Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Updated: A Minor Inconvenience to You (I Hope!)

Hello, readers! I hope you've been enjoying 'Doll Hair Doesn't Grow Back' for the past... wait a minute, could it possibly be more than five years??? Yes, it could. And 179 posts, including this one. That's a lot of my ramblings.
Me in 1979, thinking about the topic for my very first blog

Now that I have my awesome new website,, the blog is migrating over there (along with my writer's blog, Front Matter). The guys at Hanee Designs convinced me that it would be a good idea to keep everything all in one place, and since they did such a fabulous job making the website I decided to take their advice and just roll with it. It really is lovely, if you haven't had a chance to check it out.

SO, the blog is already over there, including all the posts from here, and despite the elegant new surroundings it's really making itself at home. It's already ordered room service and charged an adult movie to the room. Here's a tip: never give my blog your credit card number!

The good news is, this really shouldn't affect your reading experience too much, except that you need to do one simple thing to stay in the loop: please visit and scroll down to the little button that says "Subscribe to my RSS." [UPDATE: I found a way to put the form below, so you don't even have to go anywhere!] Put in your email address and you will get an update every time a blog is published. If you prefer to stay in the loop, but more at a distance -- like at the 6th grade dance -- you can subscribe instead to my newsletter and get an occasional summary of what's going on along with book release announcements. Either way, I hope you'll take this opportunity to stay in touch!


Here is the RSS form, so you don't miss a thing!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Go Ahead, Check Your Pockets

Last night I was having a great conversation with a good friend of mine, who is a former counselor like me, while we walked around the trails at a nearby park. It was a beautiful evening with air that seemed ripe for personal discovery and revelation. Or at least a picnic dinner and pick-up soccer.

Somehow we got onto the topic of confidence and professional identity, an area that we have both been exploring for years. I told her that when people ask me what I do, I usually say "Well, I'm home with the boys a couple of days a week, and I do some consulting work, and... I'm a writer." When I get to the "I'm a writer" part, I am generally looking in the direction of my shoes and my voice drops as though I were saying "and I'm an upscale prostitute on Wednesdays." Sometimes I don't even say "I'm a writer," but I'll say something weak and watery like, "and I write fiction, in my spare time."

"What?" my appalled friend said. "You don't lead with 'I'm a writer'?"

No. I don't. And I don't lead with 'I'm a mom,' either, which I consider an equally important part of my identity. The truth is, as much as I love being a mom, and enjoy my consulting work, when people ask me what I DO, my heart says "writer." Last year I made nearly four times as a part-time writer what I made as a part-time therapist. So why does my mouth start making excuses and justifying how I spend my time, rather than embracing who I am, who I have always been? Why do I deprecate the vocation about which I have been passionate since I was six years old?

My friend's theory, which I believe is valid, is programming. Somewhere along the way, I allowed myself to be programmed (by authority figures, by society, and most importantly by my own insecurities) to believe that writing isn't a real thing. It's not a prestigious, reliable, acceptable way to make a living. Sure, I've always known that some people make it as professional authors, but my brain says those people are the exception rather than the rule, sort of like the 300 guys who play professional basketball in the NBA, just less sweaty and maybe with fewer tattoos.

I won't get into all the heavy background of where my programming comes from, because that would be boring for you, even if it was therapeutic for me. But I will say that I'm realizing how often I have made the choice to do something 'safe' like getting and MBA on top of my English degree, or choosing a job that sounded more like a real job than 'freelancer' or 'aspiring author.' I was quick to give up when I met with rejection and hardship, quick to believe the people in my life who said maybe I'd better work on a backup plan. Am I glad I have a backup plan, a work ethic, and safety net? Yes. Have those professional experiences taught me skills, broadened my horizons, and informed my writing? Absolutely.

But if you're always doing the backup plan, isn't there some point at which it simply becomes The Plan? That would be fine, IF it's really what you want. Some people fall into a job and then fall in love with it, which is great. But for me, my journey outside of writing has been largely based on fear -- fear of failing at the one thing I have always loved, or worse, fear of succeeding. What happens if I succeed and don't feel worthy of that success? Or I succeed and it's not everything I've hoped, and then I will have lost the one thing I always thought I would love.

There's a story my college mentor, Coleman Barks, used to tell about a man on a train. When the conductor comes by to take the man's ticket, he can't find it anywhere. He checks his pockets, his briefcase, under the seat, his neighbor's seat, much to the annoyance of the busy conductor. When he doesn't find it, he starts the ritual again, looking in all the same places.

Finally the conductor says, "What about your breast pocket? You haven't looked there."

"I know," says the man. "But I can't look in there."

"Why not?" says the conductor.

"Because I have looked everywhere else. If I look in that pocket and the ticket isn't there, then I will have no hope."

Sometimes I think we hold onto something so tight, whether it's a dream or a relationship or a set of ideals, that we smother the thing we love rather than risk discovering that it is not perfect. We'd rather hide it in our pocket than find out what it really is, for better or worse. For me, I have done this when I don't give my all to something, writing especially. Because if I don't really try, I can't really fail, right?

Uh, wrong. Not trying is the only real failure. I'm teaching this to my three-year-old son already, and yet I've ignored it myself for years. So now I'm working to battle my negative programming, replacing it with freedom and positivity. I have glanced into my breast pocket (or in my case an overcrowded purse) and I have a feeling the ticket just might be in there. Now it's time to dig it out, brush off the Cheerio crumbs and the lipstick smudge, and see where it takes me.

What does your negative programming keep you from doing or becoming?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Letter to the Me of 1993

My 20 year high school reunion is coming up this year; and predictably, it has me thinking about what I've learned in the last two decades, and wondering how my life might have been different if I'd known then what I know now. (Equally interesting would be if I knew now what I've forgotten since then, but that's another blog). 

So, just in case someone invents an actual internet time machine, and said machine can make text-only email deliveries to the computer lab in Russell Hall at UGA... 

Dear 1993 Self,

Congratulations on your graduation from high school and acceptance at the University of Georgia. I know all you can think about right now is how annoyed you are that Dad is taking your picture in the driveway when you just want to get the show on the road to Athens, and wondering when you'll be able to come home to see your boyfriend. The whole wide world is waiting for you out there, and besides, you hate having your picture taken.

Well, sweetheart, I hate to break it to you, but you'd better smile for that picture, because you will never be this young or thin again. And that boyfriend you're planning to sacrifice all your weekends during freshman year to see? Don't bother. Your friends and family are right, he's not worthy of you, and in a few months he and some girl named Debbie are going to hand you your first real heartbreak. It won't be pretty, but it will help you start your own life.

