Quite Something

Archive for June, 2008

What can you offer?

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I’ve been having a pull-back week this week. It’s kind of like a mental health day, only longer. On emotional overload after my uncle’s funeral, and after seemingly every one of my close friends has had some kind of crisis, I finally had to pull back. To limit phone calls and emails and invitations in order to process some of what I’ve taken in. Death often causes us to do this. To look at how we’re living, to see if we have our priorities straight and our “house in order,” even to the extent of updating our wills and health care powers-of-attorney.

Before I learned about the death of my uncle, I had been struggling with a career decision. An agent expressed interest in my first book, Thinking About Therapy. She wanted to try to sell it to a mainstream publisher–every self-published author’s dream–except that, in her opinion, re-marketing it would require pulling it off my website. At first glance, it seemed like a no-brainer. I could have an agent! One who doesn’t intimidate me, is passionate about my topics, and returns my phone calls.

On the other hand, I had a visceral reaction when she mentioned pulling the book, especially after the enormous effort that went into redesigning my website last fall. Add to that the fact that I’m getting some traction on various fronts online, and the timing felt completely off. It would have meant switching gears, perhaps even backtracking. In the end I decided to decline the offer, although we left the door open for working together on future projects.

Then, this week, the webmaster for an online magazine for women responded to my request to blog on their site. A few weeks ago they had put out the word that they were looking for bloggers, and, in a high-energy moment, I had signed up. They sent me an application, and asked if I was interested in writing a regional or national blog. As my husband likes to say, “Is that a trick question?” Don’t all writers want as much exposure as possible? At any rate, the application asked me to explain what I thought I could offer to their readers.

Isn’t it amazing how hearing the right question can set your brain straight to the task of answering it? Part of my emotional funk this week has been due to a lack of focus. Self-published authors face a dizzying list of shoulds. In order to build an audience and sell books, we are told that we should blog, set up book signings and speaking engagements, send out books for review, write magazine pitches and sell articles, create book trailers, mine the web. And, oh, by the way, write the next book. I’m guilty of switching haplessly from one to the other, sometimes getting overwhelmed in the process.

Which brings me back to the “What can I offer?” question. I know the big-picture answer because I’ve done a lot of work in this area and I have a personal mission statement: “To inspire others to live a more joyful, purposeful life.” I want to share my personal experiences with other people, particularly women, in the hopes of saving them some of the emotional struggles that I’ve been through.

I just needed to be asked the question again. Refocused, I know where to put my efforts going forward. I have a feeling that, as a result, next week is going to be one of those pull-ahead weeks.

As Greg Anderson says in his uplifting book Living Life on Purpose, “You have a mission in your life…Truly, the world has need of you…You are here, now, where you are, how you are, given the personality you have, with the unique abilities you possess because this is your moment to contribute to the world.” 

How about you? What can you offer to the world? Do you need a pull-back week to figure it out?

Take all the time you need. We’ll wait.


The milkman

Friday, June 20th, 2008

We lost another WWII veteran today. My uncle, John Stanley, who was 98, served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Texas as a gunner’s mate. Like most of the men in that job, he lost much of his hearing while doing it. On my last visit out to Denver, where he and my aunt lived, he showed me his medals, and an amazing picture of a kamikaze plane just about to crash into the ship behind his.

You know all those old jokes about women falling in love with the milk man? Well, that actually happened to my Aunt Winnie. Uncle Johnny drove a milk truck and he delivered the milk to her house at 5:30 every morning. He fell for when he was 20 and she was 14. The story goes that, because of his affection for her, he left her a small bottle of chocolate milk every day as a treat. Unfortunately, her brother John woke up first, drank the chocolate milk, and never mentioned it to anyone. Uncle Johnny had to wait for two years to date Aunt Winnie, because she wasn’t allowed to date until she turned 16. They were married when she turned 21, and have been married for 71 years! They have seven children.

