Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Do You Support: The Author or Local Business

As it is summer and the college students are out of town, the local media need to have something to focus on. Their choice this summer: a used bookstore/cafe was being kicked out of its location because the owner had problems paying her lease. Her plight was immediately championed by her customers who were holding fundraisers and letter-writing campaigns to save the business.

Frankly, when I heard the news, I wasn't surprised. Now, I love bookstores and I love cafes in bookstores, and I'm the kind of customer bookstore/cafe owners love -- I rarely leave without buying a book. But I thought this was one of the most unfriendly places in town. The people who'd sit outside for hours drinking coffee were a little scary. Getting waited on inside was nearly impossible if you weren't a regular (and I heard stories from enough people who said they waited at the counter -- not in line but right at the counter -- for 10-15 minutes before getting someone to even acknowledge them). The set-up of the tables wasn't conducive to working with any kind of privacy. And the worst part was the way tables and chairs were set up in the stacks of books meant to be bought. The few times lately I've gone in there to look for a hard-to-find, out-of-print book, I was blocked by someone having coffee and on a computer in front of a whole bookcase. It was very awkward. Based on letters and comments on websites, I'm not the only one who had this reaction to the store.

A friend, knowing how much I love bookstores, was surprised when I said I didn't shop there and didn't care one way or the other. She said, "I thought you'd be someone who supports local businesses."

Last week at our book group meeting, my friend announced that she bought the book at used bookstore at its going out of business sale, everything half off. "I bought it for $5," she said. Which meant it was selling for $10, normally. I bought a new copy via an online bookstore for $10, no shipping costs. While I wasn't supporting the local store, I was supporting the author.

And there is the dilemma. I don't have a problem with buying used books -- especially when they are out of print or very hard to find new or if the profits of the book's sale is staying local in some way, like the used book store. I do have a problem, though, when I walk into a used book store and the owner is selling the book at the same cost of a new book, or close to it, and I could help an author out with a royalty. (Okay, truth is, I am so ridiculously picky about my books that I prefer new anyway; cost isn't the issue for me.)

Another friend argued that I only feel that way because I'm a writer and I published books, and that I should focus on saving a local business. Yet, I felt the local business was ripping off authors. And even if I'm buying the new book from a chain store located in town, aren't I still helping the local economy?

It balances out to an ethical dilemma, at least for this writer -- do I support the local bookstore, the only one left in town that isn't a major chain, or do I make sure the author gets a tally toward the royalty?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Following Directions

I used to like flying. Not so much anymore for all the reasons other people don't like flying -- the hassles of TSA and the dumb changes in the airlines and the packed planes. On the flights I took this past week, though, I am adding another reason to the list: passengers who are above following directions.

Every plane was packed full. Before you got on board, it was announced to please PLEASE put small bags under the seat to save on bin space. The flight attendants kept reminding passengers to do that when people were going to their seat.

Yeah, I'm sure you can figure it out. Those requests and directions are for other people, not the special people on my planes.

Well, call me cranky, but I was in no mood to put up with the special people. My carry on suitcase is small and fits nicely into the bin. My bag with books, etc. fits perfectly under the seat. But I couldn't fit my suitcase into the bin because some moron had put his tiny backpack, maybe filled with some extra underwear and toothpaste, into the bin. Like I said, I was cranky. I pulled it out and asked who it belonged to. A 60something man in a jacket and nice pants turned around. I asked if there was room under the seat for it. He scowled and said yes. I tossed it to him and said, "You were asked to put it there in the first place so we could all have access to the bins." He gave me the hairy eyeball, but I gave it right back to him. The flight attendant smiled at me. My seatmate whispered, "Good for you." Hell, the guy had so little in that backpack that it would have fit on top of my suitcase with ease.

Had I not said something, the flight attendant would have. It may have been the first time where I saw flight attendants taking backpacks, purses, and the like out of the bins and telling the owner to put it under the seat.

On one of the flights home, the people sharing the row with me put their suitcases in sideways, taking up twice the space, because they were a) stuffed too full and b) stuck. I told the gentleman (using the term loosely)that he needed to put his suitcase in straight, not sideways. He growled at me and said he'd do what he pleased, besides the suitcase didn't fit if he did it that way. I said, "It doesn't fit because you are trying to stuff it in against the latches." He started to growl at me until I showed him how to get his suitcase in the bin without hogging all the space. But the point is, had I not shown him, he had no desire to figure it out. He and his wife were going to take all of the space in one bin with their two suitcases. And again, the flight attendants went down the aisle and made passengers fix their bags to be more considerate.

There is enough to be annoyed with when flying. I just don't get why the passengers have to add to that annoyance by their selfishness with storing their belongings or following simple directions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oh the irony

Let it be noted that I am NOT a fan of Oprah. Don't watch her, don't pay any particular attention to what she says. But yesterday at the gym, I forgot to take a magazine, so I went to the cardio room's magazine rack. It looks like a doctor's office -- a bunch of magazines, most of them old and beat up. The only one I hadn't read was Oprah's (well, it was between that and a magazine about hunting and guns, and it was a tough choice). O won because I was intrigued by her summer reading recommendations. I'm always curious to see what books get highlighted (rarely anything I would read).

