, turned parallel with the sea wall and motored right up onto the lift.  It was one of my smoothest dockings ever.  I wish there had been people around to watch!

After shutting everything down, pulling on the console cover and making sure everything was in order, I leaned against the gunwale for a few minutes before leaving.  I relished the feeling of reconnecting with something I love to do.  Running my own boat is a source of empowerment for me, and I'd almost let insecurity rob me of the moment.  After thinking it through, I realize that I wouldn't have felt this way if so much time hadn't passed between trips. I felt out of practice and had lost trust in my captaining skills.  Confidence hungers for fuel.

I learned more than one lesson today.   Empowerment needs to be cared for and fed on a regular basis.  I definitely need to get out on the water whenever possible!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

eBook of the Day - All Keyed Up!

As I continue my efforts in world domination rejuvenation of my books through republishing them electronically, I invested in a sponsorship at Kindle Nation Daily.  If you have a Kindle, this is a great resource for linking to books that are available for your e-reader addiction. Click here to check it out. 

For that sponsorship, my book All Keyed Up is designated as eBook of the Day!  Yes, I know this is a paid sponsorship, but I still feel a little thrill to see my book cover and text up there on the page.

Humor me, please!  :-)

The whole e-repubbing adventure continues to fascinate me and it is certainly capturing the interest of everyone in publishing.  There are no hard and fast, or particularly uniform, steps to success.   Six authors might do six things exactly alike for their books and see different sales results.  I met a woman at last week's RWA Conference who has never published her books in print.  She put two of them up online and priced the first in the series at .99 with the second on sale for 2.99.  Within eight weeks, she's sold well over 2000 copies of the first, less expensive book, and over 500 copies of the second.  Her sales are remaining consistently strong.

I put my books up in March at 2.99 a piece and was thrilled when I'd sold over 100 copies total, but I still pondered what else I could do to boost the sales numbers.  A couple of weeks ago, I dropped the price of All Keyed Up to .99 and saw a slight uptick in sales, but nothing earth-shattering.

Today, with the eBook of the Day exposure, I've already sold over 50 additional copies.  This has boosted my sales ranking on Amazon's Kindle Store to #1200 when I last checked.  That is a HUGE improvement over, say #54,000 or #129,000.

The woman at RWA advised me to add additional keywords and tags, which I did.  She also said that it helps when people post reviews, particularly if the reviews are good.  So, if you've read my books and have some free time, I'd love it if you'd consider sharing your opinions in a review. 

Apparently, the more that you improve your ranking, the more attention your book receives which should achieve more sales that further improve the ranking, get you more attention and result in more sales, and so on and so on and so on. 

That's the theory anyway.   I will say that this is certainly an interesting adventure from my perspective.  My initial goal for doing it in the first place was to empower myself in terms of my writing career and to rescue my books, which I love, from the death of being out of print, remaindered and unavailable.   Is it nice to earn some money?  Of course.  I'm still a long way from recouping my investment in new covers, formatting, advertising, etc., but at least I'm recouping a little every day. 

It really does matter to me that my books are reaching more readers.  As a storyteller, that matters to me and it does my heart good to think that I might bring enjoyment to more than 50 new readers today.

Thank you everyone!