Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Taste of Heaven: Things Writers Can’t Make Up

Last night, Youngest treated me to a foot massage for Mother’s Day–a much appreciated pampering after a weekend of impromptu garage sale hosting.  My feet were killing me, and I told Youngest my massage felt like heaven.

“How do you know?”

“I’m just guessing.”

He never paused, but seemed a bit disappointed in my answer.  “Oh.  Well, I tasted heaven once.”

In case you’re wondering, Youngest isn’t fanciful.  Unlike his older two brothers who spun tales of dinosaurs visiting them in the night or their adventures aboard pirate ships, Youngest is a factual kind of kid.  He’s so factual, he doesn’t even lie.  In fact, he dropped his bombshell about tasting heaven in much the same way he would state that he ate pizza for lunch.  As a simple truth.

I needed to know more.  “When?”

“Well, one day after school I had a tummy ache–you were gone–and God came to visit me.  He gave me a piece of heaven to eat and said it would make my tummy feel better.”

“Did it?”

“Of course.”

And then he was on to other topics.  I immediately understood his disappointment in my assumption that my Mother’s Day foot massage felt like heaven when I’d had absolutely no experience with the actual place myself.

It kind of makes me wonder…

As adults, we often turn cynical in the way we view the world.  We rationalize and debate and search for proof and argue our viewpoints to the point of nausea.  We know what we know and we quit seeing the world through innocent eyes.

Young kids don’t see skin color or religion or sexual orientation or economic status.  They simply see other kids.  A potential playmate.  A friend.  Their take on “innocent until proven guilty” is “everything’s good, right and normal until we’re told otherwise.”

When writing for young kids, this is important to keep in mind.  Kids see the world very differently than we do.  They are not hardened by experience, shame, guilt, peer pressure or poverty.  They are sweetly innocent until life strips them of this most precious commodity.

It isn’t until the end of our life journeys that we yearn for a return to that innocence and sheer faith in the goodness of life.

When writing for middle schoolers or young adults, we must also keep this in mind.  Kids need validation for the tumultuous experiences they encounter.  But, they also need hope.  Hope for something better.  Hope for a brighter future.  Hope for a return of that innocence they once cherished.

Did God really minister a piece of heaven to Youngest when I was unable to do so myself?  I hope so, though I’ll never know.  The only true answer I have is that Youngest experienced this event in his mind and in his heart.  And that’s reality enough for him.  Who am I to tell him otherwise?

Do you believe kids have an inside track on certain things?  Do you feel that writers have a responsibility to foster hope and inspire change for the future?  How can we accomplish these tasks if we, ourselves, have already lost the magical wonder of a child?  And where can we find novel fodder so uniquely innocent besides the mind of the child?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S.  Spell Check thinks massage is wrong.  It wants me to replace the a with an e.  I’ve never had a foot message before, but I suppose it could be interesting.  And yet another example of things writers cannot make up on their own!

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Pick Your Friends, Your Nose & Your Agent/Editor

This past weekend, we had the pleasure to attend our God Daughter’s confirmation.  Close family friends since the summer Dear Hubby and I got married, we adults have been through the births, baptisms and first birthdays of a total of seven kids.  Their oldest graduated three years ago.  Ours does in three weeks.

We’ve been blessed to have had such a wonderful and unfaltering friendship between our two families.  In fact, our collective kids consider each other cousins.  In this respect, we’ve proven the old adage wrong–you can pick your family.

Another myth I’d like to dispel is that writer’s can’t pick their agents, editors or publishers.  I believe we writers can become so starved to see our writing validated that we send queries or submission packages out to any and every breathing professional in the publishing industry.  We don’t consider the long-term impact of accepting offers from less than stellar representatives in the writing arena.

Due diligence, my friends.

Our quasi family has the same morals and values as we have.  They value family and faith.  They respect their children and have strong relationships with them.  They are kind and compassionate, honest and filled with integrity.  They’re fun-loving and generous.  They are the kind of people I’d choose for family.

Similarly, this kind of compatibility is possible within the publishing industry if we choose to do the work.  We must research our options, talk with agents and editors before signing with them and discuss future goals to make sure we’re all on the same page.

CAT’S GUIDE TO PICKING YOUR PUBLISHING PROFESSIONAL

  • KNOW YOUR NEEDS: Create a list of what you want and need from your professional.  Promotion, editing, submitting, validation, publishing, Best Seller sales…the list is endless, and specific to each writer.  Know what YOU need and want and why.  It may be vastly different than the writer in the next computer over.  And that’s a good thing.
  • RESEARCH: Sales, clients, policies.  Dig deep to find out what peeps are really saying.  And what they aren’t saying.  Go beyond Google and don’t be afraid of what you might find.  If you find yourself reluctant to read the dirt, then you’re not ready to pick your professional.  You need to KNOW what you need to know.
  • MATCH YOUR NEEDS TO YOUR RESEARCH: It is completely irrelevant what everyone else is doing and who they’re doing it with.  What’s important is how your professional fits with your needs and desires.  These things should fit together like puzzle pieces.

Once you figure out who you want and why, you can begin courting your professional.  Make your contacts meaningful.  Be a professional yourself.  Work harder and smarter to build a relationship with your chosen few.

What’s important to you in a publishing professional?  How do you research your prospective professionals?  How do you court them, and have you been successful in your endeavors to pick your professional?

Curious minds want to know.

Messages from Spam: I am the Swiss Army Knife

I’ve been having a rough couple weeks.  My house (to steal a phrase from my nephew) is a bizaster.  First came the painting in which every upstairs room had a furniture migration to the middle of the floor…for a week.  Then came the storage room purge.  I won’t even tell you what that looked like.  But I’ll show you!

