Quite Something

Archive for April, 2008

My people

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Unlike my friend, Don Vaughan, who knew that he wanted to write from the time he was in high school, it took me a long time to decide what I wanted to be. The problem was not that I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do. It was that, in choosing one career, I would have to eliminate all the other ones that sounded so interesting. I wish I had figured out a lot sooner that, by being a writer, you can be anything you want to be on any given day, just by researching and writing about it.

Instead, I was on a perpetual career search. I read What Color is Your Parachute? and Living Life on Purpose. I was always re-taking the Meyers-Brigg test to see what my personality type indicated about potential careers. (I’m an INFP, as are many writers, which means I’m highly sensitive, and am driven to do something meaningful in my life.) Finally I took a life-mission course called The Highland’s Program, which included an extensive ability-battery. When it was confirmed that, yes, I had both the natural ability and the requisite skills, I ventured into freelance writing. (Sometimes you have to be beat over the head…)

Of all the methods I used, one that never occurred to me was to choose a career based on the “niceness” of the people in it. Luckily, I have found that, had I used that method, I would still have arrived at writing. And, believe me, I’ve worked in enough different fields to be able to make a comparison.

In recent posts I’ve written about my writers’ group and about the conference we put on. Most of the writers I’ve met have been incredibly friendly, kind, and helpful. I mentioned yesterday that I have been emailing with Nancy Peacock, author of A Broom of One’s Own. I also heard from Elizabeth Hudson, editor of North Carolina Signature, and the keynote speaker for our conference. Both are busy women, yet both took time to email me: Nancy to respond to an invitation to speak to TAF, and Elizabeth to thank us for sending her A Taste of Taffy, our group’s anthology.

It’s not just that they responded; it’s the way they responded. Although these women barely know me, both signed off similarly. Elizabeth said, “Please feel free to stay in touch,” and Nancy said, “Let’s stay in touch.” 

As if they had all the time in the world. 

As Pam Beck, NC garden writer and speaker, said after she gave a presentation to our group, “I have found my people.”

Dot-to-dot

Monday, April 28th, 2008

In yesterday’s Parade magazine, a reader asked Marilyn vos Savant how much closer to the Sun our planet Earth could be (than the 93 million miles it is) and still sustain life. Her answer was that it could be as close as 75 million miles, or as far away as 150 million miles, and still sustain some form of life.

Last night my husband and I drove home from southern MD, where we had been visiting my sister, in monsoon-like rain. It’s raining again today and has been doing so off and on for three weeks. But before last month, here in the heart of NC in the midst of extreme drought conditions, we couldn’t buy a drop.

The more we learn about our planet, the more we learn about the delicate balance necessary to sustain all kinds of life here. Although we’re all working harder these days to do what we can, we know that the majority of planetary and weather changes are beyond our control.

In our own life, things that seem like they should be within our control often times don’t feel that way. Why is that?

We’re working too much, or we can’t find enough work. We have too many friends, or not enough. We eat too little or too much.

In order to achieve a better balance, we often have to make a change, either in our routines, or in our relationships. We’re doing too much of what we don’t want to do, and not enough of what we want to do. We have to change our focus, and then tell people about it, often risking their disappointment.

Life seems hard enough without rocking the boat. So we go through what psychologists call the approach-avoidance conflict. We’re drawn to something, and before we even notice it, we’re investigating what it would take to bring it into our lives. We hear ourselves tell our friends, “I’m thinking about doing (whatever it is).” We realize some momentary excitement, riding the high of the positive “what ifs.” Imagining how we’d feel if we really did it.

But then we start to think more realistically about what that would mean. The sheer, hard work of actually making our dreams come to fruition. We start making a list of the negative “what ifs.”

And then it happens. We back off. We put it out of our minds. We go back to the grind, until the next interesting idea grabs hold of us. When our friends ask us how our plan is working out, we tell them that we decided not to pursue it. It would have been too expensive. Too time-consuming. Too hard to do in addition to the work we’re already doing.