The good news is, despite the jerk boyfriend and the freshman fifteen (plus another ten for sophomore year), you're about to start becoming a far more beautiful person on the inside. I won't spoil the surprise on everything, but here are some suggestions:

  • When someone new invites you to do something, go. Your comfort zone leaves a lot to be desired, and there will be plenty of time to stay in later.
  • Be patient with your roommates. You're not all that easy to live with yourself, and most of these people will be lifelong friends if you'll let them.
  • The summer at Oxford is an excellent idea. Don't hesitate.
  • Do yoga. Go jogging. Hike more. One day those activities will be considered luxuries with your time, and you'll have random pains that make each one a little harder to do. Do them now and establish good habits. You don't look fat in those running shorts. And if you do, so what?
  • Floss. One day your good luck with dentistry will wear off. And that ain't cheap or fun.
  • When you see the guy giving away free t-shirts if you apply for a credit card outside the dorm, keep walking. That free t-shirt will be the most expensive piece of clothing you ever own.
  • Don't sell your writing abilities short. Listen to this man's advice with an open heart and allow him to lift your creative spirit. It may not feel like a "safe" way to make a living, but you will rely on your writing in every job you have from here forward (not to mention several key relationships).
  • Allow yourself to get swept up in emotion, and to admit freely when you are wrong. People will love you better when you are not pretending to be perfect and strong all the time.
  • Hug your parents. They aren't perfect either, but they love you, and they will be gone sooner than you can fathom. In less than 20 years you will long for the days when Mom called you too often and Dad always had a camera in your face.
  • Speaking of cameras, don't hide from them. Smile big. Hug your friends. Ham it up. Use those images to spark wonderful memories, not to critique your body or focus on how much you hate your face in profile. Imperfections don't matter. Moments matter.
  • Take out 50% of what you think you need as a student loan, and get a job to pay for the rest. Trust me, it's far less painful to earn at 20 than it is to pay back at 30 or 35.
  • When you get ready to backpack around Europe for six months, take more money -- and fewer shoes -- than you think you'll need. Do NOT brush your teeth on the train from Prague to Vienna.
  • It's hard to say that your first marriage will be a mistake. It has some great moments and you will certainly learn and grow from it. So, go ahead and invest your whole heart. Move to Portland, move to Austin. Even unhappy endings can still leave you with happy memories, and some incredible experiences along the way.
  • Don't miss out on anything because you're either embarrassed or don't think you're good enough. You can do whatever you want; and you're not above anything.
  • April 9, 2005: Avoid the chicken salad. Trust me.
  • Know when it's time to let go. Your life will have many heartbreaks, but they will make you stronger and lead to a joy beyond imagining. Hang in there.
  • When the time comes, say "yes" to the guy with the good heart and incredible smile. You won't regret it for a second.
  • Take notes. Keep a journal. Someday you will strain to recall all those moments you thought you could never forget.
  • Write, Write, Write. Make the time. Find the courage. Do it.
Finally: In a couple of years, Baz Luhrmann will release a popular song advising you and your generation to wear sunscreen, among other things. You will think this adaptation of a newspaper column a little cheesy and overrated. Baz, however, will redeem his credibility with you in 2001 when you see the movie Moulin Rouge, and then again in 2012 when you have a precancerous lesion removed from your forehead. Just shut up and put on the damn sunscreen already.

Your 2013 Self

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My three year old, in a nutshell

We let Monkey stay up a little late tonight and snuggle between us on the bed for some Antiques Road Show. It was one of those rare quiet moments in which he is so happy for the special treatment that he actually behaves himself for a bit, like he's testing out the icy pond to make sure it's really frozen.

Out of that moment, before the drama of trying to get him to go to bed, I bring you this dialogue, which I think demonstrates the full range of a tender-hearted three year old boy's deepest thoughts:

[We were talking about grandmothers, for some reason]

Monkey: ...and Grandma Peggy died.
Me: Yes, she did. And I really miss her.
Monkey: I miss her, too.
[Hubs and I exchange a tiny smile since she died 10 years before he was born].
Monkey: But it's okay, she still loves us. She's in our hearts.
Hubs: That's right.
Monkey: And G-d is with her.
Me: [Can say nothing, tears flowing. Hugs him tight.]
Hubs: Yeah, buddy. You're right.
Monkey: And you know what else?
Hubs: What?
Monkey: If you cut yourself open and looked inside, you could see all your bones. And your heart. My heart is pink and purple. [Farts loudly] Did anyone hear that noise?

There are moments in life where you don't know whether to laugh or cry, and others where you're absolutely sure you must do both. I'm so grateful to my little boy for giving me one of those tonight!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Darkness and Light: The Suicide Blog

My mother, who died in 2001, would have been 65 years old this past Sunday. I say died because that's what happened to her. She didn't 'pass away' as people are so fond of saying, as when an elderly person drifts off to peaceful sleep and simply doesn't awaken. Most people in my life know already that my mother took her own life. They may or may not know that in our last conversation she was angry and disappointed with me, and that I was the one to find her body the following day.

I've come to understand that this is a more common experience than many people realize. I've never been a part of a suicide survivors group or anything like it, but I've still had two girlfriends who lost their mothers this way and several acquaintances who have lost loved ones to self-harm as well.

Homecoming Queen, 1965
When I was young and my mother (who battled her whole life with trauma and mental illness) would threaten or attempt to kill herself, I would run a gamut of emotional reactions, ranging from absolute desperation to keep her alive, all the way to a self-protecting cold acceptance. The first was totally unlivable; the latter became a hardness within me that I have both battled against and called upon for strength in later years.

Even now, I cannot imagine the kind of pain she must have been in: how desperate she must have felt herself, or how in her calmer moments she must have regretted the behaviors that put such a distance between us. In my calmer moments, the naive writer inside me thought suicide was sort of a romantic, noble end. I thought of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf and their tortured beauty. Buddhist monks burning themselves to death in protest of the Vietnam War. Romeo and Juliet.

The reality, when it came years later, felt both shocking and inevitable. I was stunned and saddened by her death, but also ashamed that I felt something else on both our behalf: relief.  After years of threats and attempts and close calls, decades of walking on eggshells and bending myself into impossible knots trying to avoid this very thing... the thing had happened. It could never be undone, and it could never happen again. As we said goodbye and scattered her ashes in a garden, I could not hold back the thought: It's done. She can never hurt me like this again.

It does hurt again, though. Over and over. I've written before about the longing I feel almost daily for my mother - whether it's the mother she was or the mother I wished for, I will never be sure. When I first heard my sons' cries in the delivery room, they echoed with her absence. She missed comforting me through a painful divorce, she missed meeting the true love of my life and father of my children, she missed my journey to Judaism and all the richness that has come with it. She has missed about a thousand nights or days when I have wanted to pick up the phone to call her: for advice, for comfort, for a laugh, for the gossip she was always willing to relate (with her own peppering of outrage, of course).

My parents, Huntsville, AL 1973
She missed the death of my father, with whom I firmly believe she was always in love and vice versa, even years after their divorce. I like to think they're together now, watching our kids and laughing at our trials. These things could be any story of a parent lost early, except there is an additional and painful element: choice. She chose to miss these things. At least, that's how it feels in my moments of anger.

Survivors of suicide are entitled to our anger. Nothing hurts quite so much as being left voluntarily by someone who was supposed to love you forever. You find yourself constantly wondering what you could have done differently, how you might have saved the person from their pain. You wonder what you did wrong. And all the platitudes and kind voices and "there, there, it wasn't about you," in the world don't make that feeling go away. At least not entirely.

Thirteen years later, and after working in a profession in which part of my job was to prevent people harming themselves, I have come to realize something else about my mother and others like her. It's almost ironic that my mother had Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder) because in her true self state, she had almost no filter, no ability to be disingenuous. Maybe her brain needed to allow her to be more than one person because she had no ability to be anyone other than herself on purpose.