Uncle Johnny was a numbers man. After the war he got a job selling Prudential insurance, the perfect job for him. He had an incredible memory, and loved trivia. Every time we saw him, he would say something like, “Do you know how many bricks it took to build the (fill in the building or structure)?” Of course we’d have no idea, but he’d tell us exactly how many bricks. Or how many men it took to build it. Or how many man-hours. The numbers were always in the millions, but he’d remember them down to the last digit. He was an affectionate guy, and would always hold my hand when he talked to me. He loved to sing, and made up songs about working the milk route.

For most of his life he was strong and healthy, but he had occasional, bizarre health issues that would have set others way back. Not him. He was blind for an entire year when he was a senior in high school, until his dentist figured out that a wisdom tooth was pushing on a nerve. Once they removed it, he could see again. In his mid-80s his vision was failing again, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which needed to be removed. He had to shop around to find a doctor who was willing to anesthetize him at his age. We were all very nervous about the surgery, which was quite serious, but he was undaunted. Of course he came out of it with flying colors.

The last time I saw my aunt and uncle in Raleigh was a few years ago, when they flew in to visit my mom. I have an image of them in my mind that I’ll hold on to forever. The two of them were in a guest room in the residence where my mom lives. They were sitting on a bench at the bottom of the bed, side by side, like birds on a telephone wire. The bench was pulled up close to the TV so they could see and hear it, and they were holding hands, as always.

Uncle Johnny was a lifelong Catholic, and up until two years ago when he had a stroke, he was still acting as a Eucharistic Minster at his church, giving out communion at mass. He was also still driving, and attending weekly Rotary meetings. He contributed to his country, his family, his church, and his community in ways too numerous to mention. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

So long, milkman.


Bill, Angie, John, and Winnie


This photo was taken in 1992, at my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary mass. My mom and dad, Bill and Angie, are on the left. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Winnie, my mom’s sister, are on the right.


The chicken or the egg

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

This is the final installment of my three-part blog from www.triangleareafreelancers.org, originally posted on October 15th, 2007.

Remember when you tried to get your first job out of school? More than likely, you were told you needed experience, but you couldn’t figure out how you were supposed to get that experience without a job.

The publishing world works much the same way. You can’t get published without an assignment, but you can’t get an assignment without being published first. What to do?

Now, more than ever, there are solutions, both in print and online.

Most newspapers accept Point of View pieces from readers for their Op-Ed pages. If your newspaper has a community column section, you can submit an essay in the hopes of becoming a guest columnist. Magazines such as Writer’s Digest run regular contests where they ask you to write based on a prompt, and publish the winning entries. There are a number of non-paying print magazines, such as Reminisce, which will publish your story if it is accepted. Some writers’ groups publish anthologies of their members’ short stories or essays.

Online there an endless number of websites that need content—it’s just a matter of matching up what you want to write about with someone who wants to publish on that topic. One way to get started is to post material on a “content” site, such as Constant-Content.com. These are basically auction sites which allow you to offer your work to the highest bidder, but they do allow you to post free content, which may get picked up by a website with a small budget.  

Many startup e-zines are non-paying at first and then graduate to becoming for-pay sites once they gather enough advertisers and readers.

Writing sites which cater to specific genres, such as HumorPress.com, run bi-monthly contests and offer publication and small monetary prizes to the winners. Humor Press then publishes books of the winning essays. 

If you like to write book reviews, you can submit them to online review sites such as Blogcritics.org or BloggerNews.net.

With the proliferation of blogs, you might want to offer to be a guest blogger on a friend’s site. Or you can create your own blog for free on places like WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal or OutBlogger. The December 2007 issue of the Writer’s Digest magazine compares the features of these sites.

Finally, you can create your own website using free services such as Geocities.Yahoo.com

Once you get a few publications—print or online—under your belt, you’ll feel more confident about writing queries in order to get paying assignments. If you’re a good writer, and you’re professional, it’s just a matter of being persistent. It will all be worthwhile when you get the first “Yes” from an editor!


What’s unique about you?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

This is part two of my three-part blog from www.triangleareafreelancers.org, originally posted on October 13th, 2007.


Beginning writers are often told, “Write what you know.” This is because what you know—and especially what you feel passionate about—will roll off your tongue (and on to your computer screen) more easily than a researched topic. If you write about an area in which you have some expertise, your depictions will feel more authentic to the reader, and your words will ring more true.