Admit it. You’ve done it. Many times over.

What’s out of balance in your life? What would it take for you to correct it?

Sue Monk Kidd, popular author and essayist, says in her inspirational book Firstlight that she keeps one of those dot-to-dot pictures, a gift from a four-year-old, on her desk. She says that on days when she can’t see where her life is going, the picture reminds her that all she really needs to see is the next dot.

I love that image. Rather than plunge in, I’m often a babystep or backdoor kind of person. The image of just having to move one dot at a time appeals to me. Since all forward movement is positive, if we just keep seeing the next dot, eventually a picture of our own, more balanced, lives will come into focus.

What’s your next dot?

 

Chart a path

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

“I truly believe we should never give up on our hopes and dreams. The path may be rocky and twisted, but the world is waiting for that special contribution each of us was born to make. What it takes is the courage to follow those whispers of wisdom that guide us from inside. When I listen to that, I expect nothing less than a miracle.”
                                                                                                         Marilyn Johnson Kondwani

 

I think the earlier we figure out what we’re here for and get started on it, the happier we are, but for many of us, that’s a tough task. It’s hard to figure out what we’re supposed to do or be, and it’s even harder to gather the confidence to proceed even if we know.

Moments of inspiration quickly give way to oceans of doubt. We’re all driven by emotion. When we feel optimistic, there’s no stopping us. But once the fear starts to settle in, it holds us back.

Most of our self-doubt comes from leftover childhood issues, which is why I’m such a big advocate of psychotherapy. Once we get rid of the big stuff, we need to constantly ensure that our environment is as positive as it can be. Surround ourselves with upbeat people, read good books, find new inspirations daily.

I’ve learned that the most important thing is just to keep going. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Chart a path, and when you see yourself starting to veer off course, make a correction and start again. Be yourself, and trust yourself. The answers are inside of you if you take the time to look.

Happy hunting.

 

The missing step

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

“We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness.”
                                                                                                     David L. Weatherford

 

One of my brothers IMed me today to talk about some of the things that aren’t working in his life. Whenever he does this, he ends the conversation in the same way: “Thanks. I don’t mean to complain.” I told him that if he thought of it as grieving rather than complaining, perhaps he wouldn’t feel so bad about the need to vent from time to time.

Bad things happen to everyone; sometimes the universe just doesn’t give us what we need. It can be very beneficial to share your troubles with a friend, especially if it helps you to think more clearly or to make a decision about what you need to do. A little validation goes a long way, and it never hurts to hear a different perspective.

Most of us were taught to suck up our negative feelings and keep going. Which is not bad advice, except that there’s a step missing. First we have to grieve what it is that we’re missing. So go ahead. The next time you’re feeling down, give in to it. You’ll be tempted to think it’s a waste of time—that there’s no sense in wallowing in misery.

But, actually, there is a purpose to depression, which is a lot easier to understand if you think of it in terms of hibernation. When we don’t feel up to our normal activities, it’s because we need to lick our wounds. To step back from the world and take an inventory of our feelings. Are we angry, frustrated, discouraged? In the end, many of those emotions boil down to being sad about something. A slight, an injustice, a lost opportunity. We can’t move on to the next step, figuring out what we need, until we let the sadness in. Let it permeate. Have a good cry.

Once we do that, we’re freed up to deal with our problems head on. We start to bounce back, as Ginger Rogers explains to Fred Astaire in the 1936 movie Swing Time:

Nothing’s impossible, I have found.
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off,
Start all over again.

 

Net worth

Friday, April 18th, 2008

I’ve been working as a freelancer for several years now and, like most freelancers, I sometimes get impatient. During the times when the money I’m earning can be characterized as a trickle, rather than the gush I’d hoped for back when I wrote my first book, I have to remind myself that, for creative people, measuring your worth in financial terms can be self-defeating. We often share our gifts with the world in ways that can’t be calculated monetarily.