My mother didn't tell little conversational white lies or make small talk like the rest of us do. She didn't pretend to be interested when she wasn't, and she could not turn off the caring and empathic part of herself that reached out to all those in pain. If she asked "how are you?" it's because she really wanted to know. She could not walk away from a homeless person with a story to tell. She could not watch her poor neighbors go hungry even when she could barely feed herself. Until my father insisted that she stop, she picked up hitchhikers in our family van, even with my brother and me in the backseat.

For Mom, there was nothing about herself that was better or higher than anyone else, nothing that could be kept separate from the injustice she saw in the world. In the psychology realm, we would label this as a 'boundary issue.' That is true in terms of her own mental health, but it's also true that the world needs people like my mother. In many ways, her giving of her whole self to the world around her was the living example of the human spirit. She was the embodiment of the Jewish concept of Tzedakah, which means both 'charity' and 'justice.'

We need her and others like her, even though they wound us so deeply by not caring enough for themselves. My mother gave herself over to pain because that was her experience of reality, and yet she kept her faith in God, the world, my brother and others (and, I hope, in me).

I believe there are people in this world who feel things more deeply, more personally, than most of us can bear to do. Whatever the reasons, whatever the causes, they carry with them a kindness and vulnerability so deep that it is both a treasure and a burden. They either don't have or don't use the protective filter that "healthy" people use to turn off pain and heartache so that we can function. (Don't get me wrong, the world needs us, too -- someone has to keep things working and stay strong for those who are not strong themselves).

I believe we have to learn from those among us like my mother, those who might be labeled as 'too sensitive,' 'impractical' or even 'crazy.' We can learn from their artistic talents, unbridled empathy and sense of justice, because we need those to maintain our basic humanity. We also have to help ground them and keep them safe and strong when we can.

But we can't always.

Sometimes their burden is simply too much to bear. Sometimes the depth of their feelings becomes an abyss from which they cannot return, even though they might desperately want to come back to us. Sometimes we must stand at the edge and say goodbye, realizing that we cannot change who they are, nor can we alter or even fully understand their fate. We have to bear our own burden of their loss, with as much grace and genuineness as we can muster.

When my mom died, the world truly lost a light of love. It was extinguished in the darkness of her own personal torment, gone to a place I cannot know or understand. As for me, I will keep my filters and boundaries and "healthy" mental state - such as it is. I will stay strong for my family for as long as I am able, because hers will not be my fate. But I will think of Mom when we put coins in our Tzedakah box, and whenever I have an opportunity to create justice in my own little corner of the world.

I cannot bring her light back to our lives, but I can try to rekindle it in the family she never got to know. We can build on her legacy, and in that sense, the light will never really go out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

November Lessons

November was a wild month at M.J.'s playhouse, and I'm still playing catch-up, so this month's lessons will be short and sweet:

1. When you're faced with doing unpleasant 'business' involving close friends or family, sometimes the less said, the better. Stick to the facts and give everyone space to process emotionality elsewhere (maybe not in a blog, either!) Things often find a way of working out without a war of words.

2. Murphy's Law of Parenting: If you have a month during which you need every spare minute to get work done, your kids will be throwing up, feverish and/or wheezing during at least 80% of those minutes.

3. Being sick on Thanksgiving makes you appreciate turkey, dressing and canned cranberry sauce even more. It also makes you think of those who are hungry and lonely even more, too.

4. I learned this month that I'm a Sh*tty Mom, and so are some of the best moms I know. It's very liberating to know our kids will have each other to lean on in group therapy later on.

5. Try as I might, I think I am just not a NaNoWriMo girl. I love trying. I love failing at it. And then everything works out better. I can't decide if this is a fun annual project or a very specific mental illness. I'll keep you posted.

Many, many people are kind enough to ask me if I'm working on the next book, and the short answer is "yes." The long answer is "yes, yes, and yes," which means that I'm working on several projects at once. In addition to the NaNoWriMo project I have temporarily shelved, I have three other projects running actively. I work on them whenever I can for as long as I can, in turn, until one gathers enough momentum to warrant my obsessive attention. I'm aware it would be faster to write one book all at once, but that just wouldn't be me. I'm also aware that you guys are waiting patiently, and I thank you. My goal every day is to try to make something worth waiting for!

In the meantime, if you'd like to get an autographed copy (paperback) of one of my current books for yourself or someone else, you can now do that here. Since I don't yet have a fancy publishing house to help me with these things, I am offering these on a limited basis only. The really good news, though, is that if you order one in December, I'll donate $3 to an amazing organization that is truly close to my heart.

So, add it to your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice wish list. (Sorry, they may not be delivered in time for actual Hanukkah). Have a great December, everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do Me a Favor: If You See Me at the Playground, Treat Me Like a Man

Last night the hubs and I cashed in a date night and went to the MJCCA book festival 'parenting edition' with Dan Zevin and two of the four Sh*tty Moms. It was a fun evening, commiserating about the challenges of parenting young children in funny and irreverent ways. With two children in a Jewish preschool, I was in stitches at Dan's joke about how many Jewish holidays keep the kiddos home [Tu B'Shevat, Erev Tu B'Shevat, Tu B'Shevat post-game and analysis, etc.]

Today I'm home with Fozzie Bear, who has an ear infection that is barely slowing him down, but still keeping him out of school. So instead of working on my NaNoWriMo project, I've been chasing a waddling little powder keg of peanut butter, ibuprofen and antibiotics, trying to keep him from hurling himself off the back of the couch.

It has me thinking in a new way about parenting and its many challenges. One issue that was part of the discussion at last night's reading was about the difficulty for modern parents (moms in particular) to accept less-than-perfection. Even though raising children has not gotten easier in recent decades -- in fact, there are many ways one could argue it's become more complex, if not exactly harder -- we seem to be holding ourselves to ridiculously higher standards than previous generations.

On top of the fact that many moms work outside the home, or work at home to bring in income, we also still expect ourselves to: be the primary caregivers, keep immaculate houses (ahem), keep up with our families' expansive social calendars, volunteer, stay in shape, cruise the birthday party circuit, stay involved with our kids' schools, head up the PTA, cook dinner, write a blog, work the consignment sales, take the kids to the doctor and dentist, buy the groceries, update Facebook, limit screen time, seduce your husband, get the kids to eat their veggies.... it goes on. And if that's not enough of a challenge for you, Pinterest has a thousand ways you can occupy any spare minutes by challenging you to create the perfect house, the perfect kids' crafts, the perfect party appetizers.  Did we mention you have to try to look good doing it?

Anyone with an ounce of common sense can look at that list and tell you it's not realistic; but somehow that doesn't stop us from beating the crap out of ourselves on a daily basis when we don't hit all the points satisfactorily. We are constantly criticizing ourselves, and what's worse, we judge other women by the same absurd yardstick.

Dan, who happens to be his family's primary caretaker as well as a hilarious and genuine humor writer, commented last night that "all I have to do is show up somewhere" with the kids and the other moms accept and applaud him. He noted that it doesn't matter if he has shaved in the last two weeks or if he packs the perfect snacks. (One of the Sh*tty Moms complained about having to pack the perfect snack for the soccer team and Dan just laughed).