As I said I'm not a fan of the Goddess of Lake Michigan, I don't pay much attention to her book club. If I pick up something with the sticker on it, it is because I like the author or had wanted to read the book on its own merits. The only time I read a book because someone tells me to is for my own book group or for English classes. But it's no secret her picks become super best sellers. I can't tell you, though, how many times someone has read one of the picks but said, "I really couldn't stand the book, but I must be wrong."

So I get to this article on recommended summer books, and in the very first paragraph the writer tells the reader that everybody has different tastes in books and that's okay! I laughed out loud right there on the treadmill. For years, Oprah has touted her favorite books like the Pied Piper and the rats, I mean the audience, lined up to buy it. Because if Oprah says it is good, it is good. (Now I think it would have been more interesting if a random audience member was allowed to pick the next book.)

The author of the article is right, of course. We should all embrace our reading differences. No problem in trying something new but life is too short to waste it on something you don't think you'll like.

Although I may take up one of the suggestions. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. It's been on my shelf forever and it's about time I read some Dickens again. Or maybe I'll read Bleak House. Or Nicholas Nickleby. Or reread Copperfield for the millionth time. Because that's what I like.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Positive Signs

To say the past year has been bleak is an understatement. I'd market my little heart out with little to show for it besides a mailbox filled with "no freelance budget now" responses.

But on this latest query challenge, I'm getting positive responses. Maybe my marketing techniques are a little different, but I've been getting good vibes from my old methods. This can only be good signs for the writing industry -- right?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Let the Challenge Begin

Today is the first day of the summer query challenge. For 8 weeks, I, along with dozens of my fellow writers, will ramp up our marketing efforts to improve our client base.

I admit, marketing is my least favorite part of the job, but it is the most essential if I want to continue putting food on the table. The query challenge helps me focus on the marketing. I found many of my best clients through the challenge in years past.

Who will be my next best clients?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Long Hard Week

I'm not the type of person whose life revolves around my pet. I would never in a million years take my dog to work (well, if I worked in an office with other people) or to the ballpark (Bark at the Park may be baseball's stupidiest innovation yet, and that's saying a lot) or shopping or all of the other places people insist on taking their pets. I was not my dog's mommy; the dog was not my child.

But this week has been an adjustment as I try to get used to this new life without her in the house. 17 years is a long time. Over the past five years I worked at home, we had our routines. One of the routines was putting her outside for a few minutes before an interview and then letting her back in before I got on the phone. I had interviews scheduled on Monday, and both times, I went out to the kitchen to let the dog out. Except she wasn't there. I still take a giant step over the spot on the floor where she'd sleep.

It will get easier and the routine will shake itself out. But this has been a long, hard week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Good-bye Old Friend

The happiness of Hump Day was short lived. My beloved little office staff took a quick turn for the worse on Thursday and she passed away Friday morning.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Baseball and Hockey

I love sports. That's putting it mildly.

Last night I was watching the 3rd game in the Stanley Cup finals when I got a text on my phone. My son, who was watching the game at a sports bar/restaurant, wanted to let me know that a Detroit Tigers pitcher had taken a perfect game through the 8th inning. Perfect games are rare -- only 20 in all over the 120+ years of major league baseball. Yet perfect game #19 came on Mother's Day and perfect game #20 came on May 29. That in itself is unuaual. Two in one year? And now we were 3 outs away from 3 perfect games in less than a month.

I flipped from the hockey game to MLB Network (greatest network ever) to watch the 9th inning. First batter, a solidly hit ball that was heading for the gap, surely a double until the center fielder came out of nowhere and caught it. Second batter, ground ball to an infielder, easy out. Third batter, ground ball to the gray area between the first and second basemen. First baseman fields it. Pitcher is cover the bag. He beats the runner. Out. Perfect Game!

Except the only person who didn't see an out was the person who counted. The umpire. Who for reasons totally unknown called the runner safe. This wasn't a bang-bang play where the call could have gone either way. This was obviously an out. The umpire blew it. The pitcher got the next batter out, game over, 1 hit shut out, pretty impressive. Except the Tiger personnel went ballistic on the umpire. Everyone but the pitcher who had a bemused smile on his face. Later, the umpire saw the replay, saw what he did, and apologized, in tears, to the pitcher.

Baseball fans everywhere cried out that the call should be overturned. I'm a baseball purist -- hate the DH, hate interleague, hate the goofy softball shirts teams wear on Sundays, not a fan of instant replay -- and I thought it should be overturned. The call didn't change the outcome of the game. That's the important thing and I'll repeat it. The call didn't change the outcome of the game. But Bud Selig, worst commissioner ever, said no, call stands. Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated agreed with Selig and said you can't change what happened in the past.