A few weeks ago my friend, Sandra Gutierrez, from my writers’ group, was struggling with a decision—whether or not to write a cookbook. A food columnist and cooking teacher with packed classes and a growing reputation, she’d like to take her career to the next level. With her cookbook she hopes to expand Americans’ understanding of Latin cuisine. She says cooking styles vary greatly across the twenty-two countries which make up Latin America. 

It’s something she’s been wanting to do, and has been encouraged to do, by her students and friends. She’s been collecting and testing her recipes for years, so she’s ready, but I could tell she just needed a little nudge. Rather than sending a return email to answer her questions about print-on-demand (POD) publishing, I picked up the phone and called her. We talked about the pros and cons of various types of publishing. Her situation is ideal for POD, because she has at least two built-in markets: readers who’ve read her newspaper and magazine columns for years, and a new roster of students every few weeks.

I encouraged Sandra to go for it. As we ended the call, I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice. She decided to squeeze out an hour or two a day to finish her book and get it out there, and is on the hunt for a professional food photographer and graphic artist to make the book she envisions come alive.

As she thanked me, I realized that I felt energized in return. You can’t measure the value of helping out a friend in anything but joy.

If you’re a little down today about your net worth, go support someone else in their creative pursuits. The feeling is priceless.

 

Book signing at the Wake Forest Public Library

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

On Tuesday, April 22nd, at 6:30 p.m., I will be doing a slide show, reading, and book signing of All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story at the Wake Forest Public Library. The library is located at 400 E. Holding Ave. in Wake Forest, NC. My presentation will actually be at the North Regional Center which is next door.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library and will take place immediately after their annual meeting.

All on Account of You is a memoir based on my parents’ courtship in the 1940s. The slide show is set to Big Band piano music which was recorded by my father, Bill Luddy, before he passed away.

If you’re in the area, please stop by!

 

A Taste of Taffy

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had recently co-edited an anthology for my writers’ group (TAF). A few years ago, a representative from Lulu.com came to one of our TAF meetings to talk about print-on-demand publishing. The reps brought sample books and the quality looked great. We got excited about it, and briefly contemplated doing a group project together.

It didn’t happen right away, but after I published All on Account of You on Lulu and took the books to a meeting, the subject came up again. One of our members, John Wood, decided that we should do a TAF anthology, and began collecting submissions for it. We named it A Taste of Taffy: Samplings From the Triangle Area Freelancers. We thought we could offer it for sale in conjunction with the writers’ conference we were planning. John is one of those super-smart people who does sixteen things at one time and does them well, but he had so much going on last fall, he was afraid he might not finish the project in time. My copyeditor-friend, Cindy Brody, and I offered to take it on. Cindy’s a pro–she’s been editing my work for years. Neither one of us had ever done an anthology, so we thought it would be fun.

There were several fiction and poetry submissions, but we quickly realized that it was not going to work to mix genres. We decided to use only the nonfiction pieces since that’s what most of us write. Cindy and I read all 40 or so submissions and ranked each of them using A, B, and C to denote the likelihood of inclusion. The amazing thing is that John read the submissions separately and came up with the exact same list! It was really weird, but also comforting. We were all stumbling our way through it, and the consensus made us feel that we were on the right track.

As we were editing the pieces, we realized why many publications have such specific submission guidelines. Having not thought about word count ahead of time, we had to go back and ask people to edit theirs works down to under 1,000 words so they’d be within the same range. It was tough editing friends’ work; we tried to be gentle, but at the same time not compromise our standards.

There were also some beautiful photography submissions, and we decided it would be nice to include images. The articles and essays seemed to fall into three sections (articles on culture, humorous articles, and reflections) so we divided the book that way rather than into chapters. Probably the most enjoyable part was working on the asthetics, assigning the images to the stories, and deciding on their size and placement on the pages. 