To my shame, I realized that it's true -- I don't look at Dads on the playground with the same critical eye with which I view other women (or I imagine they turn on me). I also don't hold hubs to the same high standards I hold myself when each of us is caring for the kids. Why? I work hard, I love my kids with all my heart. Together, we keep a roof over their heads and try to teach them to be good people (and to get something green in them once a day). Why isn't that enough?

So what I'm saying is, we women need to be harder on Dads. They're getting off easy.

Just kidding! I think in this case we need to follow the lead of the men in our lives and focus a little more on what's essential (happy, healthy kids), and a little less on what makes us look or feel like the perfect mom. So you're late to carpool and still wearing the tracksuit you threw on for yoga hours ago and your floor is carpeted in crushed goldfish and cheerios -- so what? Is anyone going to die as a result? No! Will the world end if I go to the grocery store without makeup, and stains (yogurt, snot, who knows?) on my jacket? No!  

I say, embrace the chaos. Ignore the messy van (your own or someone else's), and take time for yourself even when the to-do list is still a mile long. If you're a perfectionist mom, channel your inner laid-back dad. Reach out to that other mom on the playground or at the grocery store with an accepting smile instead of a judgmental glare. Let's work together and give each other, and ourselves, a much-needed break. Our kids and our sanity will thank us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fat Girl's Halloween Oath

My Little Pumpkins: So delicious they're a little concerned Mommy will eat them.
I love Halloween. It's an enchanted time, when people temporarily cast aside social propriety, modest clothing and resistance to the supernatural. It's a time to embrace one's inner witch or warlock, feline familiar, or slutty cab driver. Time to go nuts with the spookiest and cheesiest yard decor available, and gleefully take a butcher knife and flame to the nearest unsuspecting gourd.

But in one way it really is scary as hell. Every year, this is the beginning of the unraveling of whatever healthy habits I may have been developing in the previous months, lost to a frenzy of candy wrapper ripping and chocolate rationalizations (they're like regular rationalizations, but soooo delicious).

Halloween seems to be my gateway drug. What starts in mid-October with me picking up a bag of tootsie rolls "for the kids," culminates three days after Thanksgiving with eating pumpkin pie and chocolate cake directly out of the refrigerator in the middle of the night without a fork, glancing around furtively like a starving hyena.

It's been a rough year for self-care, and I am just finding my way back to the gym and developing something of a fitness a routine. I don't want Halloween to be the beginning of the downhill slide for me this year. So with my hand on a bag of caramel rice cakes, I solemnly swear that this year will be different.
  • This year, I will not purchase six large bags of candy for the four trick-or-treaters who visit our door every year.
  • I will not "sample" the candy I purchase, or the candy my kids collect, to "test it for quality."
  • Once Fozzie Bear has fallen asleep in the stroller, I will not continue to collect candy in his bucket "to keep things fair"
  • I will acknowledge that I do not burn off enough calories walking from one house to the next to justify eating 17 pieces of candy at the end of the night.
  • The best way to get treats out of the house is to give them to charity, or send them to Hubs' work break room, not to put them in my mouth.
  • I will set aside a publicly identified number of candies for the boys to enjoy in the days following Halloween. These will be kept behind a locked door requiring two keys and dual thumbprint identification. They will be distributed when the entire family is present, counted and weighed for accuracy, and given only after vegetables have been consumed. No tantrums will be tolerated. The kids should behave themselves, too.
  • For the next sixty days, before consuming any sugary treats, I will require myself to do the "Truffle Shuffle" in front of a full-length mirror. This should not only curb any appetite for sweets, it will also create a state of Goonies-based nostalgic ecstasy. Those trigger the same hormones in the brain, right?
  • Hubs' Spook-o-Lantern: Awesome even in a chocolate withdrawal rage
  • Without a steady supply of chocolate, I become enraged and unpredictable. This year I will channel that terrible power into working out and NaNoWriMo, rather than my usual habit of screaming obscenities at other drivers on the road and noticing out loud every single thing that Hubs does sub-optimally. I will not behave in a way that causes my acquaintances to throw Reese's cups at me as a distraction while they make a hasty escape. 
Well, I think that about covers it. Here's a friggin' cute picture of Monkey and Fozzie picking out our pumpkin, and the super-spooky result Hubs created.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pirate Talk, My Dad's Birthday and How I'm Not Special

Aaargh! Thanks for droppin' anchor at me swashbucklin' blog, matie! Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I always thought it was funny that International Talk Like a Pirate Day fell on my father's birthday. He never saw the humor in it, but if you knew my Dad, you know that overt silliness wasn't really his style. He had a great sense of humor; but it was usually aimed at the ridiculousness of what most people consider normal human behavior, rather than at things people intended to be funny.

He was a scientist through and through: always observing, always analyzing, never taking even the simplest of cultural assumptions for granted. He saw everything with an intensely critical eye and put practicality and rationality above all else. This made him a huge asset to the scientific world and, by extension, to the defense of our country. As you can imagine, it also made him a teenage daughter's worst nightmare. 

Dad would have been 64 today, but last year, just four days after his 63rd birthday, he lost his short battle with lung cancer. I miss him. We had a complicated relationship, but I'm happy to say that overall it was more good than bad, especially in the two years before he died. I could say loads more about him, and my mother who died ten years before him, but maybe another time. Hell, that's a book unto itself, probably....

Today is also AT&T's Pledge Day against texting while driving. Normally my first reaction to these kinds of things is "oh, yeah right, that will fix it." [I *may* have inherited a bit of Dad's cynicism]. But I took the pledge and I think you should, too.

A few years ago, Dad and I made a deal that he would stop smoking if I would stop talking on the phone while driving. He knew I did most of my chatting in the car -- because what on earth would I do with myself if I weren't multi-tasking? -- and it made him nervous. For a couple of months, we both kept our word; but it wasn't long before I was sneaking in a quick call here and there and he was sneaking out for a cigarette. I've been lucky that my use of the phone has so far not resulted in any accidents. Dad was not so lucky.

Ever since Monkey and Fozzie have been around, I've been much more careful about talking on the phone while in the car. I use the hands-free system in the car whenever possible, and I try to avoid talking while in traffic or on the Interstate. I'm extra careful about doing things that require me to look at the screen. So, I pull over if I need to dial a number I don't have on speed dial. I save texting until I'm parked. Or I wait until I'm at a red light. Or a stop sign. Or if I just need to check the map, very quickly, or just see if I still have the e-vite with the directions on it. Or just to see if the person I'm meeting just texted to ask if I'm running late (and let's face it, I am). Or....

And that's where it all starts to unravel.

It happens so fast. Because most of us are not involved in car accidents on a regular basis, the risk starts to seem less real. If you ask, of course, we're not stupid -- we'll say that we understand the dangers. But we don't feel them, usually. Life is busy, and being connected all the time makes us feel almost as though we are not allowed to unplug, even while driving. The perceived urgency of whatever is going on -- being late to meet someone, getting lost on the way to the interview, having an argument with a friend -- presses on us. And our recent experience as a driver -- I haven't been involved in a car accident in years! -- gives us the false perception that the pattern is going to continue, no matter what. [There has to be some brain science to back this up, I just know it!]

