Monday, September 23, 2013

Rainbows - What they say about you

This rainbow appeared late in the afternoon following a brief shower.  I was on a deck with friends who noticed it simultaneously. I thought how they reacted described more about them than they realized. 

"Refraction at work," one person said.  "There's a pot of gold out there in those trees," another quipped.  "I used to love rainbows as a kid," a third person offered. 
To me, immediately explaining the wonders of a rainbow as refraction, or as light rays being bent at varying wavelengths through a prism of water, signals that the 'mystery of nature' has been replaced by the 'reality of science' for this person.  That's not always a good tradeoff, even if the explanation was true. 
Thinking first of the pot of gold shows that whimsy still plays a role in this person's life.  They know there's no pot of gold in the trees, but at some point in their life they probably believed there was, and even now, they likely want to believe. 
Associating a rainbow with childhood experiences says this person has pleasant memories of those times.  Their youth was likely filled with other happy memories, rainbows being just one.
While it's obviously unfair for me to label anyone by their fleeting comment after witnessing a rainbow, it made me think of my own reaction and what it said about me.  I won't share that here.  
            "You can't enjoy a rainbow without first enduring clouds and rain,
             yet not every storm will guarantee you a rainbow." -- Unknown

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Twitter Town

I grew up in a small, Midwestern town of less than 1,800 people.  Most of the families have lived there for several generations.  There are few strangers and fewer secrets in my hometown.  My high school graduating class had 50 students whom I’d grown up with since kindergarten.  Over 40 years later, I can still name them all.  So when I see that I have over 7,000 followers on Twitter, I have to stop and put it in context of this background.
Social media didn’t exist when I was in high school.  Hell, it didn’t exist through most of my working career.  I discovered it in the past five years, about the time I started writing.  I wanted to learn more about others diving into my new avocation, so I jumped on the Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and LinkedIn treadmill and hung on for dear life.
What I’ve learned is there are few parallels between my 7,000 Twitter followers and the 1,800 residents of my hometown.  First off, I know very few of my Twitter followers, maybe a dozen or so I recognize when their Tweets fly by.  These are the same dozen that Retweet my messages on a regular basis, and I theirs.  We occasionally share a URL of interest, or we might even go so far as to link to each other’s blogs or share our Facebook pages.   
These 7,000 followers obviously don’t live in the same small town.   In fact, nearly one-third of them don’t even reside in the U.S.   They reside in a “virtual town” where they have congregated around common interests instead of common terrain.  In my case, their interests are writing, reading, editing, and reviewing books, but they could just as easily be pop music, political causes, or cooking.  You know the minute someone new sets foot in my hometown, but it’s hard to put a fence around my virtual literary town, and I’m not sure it would be a good idea, anyway. Although, I do find myself ‘unfollowing’ the occasional weirdo that breaks in.    

So, why bother with this?  What’s in it for an aspiring, middle-aged author?  Well, like I said before, it was originally a way to learn about others with common interests.  It’s worked well in that respect. I’m not sure I know any of them well enough to invite them on vacation, but I’ve benefited from their views and ideas.
I’d also hoped that it would be a way to develop a following for my writing, but I’ve learned that marketing on Twitter, Facebook and the other sites is not that easy.  In the bat of an eye, they can pass by your Tweets or Posts, paying them no interest.  As an example, if I send a Tweet asking my 7,000 followers to check out a new blog post I’ve written, I might get five hits to my blog in the next hour – not all that effective, but it’s something. 

I’m still learning about how to be more successful in social network marketing. There are tons of articles on the subject. Most of them recommend: look and stay professional, be consistent with your messaging, don’t sell too much, include interesting articles and ideas, etc., etc.  It all makes sense.  After all, my virtual town only knows me through my Tweets.  They didn’t know my family or grow up with me from kindergarten.  There are only 50 classmates who did, and most of them already have my books.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

In Sickness or in Health -- Really?

I just came through a tough cold. It was the typical mucousy, stuffy head, fever, cough 'till your chest explodes kinda cold. I'm rarely sick, so when I come upon one of these spells it reminds me that health is everyone's number one priority. Everything else is a distant second. 
      It also brings to light one of my largest faults. I am a TERRIBLE patient. When I'm sick, nothing satisfies me, and everything irritates me. My wife does the only thing any reasonable person can do. She retreats to the far end of the house leaving me to live or die on my own. When my coughing begins to subside, and she no longer hears me rustling around for meds and canned soup, she gradually returns to see if I've survived. She says, "I'm glad you're feeling better," as if nothing has happened, and life continues.
      Neither I nor my wife really played out in our minds the reality of what "in sickness or in health" really meant before we blurted out  "I do," but then if we had, the ceremony may not have reached "You may now kiss the bride."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Reviews

As a writer, your novels become your children.  You’re blind to their faults, but you know they’re there.  It’s okay if you notice the imperfections and make an effort to correct them, but when others shine a light on them, you become protective, defensive, possibly even a little agitated.  It’s somewhat natural for writers to feel this way.  After spending months, or even years, crafting your novel and exposing your innermost thoughts and imagination, you become proud of the total work.  The characters become real. The story, even if fiction, begins to border on reality. So, when a review is posted highlighting your misuse of tense in chapter 9, you begin to wonder why you expose yourself to such rigorous inspection.   
       Here’s why.  As much as you disdain nitpicky criticism, you need it to improve.  Just as runners strive for faster times and climbers pursue higher peaks, writers seek approval that can only come from constantly improving their product.  There is a unique difference for writers, though.  Runners face their time, and climbers face the terrain above them, but writers face the opinions of hundreds, hopefully thousands, of readers.   For writers, it’s a numbers game.  You will never please everyone, but for some reason, writers will always try.   You may have dozens of five-star ratings on Amazon, but it’s the few two-star ratings that will have you reading and re-reading their comments, analyzing their credibility and accuracy. 
       In the end, there’s only one thing worse than getting a bad review -- it’s getting too few.  We need the feedback.  We want to know that readers care about what we write.  We log on every day to Amazon and goodreads to see how many and what kind of reviews we’ve received.  When we get an especially good one, we wave it triumphantly like a flag on our Facebook page for all to see.
       Still, our novels are our children.  We bring them to life.  We direct their future.  It’s up to us to determine how and if we use the feedback to continue shaping them.  We only hope readers will continue to share their thoughts and give us that chance.