As a group we don’t yet collect fees, so we had no funds to work with. Lulu allows you to upload a formatted Word document for free and use their conversion feature to create the .PDF file from which the book is actually printed. A long time ago, I had done layout in Word as a technical writer. It wasn’t easy and it took a lot of time, but Cindy and I both have artistic leanings, so we finally got a simple layout that we were happy with. The upload was surprisingly simple except that one image, that of a chicken, was missing! It took several days and the help of a graphics editor, Kristy Stevenson, and a Lulu tech support rep, but we finally recovered the chicken, none the worse for wear.

We used Lulu’s cover wizard to design the cover. It’s not as powerful as I would have liked, but it sufficed. We ordered a sample book which came within a week. We were dangerously close to our deadline, but needed to make a few minor changes before ordering 100 copies for the conference. The full shipment of A Taste of Taffy arrived on a Tuesday, and the conference was Saturday! The members were excited; they purchased 75 of the books at our pre-conference meeting. The rest sold at the conference or shortly afterwards, and I’ve just placed another order.

This has been quite a year for new writing-related experiences. Helping to plan a writers’ conference: check. Speaking at a writers’ conference: check. Co-editing and co-designing an anthology: check.

Now if I could just figure out how to insert photos into these blogs! Now that I’ve got him under control, I might even show you the chicken.

 

Write Now! 2008

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Yesterday I mentioned how important my writers’ group has become to me. Over the last year we’ve grown quite a bit. We’ve gone from being an informal group to one that is looking into becoming an official nonprofit. We put together a website to which we’re directing editors so they can see the profiles of our writers and the diversity of our topics: www.triangleareafreelancers.org.

Last fall we decided that we could help even more freelancers if we put on a writers’ conference. It was a huge undertaking, but we had a hard-working group and knew we could do it. We created a planning group and started meeting monthly. Over time, the conference came together. We booked a keynote speaker, Elizabeth Hudson, editor of North Carolina Signature magazine. We put together two tracks of classes: Freelancer Basics, and Niche Writing. TAF members were invited to be instructors. We secured space at our local community college, made fliers, wrote press releases, and took advantage of every free opportunity to announce the event through TV station community calendars, etc. We had the requisite nerves when registration opened and signup was slow at first. But over the last month, registrations continued to add up. We were fortunate to have an article about both the conference and the anthology (more about that in the next post) run in The News & Observer the week before the conference. It yielded additional registrants, and in the last 24 hours before the event, we had ten or so more people sign up, including a few walk-ins on the actual day.

One of the things I love about TAF is that the people in it are particularly dedicated and professional. Everyone pitched in, and it went better than any of us could have anticipated. It’s a cliche, but the word floated around most often that day was “magical.” We knew that we had good speakers and strong material, but we under-anticipated the part that the networking between the attendees would play. They bonded with each other, as writers rarely have a chance to do. They shared their aspirations as well as their successes. One 18-year-old student became fast friends with a 67-year-old retiree. We had a few first-timer glitches, but the evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. It felt good to have been part of an effort that ended up being more than simply informative.

Elizabeth Hudson was an inspired choice. She provided an insider’s view of what it’s like to be an editor, what she looks for in stories that come her way, and how to find the unique back stories that make editors jump out of their chairs and run around their offices.

 Plans for “Write Now! 2009″ are already underway. April 4th is the tentative date. Mark your calendars!

Writers’ groups are worth it

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

In January of 2006, I made a New Year’s resolution to join a writers’ group in order to move my career forward. I’m not usually a joiner, so it was a big step for me. As my friend Audrey Mark says, “I’m a writer, so I don’t play well with others.”

I tried out two groups. The first wasn’t right for me at all. It was made up of fiction and poetry writers who were having trouble getting started. I had been writing regularly for a long time, but was struggling with the selling part. The second group, Triangle Area Freelancers, or TAF, headed by Don Vaughan, was perfect for me because it was focused on freelancing as opposed to writing. It was a small group, which met monthly.