So we focus only on what we're trying to do, sweeping the risks under the rug and minimizing them in our heads. We choose, just for a second, to think of the world as though it's a video game, and if we make a mistake, we'll simply start over. We choose not to think about the people in the cars around us, the workers on the side of the road, the child waiting at the bus stop, our own kids in the backseat. Our overwhelmed brain is trying to process too much at once, so it allows us to take a seconds-long break from reality while we just glance at this one little thing.

On top of that, there's this little fact of human nature: we all think we're special. We treasure our individuality so much and have such an inflated view of our own skills, that we believe we are the exception to the rule. No, no, the people who have accidents doing this are teenagers. Or they're stupid people. Or they only happen on the interstate. Or those people text much more than I do, and they look down for longer periods. Not me, I can do it. It's just a quick glance. I'm a great driver. I can handle it.

Well, I might be special to the people who love me, and I might have some special talents, but being able to fully concentrate on moving a 4500-pound piece of machinery down the road when my eyes are on the center console isn't one of them. And I know myself all too well, that if I don't make the commitment today, if I don't promise myself or someone else that I won't do it, it will only be a matter of time before I'm glancing down more and more often, feeling a little guilty but doing it nonetheless.   

So, I'm taking my own personal It Can Wait pledge today. No texting while driving, even when stopped at a red light. No searching the map, or checking my email, or just glancing at one quick thing. Not while I'm alone, not while the boys are in the car, not while I'm on the highway, not on the slow-moving residential roads near my house. Not with a fox, not in a box, not on a train, not in the rain.... It can wait. I can pull over. The world will not end if I am late to an appointment or keep someone waiting on the other side of a text conversation. We all have to die someday, but there's no reason to die being an idiot (or worse, kill someone else). I owe more than that to the people who do think I'm special, especially the two little ones who are watching every move I make.

I'm making the pledge today, for everyone I love, and I hope you'll do the same.

Happy Birthday, Dad.   

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Blog Soundtrack by Kenny G?

Nah, just kidding. 

You'll notice, though, that the blog has undergone some changes in the last couple of weeks - a cleaner look (which will continue evolving) and today, a new name. Yes, the name is partly a nod to my formative years moping in my room and listening to The Cure. And -- to my slight embarrassment -- to Tesla. Remember Tesla? Raise your hand if you're singing "Love is all around you..." right now. You know you are.

You can read a bit more about the name change here, but it comes down to having a shorter title that encompasses more of what I actually do with this blog. I appreciate those of you who've commented how much you like "Doll Hair Doesn't Grow Back" but it is a bit cumbersome. Especially when you're trying to tell people about the blog at a party and they leave halfway through the name to refresh their drinks!

In addition to simplifying this blog, I'm also acknowledging that I have been serving a couple of different audiences here: fans and friends who are interested in my personal reflections on life, love and everything else; and those who are interested in my journey as a self-pubbed author (largely because they might like to begin or continue that journey themselves). So I'm spinning off a writer's blog here: It's called Front Matter and if you're a writer or entrepreneur, or just interested in my take on the whole publishing process, I invite you to follow it. And, of course, share. :)

Meanwhile, hang here for more lessons learned, reflections on current events, funny kid stories and general navel-gazing. I'll post book information in both places for now. And I promise to keep it interesting or fall on my face trying!

As always, this lovesong is for you...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sock Puppets and Ethics

It's funny how things collide sometimes. Lately I've been giving a good bit of thought not just to writing, but to the business of being a writer. I've realized (get ready to point and laugh at someone with too much education and too little common sense) that if I want my books to be really successful, I probably ought to dust off all those marketing and business principles I learned as an MBA and, you know, use them.

In this scenario, I am totally the cardiologist who smokes and eats cheeseburgers. Sometimes you forget to apply your professional knowledge to your own life.

So I started making notes for mission and vision statements, business model, and core values. Along with core values I began thinking about my own personal code of ethics when it comes to my writing, and asking myself questions. Will I ever plagiarize someone else's work or intentionally ride someone's coattails? Hell, no. Will I be okay with writing characters who drink heavily and to make jokes about promiscuity or infidelity -- even though those very things have harmed people I know and love, and will definitely turn some people off to my books? You betcha. Life is not always simple or comfortable, and I don't write it that way -- even in my lighthearted, happy-ending romances. That might alienate some people, and I respect their feelings, but it won't change the way I write.

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Oh, wait. I am selling something. But I digress...

It turns out that there are some ethics and values questions I either hadn't considered or hadn't bothered to quantify as I worked around this new publishing and marketing world by pure moxie and intuition. There are also scores of stylistic and etiquette choices, about which some writers seem to feel so passionate that they almost sound like ethical issues when discussed in the blogosphere. Is it okay to follow another writer on Twitter in hopes that they will follow you back? Can or should people review other authors' work in hopes of receiving a reciprocal review? What about trading blurbs? Are Direct Messages on Twitter inherently creepy?

And, in the midst of my personal musings, the news broke that several prominent authors have "massaged" their public image by paying for positive reviews. These include self-published icon John Locke, who admitted in this NY Times article that he paid for many of his early amazon reviews.

I've read Locke's book on successful self-publishing and do find it interesting that while he was happy to highlight his once-monthly blog and Twitter-friendship strategies, he neglected to mention his "purchasing the first 300 reviews" strategy. As someone who paid to read about his methods, I find the omission annoying and maybe unethical (at least by my personal standards) but not criminal. To his credit, he's not hiding from the actions now that they're public, nor is he apologizing for what I would guess he sees as the fair purchase of advertising. It also seems that he told the now-defunct reviewing company he didn't care if the reviews were positive or negative, he just wanted numbers. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I am pretty sure that no one cares how I feel about that.

In addition to purchasing reviews, positive or otherwise, authors have been outed this week for creating 'sock puppet' identities so that they could praise their own works (eh - more pathetic than egregious). The worst offenders, however, are those who use sock puppets to trash rival authors. This, in my opinion, is particularly disgusting. Unforgivable, actually.

In response to the hubbub, some writers have banded together on this no-sock-puppet statement. I 'liked' it on principle, but I'm not sure it's the right tone or level of thoroughness to address the whole issue. A  cohesive, comprehensive code of writing ethics to which authors could commit and self-certify would be more appropriate. Please don't tell anyone I said that, though, because saying the world needs something is the step before someone appoints you as head of a committee. And, truly, I think said committee should be headed by author Barry Eisler, who posted the most coherent response to all of this here.

For fans, friends and fellow writers, and for the imaginary "record" to which all blogs like this one are permanently and indelibly inscribed, here's my take on all of it:

None of my reviews, on amazon, goodreads or anywhere else have been bought. I have never and will never pay anyone with money, chocolate, or free dog-sitting to review my books. I just don't roll that way. In the few cases in which I have provided free reviewers' copies (a common industry practice) to bloggers/reviewers, I've encouraged those people to disclose this in their review, and most of them have.

Like many first-time authors, I found the blank review section a little daunting when I first published The Marriage Pact, and so I encouraged friends and family who'd read the book to provide an honest review of it. Six of them did. Half were 5-star, half were 4-star, and all were (as far as I know), thoroughly honest. In fact, a couple of my English-major friends were harder on me than the first several non-friend readers who reviewed it.