This was day two and roughly fifteen hours before I found out my father-in-law was coming to spend the night on his way to a business trip.  Talk about a mad scramble to sort, trash and repack.  Every item in every box that has been stored for nearly eight years was touched by me personally in two days.  The after picture is amazing.  You’ll have to trust me on that.

Anywho…then came the carpet–which I prepared for on Monday by moving my boy’s beds into the master bedroom along with half their toys and putting the rest on my dining room table.  Yeah, finding clothes in drawers stacked on other furniture is more fun than I can handle.  Finding the floor in the basement den is impossible, as that’s where they decided to camp out until the new carpet is laid.  Today the living room furniture will somehow have to squeeze into the dining room and entry way.

Next will be storing my kitchen cupboard stuff on the dining room table and the brand new carpet on the living room floor while my countertops are put in.  Lord have mercy.  My house is a bizaster.

Add to that baseball practices, proms, bullies and graduation menus and I’m a bizaster.

And my internet pooped out on me.  Again.  So, after an I’m-sorry-we’re-experiencing-longer-than-normal-delays-in-answering-your-call-please-stay-on-the-line service call to the cable company, I decided to clean out the 47 spam messages before tackling the living room shuffle.

This one made my day: “Your website is the electronic Swiss army knife of the cyber world.”

Aaaah.

I needed that, even if it was spam.

But sometimes it doesn’t matter where the message comes from or how it reaches us.  A tiny hug that lets you know you’re on the right path at just the right moment can give you a much-needed boost.

So today, as I sort through the bizaster of my house, I shall loudly proclaim myself The Swiss Army Knife.  I can.  I will.  I shall.

Dear readers, what kinds of unexpected messages have you received?  Have you ever said or done something so small you thought nothing of it until someone later told you it made a difference in his life?  Can we plan these spam messages to boost others around us, or is there some kind of cosmic force that delivers them at the right time to the right people?

Curious minds want to know.

If only I’d had my Swiss Army Knife complete with built-in turbo shovel for the storage room…

 

Social Media…The Death of Us All?

While discussing the downfalls of social media with my big kids last night, Eldest commented that technology would be the destructive force that takes down mankind.

I think he’s right.  Orwell’s 1984 has never been more present than now.  And it’s not necessarily the government we need to fear.  It’s ourselves.

We put so much of ourselves into the vast world of technology that we no longer have any sort of privacy (says the blogger who connects nearly every writing post to real life).  It’s dang scary.

And while I occasionally get opinionated and loud about certain issues, my motto is: If I can’t say it to my mother, my mother-in-law or my pastor, I have no business saying it online, because inevitably, anyone from my kids to their teachers to the mayor to the president can feasibly read what I write or ogle every picture I ever post.

That’s fine.  President Obama doesn’t care that my dog eats socks and sleeps on her back in her kennel.  Or that I think kids get by with bullying because adults are too afraid to step in.  Or that our inability to address early literacy issues as a preventative measure literally condemns thousands of children to an adult life in poverty or prison.  That we spend far more money incarcerating adults who had potential but lacked the ability to read well, instead of helping them as at-risk kindergarteners learn to succeed is one of the greatest tragedies our country has ever created.  Economically, emotionally and socially.

The Pres doesn’t care about me and my thoughts.  But somebody does.  Actually, lots of somebodies potentially do.

They like every new account I create, every website I visit, every purchase I make, every hot button word I say, every picture I post.  They like it because it’s information.  And information, if used correctly, can cause damage.  It can destroy job security, rip apart marriages and financially cripple individuals who aren’t careful.  Heck, even those who are.

Every picture of that beer can in your underage hands can keep you from attaining that coveted scholarship.  Every snarky word you type into cyberspace can influence other’s opinions and decisions about you, including a judge’s should you get busted for spouting off about your illegal gun supply.

We are the guilty parties in Cyber Space 1984.  We want to be heard so much that we forget what not to say.  We rail against agents as we email query letter after query letter.  We snark off about certain authors and their less than stellar books only to later realize when our own books arrive on the shelves, authors are reviewers too.

We take pictures of naughty parts and pen less-than-pure prose as captions to our lovers, never believing our spouses may find them.  We threaten others every day with hate-filled words, never believing someone will use our prejudices to take us down.  We destroy our own integrity in a constant battle to be seen and heard by our friends, never really understanding that it’s not just our friends who hear us and see us.  It’s the entire cyber world.

And that world is a very big place.

I urge everyone, regardless of age, race, gender or profession to carefully consider the long-term impact of their cyber footprints before setting anything loose into the vast and unforgetting realm of social media.

Our words count.  They add up.  They create a picture of what we look like to the outside world.  And sometimes, that picture ain’t pretty.  Don’t hang yourself with your words.

My favorite saying of all time comes from William Backus.  “”The concept behind personal integrity is wholeness. When a person is the same without as within, when what others know about him is the same truth he knows about himself, he has integrity.”

So, if you believe yourself to be a kind and gentle soul, your words should reflect this.  If you’re crass and crude and selfish on the inside, then so be it.  Present this truth to the world.  Just remember, we alone are responsible for what we say and how we say it.  The sandbox/lunchroom/break room has just gotten bigger.

How do you feel about social media as a whole?  What responsibility do we have to ourselves to set clear rules of social media engagement?  And what might those rules look like?  What types of behaviors spell certain social media death?

Curious minds want to know.