Some aspects of freelancing are counterintuitive. It might seem to make sense to write about topics with general appeal in order to attract the greatest number of readers. In fact, it’s better to create a market for yourself by writing about what other people aren’t writing about.

This is one of the joys of freelancing. It gives you license to indulge your obsessions, to embrace your inner nerd, so to speak. The most quirky topic or hobby may prove to be the most interesting to a potential editor.

Think about what’s unique about you. What fan clubs do you belong to? What online forums do you contribute to? What hobbies do your friends tease you about? Try writing about your favorite episode of The Waltons, the best Clay Aiken concert you’ve attended, or the farthest place you’ve traveled to attend a Star Trek convention.

As a former columnist for The News and Observer, Don Vaughan, says in his April 20, 2007 column, “Don’t be ashamed – be proud! Stand up and let the world know. By admitting your passion, maybe, just maybe, you’ll open the eyes of someone who has never before experienced that particular joy. And that’s a wonderful gift to share.”

Don happened to be referring to his life-long interest in comic books. I would reveal what my personal obsession is, but I can’t right now. John-Boy’s coming on TV.


Walk like a duck

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

I’m having a super busy week–a good kind of busy–so over the next few days I’m going to post a three-part blog I originally published at www.triangleareafreelancers.org.

People often come to freelance writing later in life and from other careers. Some switch from other writing fields, such as technical writing. Others have done business writing, including press releases and marketing materials, as part of their job. Exposure to a variety of knowledge bases can be a boon for a freelancer. The more exposure you have to the world, the more you have to write about.

But one pitfall for beginning freelancers is that they often don’t see themselves as writers. New members who come to our group often say the same thing. “I’m not really a writer—I don’t have anything published.”

Although some people have a more natural aptitude than others, thankfully, writing is primarily a learned skill: the more you write, the better you get. There is no acid test to determine whether you are, or are not, a writer. You are a writer if you write.

But thinking of yourself as a writer is a critical step towards being one. If you’re not there yet, you can borrow a role-playing technique psychotherapists use to help people get a jump-start on learning new behaviors. It’s called “acting as if” (known in laymen’s terms as “Fake it until you make it.”)

For example, if you’re uncomfortable in social situations, you can “act as if” you are extroverted. You can walk into a room of strangers, make solid eye contact, introduce yourself, give a firm handshake, and smile warmly at everyone.

People are funny. If they see something that “walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck,” they think it’s a duck. If you appear to be outgoing, they assume you’re outgoing. If you appear to be a writer, they assume you’re a writer.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight, which is a collection of her early inspirational writings, is her description of how she announced to the world that she was going to become a writer. (She had had a long career as a nurse.) “The world” turned out to be her husband and two-year-old, who were sitting at the breakfast table eating cereal. Her point was that she had decided.

If you’ve decided you want to be a writer, start “acting as if” — by doing the things that writers do. Establish a space in your home to write, buy writers’ magazines, join a writers’ group, take a writing class, talk to people about what you’re writing, and most importantly, write!


Viva Las Vegas!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

As promised, here are some of the highlights of our recent Las Vegas vacation. Just for fun, I decided to use the categories from my last vacation article Bringing you the North Hollywood news, which was published in the News & Observer in April of 2006:

MOST AMAZING: The Fountains of Bellagio, a choreographed water, music, and light show. Every fifteen minutes, a new show begins with fog rolling out over the lake in front of the building. The fountains undulate with the music, and the spires of water rise to impressive heights, with the water coming out of the jets so hard at times that it creates its own percussion. I could have stood there forever, listening to the music and enjoying the show.

MOST FUN: For Gary, Doug, and Doug’s girlfriend, Carrie, it was seeing The Police (with Sting) and Elvis Costello at the 17,000-seat Garden Arena in the MGM Grand. Next were the roller coasters, especially the one at New York, New York. Not liking speed, heights, and especially the combination of the two, the most fun for me was the gondola ride in the Venetian with Jenny, and the Godiva chocolate-covered fruit basket we ate while waiting for it.