Full disclosure: As I was trying to drum up more attention for The Marriage Pact, I posted a contest on my Facebook page encouraging people to review it for a chance to receive the sequel free. I was aware that this would self-select toward positive reviews, since people who hated the book wouldn't be on my Facebook page and probably wouldn't be interested in reading the sequel, but I was having a hard time thinking of other ways to encourage people to write reviews. I asked fans to be honest, and since many of the reviews included both positive and critical evaluations, I have to assume they were at least somewhat true to that request.

Following those positive reviews and on the heels of my first free promotion, I also received a rash of negative reviews -- people who were really distracted by the book's problems (of which there certainly were a few), readers for whom it wasn't a good fit, or for whom the subject matter was inherently offensive. It was painful at first, as I've blogged about, but it was also a great learning experience and helped me become a better writer. Honestly, while I'm certainly glad to be more positive than negative on my first work, I wouldn't trade the bulk of those negative reviews for an MFA in Creative Writing. They were seriously that valuable.

By the way, I've noticed that the reviews ebb and flow in little waves. People tend to review things when either they have strong feelings one way or the other, or they think the previous reviewers have been wrong. With TMP, my experience was that some people would read and post glowing but short reviews on how much they liked it; and then a few would come and crucify not only the book itself but all the other readers who gave it 4 or 5 stars. It's a matter of taste both ways, I think.

One big thing that impacts amazon's review system, IMHO, is that you can't leave a simple rating. You HAVE to write a review of at least 20 words in order to rate something, which discourages lazy people like me from rating things -- either because we don't want to take the time, or don't want to be scrutinized and lambasted by other reviewers for whatever we might say. The reality is that goodreads probably has a more accurate rating system, tending more predictably toward a normal, natural bell curve. The basic principles of statistics would say that most books ought to be 3-star books. Most books are average by definition. But that's not how it looks on amazon - because of the review structure and people's attitude about writing reviews.

With Regrets Only, I've been fortunate enough to have only 4 and 5 star reviews, 25 so far, and only 3 of those reviews are from people I know personally. I've been unsure with Regrets whether to hold my breath and wait for the other shoe to fall, or worry that people will think I paid for reviews since they're all positive. Maybe I should pay someone to write a mediocre review for credibility....

In the end, I've decided against fretting over it. Instead, I'll be focusing on my own ethics: working hard to provide my readers with something worth buying and doing so in a way that allows me to sleep soundly at night. I'm happy to subscribe to a thoughtfully created code of ethics within the writing community, or to establish my own and display it proudly. But other than that I don't have much room for righteous (writeous?) indignation in my life right now.

Other people's successes -- however they're achieved -- are not my failures, nor the other way around. I view relationships with other writers as a chance to learn and gain support, not to be artificially propped up or cut down. Healthy competition is great, but frankly I'd rather compete against myself than anyone else. For one thing, I'm always available to respond to my own smack talk. Plus, no socks of any kind are required.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mom, There's a Hooker in My Room (Things I Learned in August)

Here's my top 5 from the month of August:

1. A couple of weeks ago, Monkey came running downstairs. "Mom there's a hooker in my room!" After a sidelong glance at his father, and a little investigation, we figured out he was talking about a clothes hanger on the floor. Bill Crosby was right, kids really do say the darnedest things. What Bill didn't say was that kids are funniest when they are inadvertently R-rated.

2. Sometimes when someone tells you they've had an 'epiphany,' it means they genuinely feel they've received an enlightening message from a diety and/or the universe. Other times, it means they just don't want to take responsibility for their own emotionally-driven, irrational or just plain inconsiderate decisions, so they're blaming G-d. Somewhere, the Divine Presence is out there shaking his or her head. "Don't put this on me, dude. I've been trying for weeks to get you to change your oil and you weren't listening to that."

3. The city of Cincinnati is really a lovely place, with an excellent zoo (among other attractions). Monkey is still talking about becoming a temporary Reds fan when we caught a game at Great American Ballpark. When you're a three year old Braves fan in a new city, it takes some processing to keep your loyalties straight. We are well on our way to visiting all the big MLB ballparks before the boys go to college: two down, thirty to go. (We also want to visit all the national parks, but that's another post). Many thanks to our wonderful friends Nan, Carl and family for hosting us in their new hometown. We'll definitely be back soon!

4. While I'd like to say I'm not a slave to positive feedback, I have to say that having people write/post/tweet me insisting that I write a third book in THE MARRIAGE PACT series is an amazing feeling. Most of the jobs I've worked in recent years have been of the "doing good is its own reward" variety, and while that had its charms, a little praise and encouragement goes a long way toward fueling the creative process. I know there is still so much to be learned and I'll never be "past" the point of needing to receive criticism and improve... but, still. Just one tiny rest? On this teeny-tiny little laurel over here? I won't fall asleep, I promise!

5. Okay, I know everyone older than me is going to roll their eyes at this one, but my body just isn't what it used to be. I don't mean flab or wrinkles (though those are making themselves known, too), I mean recovery time after an injury. I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago, a strained muscle that normally would've just been sore for a day or two, and just when I thought I was out of the woods - SNAP! I re-injured it. Now can't sit for more than a few minutes straight, can't carry the boys up and down stairs, and sitting on the floor is completely out of the question. It is so frustrating!

Some of this is hereditary: back problems run in my family on my Mom's side. But that's part of what is so discouraging about it. For as long as I could remember, my mom had such severe back problems that she spent many, many key moments in our childhood lying on the couch on a heating pad (or in a hotel room at Disneyworld - yuck!). I hated that for her, and selfishly I hated it for me, too.

Well, friends, the minute I can move around without cringing, I'll be starting a rigorous yoga/walking/doing whatever the heck it takes to keep my muscles healthier so I don't have to go down that road. I'll camp out at my chiropractor's office if I have to. I'll buy a Roman bench - as soon as I find out what that is. I'll..... [gasp!] do crunches. If that's not a sign of desperation, I don't know what is.

My point is, I don't want to be the "on the couch with the heating pad" mom. I want to be "hiding in the bathroom with a martini and a trashy novel" mom. Way more fun.


So here's what's on tap for September... My wedding anniversary (six years, and he's headed for sainthood for sure), the Jewish holidays, closing out my therapy practice for now, incorporating business and psychological skills into my writing work, creating a mission/vision statement, and lots of other good stuff.

Technically, I've given myself until October to begin work in earnest on the next book, but I've caught myself making notes when I think I'm not looking. I think that's a sign that you've found your true passion in life, when you have to hold yourself back from doing it to get other stuff done.

Have a great long weekend and a wonderful start to September.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday's Blog and a Couple of Birthday Pictures

Happy Monday, friends!

First and foremost, as always, I want to send out big thanks to everyone for helping make all the recent promotions such a huge success. I am also incredibly appreciative for all the Facebook posts, emails and other messages letting me know how much you guys are enjoying Regrets Only (and for all the requests for a third book! What writer could ask for more? Wow!!)

So here's what's happening in my authorial world, for those who are curious....

I'm taking a break from writing until early October. I know, I know, you guys are chomping at the bit for the next book, which is incredibly flattering. I am very much looking forward to the next one, too. But I have some other things to catch up on first, including some consulting/counseling work, making some changes here in cyberspace, and doing a bit of research for my next project(s). The Jewish holidays are coming up as well - a time of year during which we try to slow down and make room in our lives for spiritual reflection. Of course, with a three- and one-year old in the house, reflective time usually means falling asleep on the couch with an untouched glass of wine on the end table.