Verducci and Selig don't watch hockey. After that call, I turned the hockey game back on. The Flyers appeared to score a goal -- the puck clearly crossed the goal line -- but it was pulled back out and play continued. Hockey reviews goals and the fans in Philly (and the one on my couch and the one texting me) were screaming for the review. But the announcers reminded us that the goal wouldn't be reviewed until play stopped naturally. And sure enough, as soon as it did, the goal was reviewed and the official said that it was, indeed, a goal, point Flyers. Then the time that elapsed during that period of time was put back on the clock. It never happened. The past was changed.

The contrasts are quite remarkable, aren't they?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Hump Day

I thought I was losing my office staff this morning.

My dog, who spends her days in my office with me, woke up in a pool of blood. She's 17, awfully old for a dog. The husband took her to the vet because I couldn't bear the idea of having to put her down. She's too old to take any real drastic measures, you know? I didn't expect to ever see her again.

But there she was, running across the kitchen floor for the door to go outside. She has a gum problem, which caused the bleeding. She needs some medical care, but the vets said for such an old dog, despite being blind and having back legs that don't work so well any more, she's surprisingly healthy and there was no reason to put her to sleep.

So she's back to her position on the office floor, snoring away. And I couldn't be happier to share my office.

Friday, May 28, 2010

In Common

I never thought I'd have anything in common with Rachel Maddow besides some shared political ideology. But last night, I recognized the woman project manager she interviewed at the new World Trade Center construction. I interviewed the same woman 9 years ago about her experience of being on the site when the first plane hit the towers.

I loved her Nittany Lion logo on her hard hat, too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Day

Today was one of those days I was thrilled to work at home. I slept in a little later than usual because I needed the sleep.

The temps got into the 80s. I wore a tank top and shorts and didn't have to worry about freezing in air conditioning.

At lunchtime, I went outside and found ripe strawberries in the backyard patch, so I had an unexpected treat today.

In the afternoon, I took a glass of peach tea and my notebook and sat at the picnic table to do some writing.

In the evening, I took advantage of an empty house to write up two IT blog posts that are actually due for tomorrow and Monday, clearing my work calendar so I can take the day off. The day off is spur of the moment. I didn't need to get anyone's permission to do it.

One last task, to finish an article that has stymied me for a week. I have a glass of wine, hoping that unblocks my brain.

I love being a writer in the summer. I love working for myself all the time. No way I could have had my day 5 years ago, when I worked in an office.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I admit right up front that what I've experienced isn't even close to what other writers have experienced. Like my friend, who, for an assignment, went on a bourbon tasting tour or got to tour the new large cruise ships.

But one of the most beautiful things about life as a writer is that no two days are the same. Heck, no two hours are the same. Like today, I interviewed two people for the same article but got very different responses, wrote a blog on security issues in Google applications, and worked on my volleyball story. Tomorrow will be totally different.

Plus there are chances to do real cool things. I've gone on some conferences, including a cruise to the Bahamas, which allowed me to visit places I've never visited before. Last week, I got to meet a former NFL player from the old Colts and talk to some coaches I really admire.

On Saturday I went to a party and was able to talk about baseball, wind turbines, sustainable construction practices, religion, and the history of a local brewery, all because I wrote about these things in the past -- and trust me, it freaks people out when you can flip from wind turbines to beer without blinking an eye.

I couldn't imagine having to go to a regular job where I do the same thing day in, day out anymore.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My book is now available

Always exciting news to announce. My book, 29 Things to Know about Catholicism, is now listed as "In Stock" on Amazon and other book seller sites. It's a handy guide for folks who would like to know more about the Catholic faith -- especially good for anyone who has Catholic friends and family and wonders "why do they do that?" The best part -- this purse-sized book is only $10!

I have a Facebook fan page set up for the book. Feel free to join.

Monday, May 24, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog . . .

. . . to celebrate the Flyers first trip to the Stanley Cup since 1997.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Saturday

Full social schedule this weekend. Pleasant morning has turned ugly and cold. I'd like to watch hockey and baseball, but I'm not sure how much that will all fit into today's plans otherwise. In any case, I'm taking today off from work.

Enjoy your Saturday, all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A major goal reached

From the time I started freelancing, my goal was to be successful enough to have my membership application to ASJA approved.

In general, I think I'm fairly successful. I have work. I have lots of repeat clients. What I don't have are the "glamour" publications to my credit. Mostly I write for trades, not consumer pubs. It is rare when you'll find a magazine with my name on it on your newstand.

But in the fall, I got a second book contract, and my credits began to increase. My writing pal encouraged me to hold my nose and jump in the deep end -- send my application.

Word came back today: congratulations, you're in!