I was a little intimidated at first, because I had seen a newspaper article about Don which touted his ability to publish. He had written several books and hundreds of magazine articles. But he was friendly and welcoming; as each person introduced him or herself, he asked what they were working on and how the group could help. I found out that Don was teaching a class at our local community college, Wake Tech, called “Freelance Writing for Beginners” and decided to take it. It was a lot of fun, and the information was just what I needed. I learned the proper way to pitch magazine articles to editors and, in particular, what I had been doing wrong. (My queries needed some tweaking, and I wasn’t following up on them.)

A few months before I joined TAF, I had landed my first real writing gig as a monthly columnist for The News & Observer. Mark Cantrell, Don’s partner-in-crime, had invited all four of the new columnists to join. It was great getting to know the other folks who were sharing the column. We invited our editor, Dan Holly, to speak at one of the meetings. He told us what he was looking for from freelancers, and many of us subsequently published news articles in the North Raleigh News section of the paper.

I became more and more involved with the group, going to the monthly meetings and chatting with all my new friends online. The networking has been phenomenal—it’s been amazing to watch the progression of our careers, fueled by the assistance and support of other writers. We’ve grown to over 40 official members, with 20 or more attending any given meeting.

If you are a writer, and you’re not in a writers’ group, check one out. I can’t think of anything that has helped my career more. You can find them through your local library or bookstore, or on Meetup-type sites online. If you’re in North Carolina, the NC Writers’ Network lists meetings in the classified section of their newsletter. I’m working on an article for a writers’ magazine called “Ten Reasons to Join a Writers’ Group.” As soon as it’s published, I’ll include the link here.

Normandy to the Bulge

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Hello friends! Well, I just got started on this blog back in the fall when my life got crazy busy and I took a hiatus. It’s been a good kind of busy, but I haven’t done enough writing lately, so I’m happy to be back. What I have been doing is working on three major projects: re-publishing a book my uncle wrote which had been out of print for ten years, and working on both a writers’ conference and an anthology for my writers’ group, the Triangle Area Freelancers

 In this post I’ll tell you about my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge: an American Infantry GI in Europe During WWII by Richard D. Courtney, now available on Lulu.  I had read the book when it was first published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1997, and my eyes were opened for the first time to the sacrifices the Greatest Generation made for our country. After I finished publishing All on Account of You on Lulu, I realized that I had to help get my uncle’s book back into print.

Normandy starts off with the excitement of a young man just graduating from high school and starting off to war. It goes through his grueling basic training, then his passage on the ship on his way to Europe. The mood changes as he and his fellow soldiers realize for the first time that they could be in real danger. The action begins as they exit their landing craft onto the beach at Normandy in France. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he loses dear friends and has many close calls, but his faith gets him through even the worst of it. He is involved in the liberation of more than one concentration camp, and he and another soldier accept the surrender of the 11th Panzer Division at the end of the war. He comes home much wiser but, surprisingly, not bitter. He is grateful to be alive and to be back home with his family. He cherishes his country and the freedom he helped to protect.

We re-published my uncle’s book last November, just in the nick of time. He’s 82, and not long after he got books in hand and starting selling, he lost his voice. He is now in a rehab center after a lengthy surgery for thyroid cancer. His recovery has been fraught with complications but, tough guy that he is, he’s giving it his all. He still has a tracheotomy and can’t speak yet, but my aunt called last night to order more books for him. She says he uses a white board to write on, and told her that he was ready to start selling, at least to the medical staff and his visitors.

Last fall, before he lost his voice, Uncle Dick was interviewed by the Bob and Tom Show in Indianapolis, the number one syndicated radio show in America. He was supposed to do a live show with them during the winter. Instead, the show played part of the taped interview, and put some audio clips, his picture, and a link to the book on their website. He sold 40 books on Lulu and 72 books on Amazon last month.

 If his story isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.