I'll be unveiling a new author's blog in the next few weeks; of course, this one will remain intact for those who like to read my more personal ramblings. In the new space you'll find my usual take on the world of self-publishing and writing, with some added psychological perspective for current and would-be writers. There may be some fiction posted there, too -- even a story or two stemming from the characters in TMP and RO. I'm excited about it!

In the meantime, I hope to keep you at least somewhat entertained in this space. Speaking of entertaining, my little Fozzie Bear turned one this weekend, and here are a couple of pictures from the small family party we had...

Fozzie Bear - plowing into his first cake with abandon

Monkey - distracting himself from the challenge of not swiping his brother's gifts

The Brothers Goofy

Have a great week, everyone! I'll be in touch soon. Keep those comments, reviews and emails coming. And let me know what else you're reading and enjoying, too!

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Freakout, Your Free Reads

So, here's the deal. After a restful week of visiting friends, working around the house and doing my best to piss off the literati establishment, it's back-to-school time here in lovely Marietta, Georgia. Since we also just voted to have Sunday alcohol sales (in the afternoon only - no drinking in church), parents in these parts have multiple reasons to celebrate.

I have mixed feelings today, because both Monkey and my little Fozzie Bear are going to preschool three days a week starting this fall. It's a wonderful little religious preschool where Monkey has always been happy and Fozzie is going to be snuggled and kissed all day, so I know they'll be fine, but somehow it's so much harder dropping my baby off in a new place than just sneaking out the front door while he's playing with the nanny in our living room. I'm getting more time to work, and write, which is great and empowering. But still.

How do I handle mixed feelings? Well, it's too early in the day for vodka (or at least, too early to publicly admit to drinking vodka), so I've decided to distract myself with a free book promo. Or two.

That's right, my lovelies. Both books, free, now. today and tomorrow only (until midnight-ish Tuesday the 14th), you can download The Marriage Pact free for your kindle AND Regrets Only, the sequel. If I had a third book, I'd give that one away, too, just for fun, but I haven't started writing that one yet. So this is going to have to tide you over for a while!

Think of it as my back-to-school gift to you. Or an end-of-summer gift for those of you who haven't started back yet. Or a "this doesn't impact me" gift for those who don't have kids in school. Think of it however you'd like, just download, read and enjoy, and please do post honest reviews about either or both if you get the chance.

In the meantime, I'm just going to curl up with a couple of my kids' stuffed animals and have a good cry. And maybe just one screwdriver, for courage.

Get The Marriage Pact here (normally 99 cents):

Get Regrets Only here (normally $2.99):

I'm predicting there will be very few promos for Regrets Only, so share the love with others while you can!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

'A' is for 'Arrogance': Legacy Authors and Ivory Towers

So I was doing my nightly Twittering and I came across this article in which traditional/legacy author Sue Grafton refers to those of us who self-publish as "lazy" and "wannabes," among other uncharitable characterizations. Remarkably ungracious for such an esteemed author, though I guess since she added "I'm sorry," to one of the lines and framed it as a hard truth, it was supposed to sound like tough love and wisdom. What's funny is, I've written maybe five blog entries about other authors, and one of them was this one about Sue herself, and what I was learning from her wisdom about a writer's work ethic and how time-consuming being an author can (and should) be.
Um, yeah.

This isn't the first time in the last several months we've heard legacy authors defending the old publishing system by pointing out how many bad self-published books are out there (because clearly all published works are well-written and worthwhile), and advising young authors to avoid the "career suicide" of self-publishing. But this is the first time I've heard the conversation get so pointed and ugly against self-published authors themselves.

In reality, the world of publishing is changing, has changed, in the last few years. Ready or not, like it or not. The accessibility of eBooks for kindle, nook, PC, iPad, etc. is forcing traditional publishers and authors to compete for your reader eyeballs (and dollars) with independent authors, editors and illustrators who have much lower overhead and nothing to lose. We're hungry, we're motivated, and we don't have a six-figure advance in the bank, a series of overpaid English majors weeding through manuscripts on the readers' dime, or a big shiny building that has to be paid for before we start making money on our work. In this brave new publishing world, we have an advantage.

I can sell you my books for 99 cents and $2.99 respectively because I believe that's a fair price to pay for a few hours' entertainment, and because the openness of the amazon platform and generous royalty structure allows me to recoup my costs quickly. I pay my fabulous designer for her artistry with the cover and my amazing proofreader for catching my mistakes. I pay to have a few early copies distributed to my beta readers and I pay some nominal fees for web hosting, marketing, etc. I don't have to pay an agent (don't need one), a marketing expert (what little I do, I do myself), a manuscript screener (you do that yourself when you decide whether or not you want to take a chance on my book), an assistant (I wish!), a president, an HR person, a custodian, an office manager, a courier, a blue-line reader, book tour coordinator, or an intern to get me coffee. Those are all me, me, me (usually), me, me, me, me and ME. Hubs doesn't even know how to work the coffee maker.

All those costs I just mentioned are built in to the legacy publishing system. Those, plus the costs of all the really bad books they choose to publish that no one buys. [Did you know that sometimes books make it through the many filters of traditional publishing and still totally suck? GASP!] That's why you can't buy Sue Grafton or Jodi Picoult (even the kindle versions, which would appear to have very few hard costs) for less than $7.99 or $9.99. Recent releases and bestsellers are generally $12.99 and up. It's why so many people are choosing to take a chance on unknown authors from the $4 and under lists, based on a few reviews or a recommendation from a friend.

No wonder those old guard authors are coming out swinging at their indie competitors, under the guise of giving 'helpful advice,' as bullying so often is.

But it turns out that while traditionally successful authors might be more polished from years of rejection and more layers of editing, many readers are discovering that they're willing to put up with a few comma splices or regretted purchases for the opportunity to get great reads at a great price, or to be the first person in their book club to discover a new gem. And as much as traditional publishers and authors complain about how the market is glutted with self-published crap, the reality is that truly, universally bad books will always be weeded out by negative reviews and bad press. In this market, readers have power and they're using it to create a credible and reliable system of reviewing. If a book gains any momentum number-wise at all, readers will speak the truth about it; and if it doesn't gain momentum, it won't show up in rankings or be recommended anyway. 

To some extent I understand why legacy authors might be bitter and confused, and why they will defend a system on which they are dependent (and locked in by both contract and habit). I think we can debate, if we're bored, whether the reading public are good enough judges of what 'good' is; or if we really need publishers and critics and academics to tell us what's worth reading. Maybe both views are valid. I'll concede there's at least some room for discussion about that. On the other hand, calling self-publishing 'lazy' and indie authors 'wannabes' shows complete ignorance of the self-pubbing process and, frankly, a professional arrogance that is beyond the pale.

The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.

I'm a self-published author. I had a goal to write a novel by the time I was thirty, and events in my life delayed that until I was thirty-five. I have an English degree, two Master's degrees and a specialist degree (two of those in human behavior), and more than twenty years of work experience, much of which included writing. Not the fun kind of writing I dreamed of doing, but the kind that most of us end up doing when we have a mortgage to pay and people to feed. I've taken creative writing classes, I've done writing groups and blogs and written magazine articles. All in my spare time -- I guess because I didn't 'bother' to do the right kind of work.