I finally feel like I'm an honest to goodness real professional writer now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things I Can't Live Without

Working for myself means I'm the one who keeps my office supplied with the essentials. Over the years, there are a couple of items I've purchased that are absolutely essential to keeping my office humming. Of course, I need a computer (two computers is actually better) and Internet and a phone.

But the number one most important piece of equipment I've purchased for my office? My surge protector with the battery back up. We have frequent power outages here -- had one this afternoon. Usually they last 10 seconds or so, just long enough for everything to shut down and need re-set. I can't tell you how many times I've been working on my desktop computer when the power went out. In the past, the computer went out and I lost whatever I was working on. With the surge protector battery back up, the computer continues to run for up to 30 minutes, long enough for me to save whatever I'm working on and safely shut down the computer if need be. The real lifesaver came on the day I was on the phone in the middle of an interview when the power shut off. My phone needs electricity to operate and it is plugged into the surge protector battery back up. I was able to continue my interview until its natural conclusion and the people on the end had no idea anything had happened. And I still had time to shut down my computer properly.

My cell phone may be my second most important piece of equipment. It's my official business number. I don't use it for interviews or calls I make because I don't feel it is comfortable to do interviews on that phone. However, I don't like to give out my office landline because I work from my house. Because of the topics I cover, the vast majority of my interview sources and contacts are based on the west coast. I'm on the east coast. I've had my office landline ring at 11 pm because a west coast source had time to return a call to me at 8 pm his time and didn't think twice about it. I've had sources call on weekends. It's hard enough to have boundaries when you work at home. Phone calls during off hours don't help. My cell phone is programmed to turn on when I am officially in the office; it turns off automatically at the end of my work day. These are my office hours and people who want to call me at 8 pm on a Friday evening can leave a message. Just like they would if I worked in an office outside the house.

The third thing is my recorder. When I first started writing, I wrote out all my interviews by hand. Luckily I wrote fast but it was hard to capture everything, especially if the interviewee talked 100 miles an hour. When I got the equipment to record interviews, my work life got so much easier. I still take notes -- I've learned that recordings can go wrong -- but now I can review the written notes to figure out how I want to write a piece and then use the recording for quotes and more exact info.

What work things are most important to you?

When Days Get Away from You

That's what happened today. More writing than I expected. More writing to be done that will be done tomorrow. Sometimes you have to put other things first, and that's what happened this evening.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now for Something Different

This is swap day in the Blogathon, where people will write posts for other blogger participants. Well, in my busyness and a sudden trip out of town, I completely forgot about it. So I'm going to shake things up and talk about something other than writing. Something important to my life.

The Pennsylvania primaries.

Today is primary day. If you follow national political news (and I admit to being quite a political junkie), I'd like to explain a few things to you that the national media are going to get totally wrong, both today and in November.

In Pennsylvania, you can only vote your party during the primary -- something I totally agree with, by the way. I don't like candidates who cross file (and rarely do I vote for any cross filer -- pick a damn party and stick with it. Don't be so wishy washy is my attitude). There are many reasons people why align with a party, and we should get to say who represents us -- not people from another party.

If Arlen Specter loses, the headline will be "anti-incumbent mood strikes again." Or something like that. Maybe for some voting people, but the Specter issue is more complicated than that. I honestly believe he would have won the Republican primary had he stayed Republican. Democrats are more wary about his switch. Most folks liked that he was an independent-minded cuss in the Senate. And remember, the independents can't vote in the primary -- so what is most likely his biggest voting bloc won't be able to vote for him.

However, the majority of people I spoke with have said the same thing: Arlen is the better candidate but his age and health concerns me. A lot. While it is true a 58 year old man can drop dead of a heart attack or get run over by a semi, an 80yo man with serious health problems who looked very VERY frail when we saw him recently at a PA Turnpike rest stop, there are a lot of concerns about his ability to survive 6 more years.

Then there is Jack Murtha's seat, which isn't my district but damn near close enough. I've read some articles on how this special election could be a bellwether for November. Except, no, not when it comes to party politics. I've seen hundreds of ads for these two candidates and I can't tell who is the Republican and who is the Democrat. People across the country got very put out when Obama, in 2008, said that area of Pennsylvania was all about God and guns. The people of that area of PA didn't get too put out (if letters to the editor and personal conversations are of any indication) because that area IS all about God and guns. One of the candidate's catch phrase on his ads is: I'm pro-life; I'm pro-guns; I'm pro-jobs. You tell me what party he is from. I dare you. That race is going to come down to this: which candidate will do for them what Murtha did. There are a lot of jobs in western PA that are there because of Murtha and there is real fear of them being taken away. I don't know if this is how people will vote, but if it was me, the number one consideration is voting for the person more likely to work with Congressional leadership and get positive results.