MOST SCARY: Jaywalking on Las Vegas Blvd. Don’t ask me why, but there is no crosswalk to help travelers cross the street from the Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip, where we stayed, to the Sahara Casino and Hotel, which is the closest place to hop on the monorail. We stayed at the Hilton because of the deal we got for listening to a timeshare pitch. We’ve never done this before and it was scary how good their pitch was. But we stood strong and resisted all of their best sales efforts.

MOST DELICIOUS: Our meal at the Tao Asian Bistro. After spending an hour online looking up places to eat which we could get to from the monorail, we gave up and decided to take our chances in one of the casinos. Tao was the first place we saw as we entered the Venetian and, since we all love Asian food, we went for it. Not only did we get seated right away and have a really good waiter who said he regularly waits on Tom Cruise, the “small plates” and sushi were outstanding.

MOST FREQUENTLY HEARD SAYING: While we were there, it was,“How long are you staying?” Everyone there is either coming or going. When we got back, it was, “How much did you lose?” We only gambled the $40 in free chips we got from the time share deal, and we broke even. We also got a $25 gift card for food, which we spent on asian noodles in the 888 Noodle Bar.

MOST SAD/MOST FUNNY: An older woman in a motorized chair who was trying to exit the monorail by driving out backwards. She kept turning the wheel the wrong way and, the harder she tried, the worse off she got, until finally several guys simply hoisted up her chair and deposited it and her outside of the monorail, seconds before the doors closed.

MOST WEIRD: The fact that nothing in Vegas is true. Locals told us that you have to add seven degrees to the temperature given on the weather report because it is under-reported so that it sounds more appealing to tourists. The road signs sometimes send you the wrong way. Even the $9 coupons in the Spirit magazine (Southwest’s excellent airline publication), which we so diligently collected on our flights on the way out, were unnecessary, because the normal daily rate IS only $9. (The sign on the monorail actually says $15, but it is crossed through and marked $9, as if it were recently discounted. Doug has been to Vegas before and he said it’s always that way.)

MOST GREEN: The one million dollars in cash in a glass case in the Paris Hotel. $5,000 stacks were made up of $100 bills. The thing is, it didn’t look like that much money. You could have fit it all in a large duffel bag. We didn’t see any big security guards around, so the case must be made of some special kind of glass

MOST WASTED: Our new friend Chad who we met at the hotel pool. He had a bottle of Jack Daniels with him which he was mixing with Coke in a cup. He offered us some, although he confessed he didn’t have any more cups. Chad is one of those guys who knows everything, has been everywhere, and you wouldn’t let near your daughter. His family owns a hookah bar in L.A. If we’d only known when we were there…

MOST BEAUTIFUL: The 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly, hung from the ceiling of the Bellagio. Which we almost missed, because we saw one large hand-blown bouquet at the floor level and assumed that was the whole deal. We had seen some Dale Chihuly work before, but the size and scope of this celing display was mind-boggling, and the flowers themselves were breathtaking.

MOST AMAZING VIEW: The one from our hotel room on the 15th floor of the Hilton at twilight. We could see the lights of the strip, and the spectacular Spring Mountains to the west in the background. If you go, you should know that there are three Hiltons in Vegas, and their names are ridiculously similar: 1) The Las Vegas Hilton, 2) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Las Vegas Hilton, and their newest hotel 3) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip. Go figure. 

MOST THRILLING: Seeing Robin Williams in the lobby of the MGM Grand. We saw the crowd with their cameras flashing before we actually saw him. While we were still star-struck, Jenny threw her digital camera at her dad and ran over and wrapped her arm around Robin for a pic. Here it is:

Jenny and Robin Williams at the MGM Grand

I guess our “Sin City” adventure was pretty tame compared to most. But for us it wasn’t about the gambling or the glitz. It was just a chance to be together as a family. Until you’re parents with kids who have moved away, especially to the opposite coast, you don’t realize the joy of having everyone together again.

Gary, myself, Jenny, and Doug at the Luxor