There are primary races for governor too, but even though we won't formally know until November who the next governor will be, I am 90% sure that it will be Tom Corbett (R). Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with Pennsylvania's "mood." This has to do with Pennsylvania's very odd voting habit of keeping a party in power 8 years and then switching for 8 years and then switching back for 8 years, and so on since the 1930s or so. Just when you think this will be the year it changes, it doesn't. So truth is, if the Democrats keep the governor's house, THAT will be a major reflection on the mood of the state -- not the other way around.

And because most Pennsylvanians figure the new governor will be an R, hence the concern among Democrats of Specter finishing a new Senate term if elected. If he dies, a Republican will be appointed to replace him (in the 1990s, when John Heinz (R) was killed in a plane crash, Gov. Bob Casey (D) replaced him with Harris Wofford (D) until election time; hence, we've seen this before).

See, I told you it was complicated, and I guarantee you, the national media will get none of it right come tonight and tomorrow. Tip O'Neill was correct -- all politics are local. What we do, what Kentucky does, what Arkansas does, doesn't reflect on the rest of country in the least.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Tomorrow I have interviews scheduled for one of the biggest assignments in my life. And I'm nervous. I kind of know how this article is going to go -- now it is a matter of asking the right questions and making sure I don't sound like an idiot.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Busy Day

Meaning I'm only on the computer long enough to say hello goodbye.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Perfect Pen

I'm an old-fashioned sort. I really do prefer writing by hand. I don't as much as I used to, simply because it is easier to type directly to the computer.

Actually, as I think of it, it may be less old-fashionedness but the feel of the pen between my fingers and the way pen point feels against the paper. That feeling goes beyond writing, of course. It's why the chances of you ever finding me reading books on a Kindle or iPad are near zero (I hate to say never about anything, because you never know if someone will own one of those devices and will show me something on a "page" but I am pretty sure I'll never own a Kindle and I'm damn near positive I'll never own an iPad or anything by Apple -- hm, that may be a post for another day). I like the way a book feels in my hand. I like the way a magazine feels in my hand.

When I want to make a change on the computer screen, I hit the backspace button or delete and away go the wrong words, in come new ones. On paper I scribble out the words. It feels good. But I don't scribble so hard that I can't read the words because I might change my mind and want to bring them back. It's much harder to do that on a screen.

Because I like to write by hand, I have a lot of pens. A LOT of pens. Throughout my house there are old mugs stuffed to the hilt with pens and pencils of all sorts. Next to my favorite chair in the library, there are three cups of pens. I don't know why, but there are, and it is a good thing because I never know what pen will feel right at the moment. I use good old Cristal Bics, blue, for most things, like when scribbling notes during an interview and often when writing letters. But when I'm trying to squeeze a thought out of my head and I'm seriously blocked, I'll use a variety of pens and/or pencils, print and/or cursive, until the words start to flow.

So yes there really is a perfect pen. I just don't know what it is until I use it.

Friday, May 14, 2010


It's been that kind of week. I am more than ready for the weekend. Normally I like to start my weekends around 2-3 pm on Friday, especially when the weather is warm. This is one of those beautiful things about working for myself, but there are days like today, when an interview I absolutely had to do this week asks to schedule at 4 pm Friday afternoon, plus a few other unexpected things added to the schedule. And it figures, it is the first nice day we had all week.

But I am done now and a cold adult beverage has my name on it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Used Book Dilemma

Every year, my local AAUW chapter has a used book sale for its fundraiser. The sale brings in over $100,000 a year, most of which goes back into our community to support things like the local women's shelter, libraries, and daycare for children of low-income families. The books are donated by community members; this year we had over 250,000 books for sale. I'm a volunteer with the book sale, but I've also spent thousands of dollars over the past 20 years buying books.

For the first 10-12 years, the bulk of the books I bought were to build the library of my dreams: literary classics, my president and first lady collection, old school books, and otherwise impossible to find books from my childhood. I'm missing one book from the Five Little Peppers books to make a complete set, and this year, I landed 3 first edition, original Bobbsey Twins that I didn't already have.

But once those goals were fulfilled, I began to think about more contemporary books. And this is where my used book dilemma kicks in.

I used to live in libraries. For a kid like me, who loved to read but owning books was a luxury my family couldn't really afford -- at least not enough to satisfy my tastes -- the library was my lifeline. The first thing I did when moving into a new town was get a library card. I got books out every week.

But as parenthood and a job took over my life, reading time was cut down considerably and I struggled to finish a book during the time I was allowed to have the book checked out (2 weeks back in those days). I was now building up this great library of books I loved reading, but truth be told, I needed more variety than literary classics, president biographies, and Bobbsey Twins. So at book sale, I began to look more at the general fiction table and I began to experiment with authors I'd never heard of. And so my attachment to the fiction table began.

As did my guilt about buying used copies of books that are still on store shelves and still can generate royalties for authors. I bought 3 copies of a book, all in beautiful condition, for less than it would cost to buy that same book at B&N. They are for my book discussion group -- people who would either borrow my copy of the book or they'd borrow it from the library.

Most of the books I get at used book sale are impulse buys and still let me experiment with authors I am unfamiliar with or find books that are out of print or hard to find by authors I've come to love. I tell myself that someone did buy those books and chances are I wouldn't have read it without book sale to encourage me.

Yes, I really do feel guilty about this.

The funny thing is, I buy more new books than anyone I know among my local friends. I buy hardcover by first choice; softcover trade paperbacks by second choice. I try never to buy regular paperbacks because I don't like the feel of them when reading. Like I said, I almost never go to the library these days because I prefer to own books. I borrow books infrequently. And I can tell you that many of the authors I've discovered and liked at used book sale -- Anne Tyler and Maeve Binchey for instance -- have led me to rush to the store to purchase every new release.

I wonder if I'm weird about this used book guilt. Is buying a used book -- one that someone actually bought and dropped off for resale as opposed to some of the scams on where reader copies given for free are being sold used for a profit going only to the seller -- any different than going to the library to borrow a book?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Difference Between Writers and Non-Writers

I've been thoroughly amused by the comments left on my Facebook page today. It is a good example on how writers view life -- or at least anything that has to do with magazines -- as opposed to non-writers.

For some background, I reached another one of those "bucket list" moments as a writer. One item was to have a book published -- checked that off in 2006 and will be doing it a second time later this month. Another item is hearing "let's do it" as a response to a pitch from my dream market. That's what happened this week. As you can imagine, I'm excited.

So I posted on my FB status: "Dream publication said yes."

My writer friends got it straight off. A couple of my non-writer friends go it, too, but these are people who have writing tendencies and/or know me pretty well to figure out what I was saying. My non-writing friends, however, seemed confused, not sure why dream publication would be saying anything to me. And it never dawned on me that anyone wouldn't understand what I meant. Because I think like a writer, and when a writer says the name of a magazine and the word "yes" in the same sentence, it means there was an assignment involved.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I love reading, especially fiction and political biographies.

One of my personal rules when it comes to biographies, I try to read at least two on a given subject because even the best writers are subjective and that leads to different sets of "facts." Some of the information in a book is flat out incorrect, but sometimes you can't tell that until you read multiple works, but mostly it is a matter of what is revealed versus what isn't revealed. For example, my favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt and I've read at least 20 books on his life. I've read authors who have TR as a near diety; I've read authors who think he is the antichrist. The facts themselves aren't wrong, but the authors are sharing their perceptions of the facts.

But there are some things that are unforgivable. Like the time I began reading an anthology on First Ladies and the author stated that Jackie Kennedy was our youngest first lady. That's flat out incorrect and after that, I had no trust in the author and I tossed aside the book. (Actually, I banished the book from my house.)

Fact, or lack there of, in fiction is my real peeve. My book discussion group thinks that I'm too anal about it, but honestly, the smaller the issue, the more it bothers me. For example, the novel I'm reading right now has a character who is on the evening news. The story itself takes place near Chicago, in Central Time. So when the character says something about watching her broadcast, which is over by 11:03 pm, I paused. Now, I live on the east coast (as does the book's author), but every time I've been to Chicago or in Central Time, the evening news came on at 10 pm, following the network shows. Unless that changed since the last time I was in the midwest, that's an easy little fact that somebody could have caught -- enough of a fact issue that it made me pause and go "huh?" I hate that in novels.

I recently read a book that was written by a famous, prolific novelist, a book group read. The book takes place, in part, in my town and mostly in areas that I'm fairly familiar with. I'd be willing to let go the liberties she took with my town -- we'll just call it poetic license. But the errors piled up as the book progressed, to the point that this author has been totally discredited in my eyes.

My book group didn't have issues with the facts in the book, saying it was just fiction. Maybe it was the way I was taught in my writing classes, but I feel that fiction has to work harder to make sure even the smallest details in the book are correct because the point is to make readers want to buy into your story and be transformed into these other lives.

What do you think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Favorite Blogs -- A Confession

Today is the 1st group blog for the Blogathon -- a list of our favorite blogs.

But I have a sad confession. I don't really have favorite blogs. I have some links on this site, that's true, but I posted those links a long time ago and I sporadically check them.

I read blogs based on recommendation more than anything. But I'm very random about the way I read blogs. Usually I follow a link from Twitter or Facebook because the particular topic interests me.

But hey, you never know when a blog will come about and become my daily addiction. Will it be yours?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Night

I heard a rumor that today is some particular day on the calendar, but to me, it is just another Sunday in May. I went to church, came home to find the Phillies game blacked out so I had to listen via my internet connection, read the newspapers, watched the last 4 innings of the Oakland perfect game . . . well that part wasn't just another Sunday. I texted with my kid about the ball game, just like I do every Sunday. I like Sundays.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


My house was volunteered for a party tonight. It was supposed to be a picnic on the back porch. But if these winds keep up and the sky actually comes through on its threat to rain, the picnic will be indoors by the fireplace.

Anyway, my time on the computer is limited. I need to clean and prepare some food before anyone shows up.

Happy Saturday.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I'm supposed to attend the 20th anniversary celebration of my town's writing group. I was on the board for a while and was one of the earliest members. I'm not sure if I'm going to be asked to speak or anything, but if I do, I'm going to share this bit of wisdom:

The most important virtue for a freelance writer is patience.

Oh, I know there are other important qualities needed: the ability to be your own boss and motivate yourself, marketing and networking and interview skills, etc. But I thoroughly belief that impatient people can't succeed in this business (Veruca Salt would not be a good freelancer. "But Daddy, I want it NOW!")

We send out query letters and letters of introduction and manuscripts, but rarely do editors reply instantly. Sometimes they do, and when they do, we tend to celebrate because it is such a rare thing. Mostly we wait. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Sometimes we wait so long we forget that we sent something in the first place. We send something that one editor files away but a new editor finds and likes.

Then when we do get an assignment, we wait for contracts and directions; after the assignment we wait for approval or revisions. Finally, we wait (and wait) for the check.

Perhaps that's why content mills are so appealing to many fledgling writers. From what I hear, content mills will accept more quickly than more traditional outlets and pay regularly, even if they don't pay much.

Freelancing is wonderful in so many ways. You can make or break your own destiny. Just don't expect destiny to be in any hurry to greet you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sounds of Summer

I'm settling in to work on a re-write of an article. The Phillies are playing afternoon baseball, so I moved to my satellite office in the family room. It's a beautiful day, so I've opened up the patio doors and windows. The wind chimes are tinkling in the breeze.

But just as I start to concentrate, everything is drowned out by the roar of a chain saw at a neighbor's house.

Ah yes, the sounds of summer. The time of year when countless phone interviews will require asking the interviewee to speak up because I can't hear over the sound of the lawn mower next door or tree service across the street. Or as I try to wrap my brain around describing something very technical, someone test driving a motorcycle from the shop down the street goes flying down the road.

Don't get me wrong. I love summer. It is my favorite season. I like when the temps rise and getting fresh air from open windows (no air conditioning in this house). But I could really do without all the noise from power tools.

At least one nasty noise has disappeared from the landscape this year. The neighbors with the kids who would stand in their yard and scream bloody murder have moved away. Trust me, they were so bad I would wish for someone to start mowing their lawn!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Thought

Do you ever have times where you enjoyed the assignments from a publication and loved the sources, but the editor turned you into a ball of nerves?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


On Sunday, we were at the local winery and buying some wine. I joked with my husband that I now I had a good supply to get me through work deadlines. One of the winery workers overheard and asked what kind of work I did that I could drink wine. I said, "I'm a writer."

And she said, "You are not."

I stared at her. Yes, I said, I am.

"I don't believe you," she said. The person who was checking us out even turned around to look at his co-worker. She shrugged. "A lot of people come in here and say they're writers, but when I ask them what they write about, they tell me about a novel they started six years ago and never finished. Probably because they drink too much wine."

Now it was my turn to shrug. "That's them. I'm a writer. It's what I do for a living. And sometimes I have writer's block, so I'll relax with a glass of wine to help clear my mind."

She leaned over the counter a bit. She was seriously skeptical. I should have left, but it really bugged me that I was being treated as a liar about my own life. "What do you write about?"

I told her. Computer security. Energy. Engineering. (I wish wine . . .) I've published a couple of books. I'm going to be ghostwriting another. I told her she had my name, feel free to do a Google search.

And suddenly she was impressed.

I wish this was unusual, but it isn't. I don't like to talk about my job much with friends and families (or strangers for that matter) and part of the reason is that friends and families (and strangers) have little respect for what I do. Just last Friday, when I mentioned to a friend I was going to take the afternoon off, she said, "Yeah, you can do that because you don't work." She quickly bit her tongue and said, "I mean you don't work for a boss." And so it goes. I'll go to a family event in a couple of weeks and at least three relatives will make a snide remark about their perceptions of how I spend my day and none of them will have anything to do with actual work.

Short of having the skeptics sit on the extra chair in my office to watch me all day (which would be pointless because I struggle to get anything done with other people even in the house, let alone in my office), there isn't much I can do to make anyone believe how hard I work and that, despite the fact I can arrange my day around my own schedule or come to work in sweats, it is a job. One that deserves the respect of any other job.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy Anniversary

I realized this morning that Saturday was a milestone date in my freelance career. It was 5 years since I left the safety of a full-time job at Penn State and settled in with my laptop on the couch every day.

In some ways I was prepared for the moment. I had picked up some freelancing work to do on the side and had a couple of regular assignments, plus sold a few essays, starting a few years earlier. My goal was to build up the freelance work and maybe go to a part-time job while my son was still in high school and college, and then move into full-time freelancing around 2011.

Except I was greeted on January 3, 2005, with a meeting with my supervisor to tell me that he had run out of funds and unless a miracle happened (ie, a huge grant), he couldn't keep me and my office mate past the summer. I half-heartedly began to look for something else on campus while the freelance work picked up. We went on a wedding anniversary trip to Aruba that February and it was on that trip that we began to discuss the realities of a career change.

By the end of March, I had some interviews, but I approached them half-heartedly. My supervisor made another visit to my office. He had run out of funds for me. He could keep me through April but that was it. For the first time, I got scared. We finally had a comfortable lifestyle and I didn't want to go back to scrimping from payday to payday. Because I had a contract through October, I would stay on the University's employment roll, but was technically on unpaid leave. That way I could continue to look for employment and not lose service time.

So on May 1, I woke up and realized that I didn't have to answer to anyone but myself, and that I was in total control of my career destiny. I had a nice slate of assignments. The following week, I had a book contract. I liked not having a boss staring over my shoulder and I especially liked not having to endure air conditioning on beautiful spring days.

In June I got called for a job interview. I went and looked around the table at the 4 or 5 people who seemed bored and crabby. As the interview went on, I thought more and more about how much I didn't want to return to this. The interview wasn't going well anyway -- largely because I lost all desire to put on the fake smile and "I would love this stupid job" attitude and the interviewers caught on to that -- so I finally said, "I'm sorry for wasting your time, but this interview made me realize just how happy I am freelance writing, and I'm no longer interested in this position."

At that point, I set up my home office and focused on building this career. It has its ups and downs, like any job, but it was the right move for me, even if it came 6 years early.

Getting respect as a writer is whole different issue, and I'll talk about that tomorrow, including the conversation with the lady at the winery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When I Grow Up

There was a writer conversation some weeks ago . . . what would you be doing now if you weren't writing. My response was that I have no idea because all I ever wanted to be was a writer.

Then I thought about it a little more. I seriously never wanted to be anything but a writer my whole life. The type of writer I wanted to be changed every so often . . . I'd read the teenie bopper magazines and dream about being the person who interviewed those heart throbs. Then I wanted to be an investigative reporter and eventually move to broadcast news -- Barbara Walters was my hero back then, when she became the first woman anchor (yeah, even as a kid I was a news junkie). Then I wanted to write sports, especially for Sports Illustrated. (Still would like that to happen.)

But every so often there would be some other things I'd dream about. For most of my teen years, I really wanted to be baseball commissioner. When my interest in politics kicked in, I wanted to be president of the U.S. -- even though today I realize that my skill would be as political advisor.

Note what those two "dream" jobs had in common -- power and being in a position to make change. But as a writer, I hold some power. The power of words to introduce new ideas, change perceptions, educate. And I can work in shorts and a t-shirt, which I can't do if I'm president, and I can keep all the Phillies pictures hanging in my office, which I probably shouldn't do as baseball commissioner.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day

I've wanted to get back in the swing of blogging so I'm participating in FLX's 2010 blogathon. So here I am.

May is an exciting month for me, as my new book, 29 Things to Know about Catholicism, is being released. So I'll be talking about that, as well as some other writing and life things.

But today being Saturday, I'm hanging out in the family room as I write this, watching playoff hockey and later will watch baseball and will likely flip on the Kentucky Derby to watch 2 minutes of horses in the mud. I'm not thinking much about work today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The weatherman was calling for rain today. But the sun is shining and I see blue sky. The birds are singing. The snow is melting. It's too early to say winter is gone, but it sure is nice to feel spring in the air.

Spring brings with it a renewed spirit. This cold, long, dreary winter seemed to bring slumps and funks and all kinds of bad vibes with it. Now, my heart is lighter. My mind is clearer. And I'm excited to bring a fresh outlook to work.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Surely 2010 will get better than this

Like it was for many of you, my 2009 wasn't the best of years. Wasn't the worst of years either, but let's just say I was more than happy to toast it away. Come to think of it, I can't remember my New Year's Eve group ever say good riddance to a year as enthusiastically as we did on Thursday night.

So now it is 2010 and it seemed to pick up right where 2009 left off. At least on the home front. Never a good sign when you discover the front bumper of your car was smashed in and you know you did't hit anything. (This is why I always park at the outer edges of a parking lot.) A cranky computer and a phone call I didn't want to get this morning didn't help get things off to a good start.

I look at it this way -- at this point, 2010 has nowhere to go but up. I'm coming up on my 5th anniversary of freelancing, and I think I have a good idea at where I want my business to go. I've learned the difference between dreaming big and reasonable, life-balancing goals. I had a rough December because I didn't set that balance, and I don't want to do that again. The result will be something awesome, but it was a good lesson in time management and cost vs. benefits.

I have goals for 2010, and perhaps I'll post them here soon. One of my goals is to make this blog a regular routine. It is a good way to get my brain moving.