Over the years I've experienced rejection and criticism and growth, and I am aware those are a lifelong reality if I want to be any good. I wrote my first novel in snatches of time between graduate school classes, morning sickness, breastfeeding, working, and -- once in a while -- sleeping. I researched, wrote, and rewrote instead of watching TV or talking on the phone or taking a desperately needed nap. I wrote on the bus and in traffic and jotted things down when I got out of the shower. I made notes on a pad while I strolled my newborn around the park. I wrote on my laptop in bed while my husband snored next to me.

I may be a lot of things, Sue Grafton, but lazy isn't one of them.

When I completed my first novel, it was like giving birth. Just finishing it fulfilled what was, for me, a lifelong dream. I was sheepish when I handed it over to my friends to read and tell me what they thought. I was so proud of what I'd accomplished, and a little nervous that people would conclude I'd completely wasted my time doing it. And then there was this seed of hope, this presumptuous little suggestion in the back of my mind, confirmed by the feedback I got from friends and early readers: You know, this isn't half-bad. It's not Shakespeare or anything, but for a first effort, it's not bad.

Holding my finished manuscript and knowing what I do about publishing, I had a choice to make: send off query letters to agents and publishers and wait for months to hear back rejections, or try a grand experiment. Go ahead. Put it out there. See what happens. Maybe nothing will come of it, maybe everyone will hate it. Maybe they'll laugh at me for trying. Maybe Sue Grafton will call me a wannabe. But at least my friends and family will get to see the fruits of my labor in print, instead of just hearing me complain at parties about how misunderstood I am and whining about my latest string of rejections.

I was six months pregnant, chasing a toddler, and working in my other job as a therapist. I knew that for me, this was a now-or-maybe-never proposition. I chose now. Like hundreds of other indie authors, I stood at that fork in the road and decided to take a chance on myself, right then and there, rather than pursuing the elusive approval of the publishing industry. I decided to let readers decide what they thought of my book themselves. (And they did. And they told me about it -- for better or worse!) I didn't expect fame and fortune. I didn't demand attention or start wearing a beret and introducing myself as an 'author' at parties. I didn't ask to play Carnegie Hall with my Five Easy Pieces, as Grafton so condescendingly puts it. I just put it out there and went on my way, hoping only that someone would read it and not regret the experience. What happened a few months later was, as Hubs says, like catching lightning in a bottle. I'm still in awe of it.

My work is not perfect. I am still honing my craft. But instead of hearing the suggestions of someone sitting behind a desk in a publishing house, I get to hear the suggestions and criticisms of readers themselves through reviews and other direct feedback. They are not always as sophisticated, nor are they always as polite, as an agent's form letter might be. But I hear from them. Immediately.

Is it always pleasant? No. Do I learn what I need to learn? You better believe it. My second book is FAR better than my first, thanks in part to reader reviews and feedback, and I believe I will continue to improve. In the meantime, I've had the encouragement of all the positive feedback and the fact that thousands of people have downloaded and read my work, not just a few people to whom I've FedExed manuscripts. Over 100,000 have downloaded The Marriage Pact alone, actually, which is nothing to sneeze at -- considering the average 'published' book sells around 7,000.

And instead of paying my dues by checking the mailbox every day hoping to see publishing house stationery, I've actually made a little bit of money at this so I can re-invest it into my own career and give myself more opportunities to be a better writer. If I were trying to break into traditional publishing, I might not have made a dime yet. And, to be honest, I probably would have given up my dream of writing until we could afford to live on one income (which I would venture to guess is how many traditionally successful authors make it through the lean years before they are 'discovered').

I don't feel 'entitled' to anything, nor do I believe that being willing to stand up in front of the world and present my work for people to judge as they will is 'disrespectful' to anyone. My self-publishing has nothing to do with anyone but me and the people who choose to read my work. In fact, I would say that putting yourself out there to sink or swim in an ocean of unbiased readers takes a hell of a lot more courage than sending a query letter to an agent or publishing house.

When some legacy authors talk about what they've 'earned' by making it through the old system, I'm sure they have no idea how arrogant and entitled they sound themselves, and how little credit for their success they give to the real people who buy and read their books (some of whom are current or future indie authors). Nor do they pay much attention to how much of every international bestseller's success is owed to one big factor: LUCK.

Are many of those authors talented? Yes, of course. Do they work hard? Certainly. Is it grueling to make it through the process of winning publishers' approval, and do they persist when others give up? Of course.

Are they also damn lucky that they got introduced to the right person at the right time, or landed a manuscript on the right desk of the right agent on the right day? Absolutely. Do many of them have connections through friends and family that have helped them along the way? Or spouses or parents who supported them while they were busy getting rejected and trying again? The benefit of socio-economic status and education and time to write rather than working two jobs to make ends meet? Often, yes.

Does any of that matter when you pick up a book? Of course not. No more than it matters whether a person is self-published or traditionally published. I don't begrudge traditional authors their success, nor do I judge them for how they've chosen and/or fallen into their career path. I will continue to read, enjoy and learn from both traditionally-published books (when I can afford them) and self-published/indie authors. But if traditional authors want to continue their success in today's new reading market, they are going to have to do more to adapt than simply look down their noses and make elitist, insulting comments about self-published authors.

Because we are honing our craft. We're banding together and learning from our mistakes and each other. We're publishing and learning and starting over. Unlike traditional authors, we have the necessity of close relationships with our readers. We appreciate emails, listen to feedback, and we take time to tweet back whenever we can. We fight for every sale and we read every review. We're invested with our blood sweat and tears and stand on the precipice of public opinion with no kindly agent or editor to protect our egos. Our readers, bloggers and amateur critics are smart, too, and they know what good reading is -- with or without the blessing of a Big Six publishing imprint. 

So traditional publishers and authors, you'd better watch your back (and your sales figures), because we indies are getting stronger and we're not going away. We don't need to put you down or belittle you. We are not afraid of failure or a little friendly competition -- even if your approach to us is sometimes less than friendly. We don't have time to squabble about whether we deserve our successes or whether you approve of our decisions.

We're too busy working our tails off and bringing our A-game.

And "A" is for Author.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

5 Things I Learned in July 2012

Whoever said you learn something new every day obviously already knew a good bit more than I did to begin with. I'm finding the older I get, I realize the less I know, and I learn an average of about 400 things a day, usually in some comically painful manner. Some of these things are actual new information, others are things I am re-learning. Again. And again.

For example, while I wrote the above paragraph, I learned that my 11-month old DOES fit under my husband's nightstand if properly motivated by the lure of electrical and phone cords. True story.

So I thought it would be fun to try to recap each month with some of the things I've learned, so that you all can learn with me, or at least have a good laugh at my expense. Here goes for July:

1. I learned that my two boys are astonishingly different in so many interesting ways; yet at three and almost-one, they already have a closeness I would never have imagined. Turns out they are even okay sleeping in the same room together, one of this month's grand experiments at our house.

2. That IS poison ivy in the backyard, and yes, I am allergic to it -- far more than I was as a kid. Seriously allergic. Also, taking six prednisone over a six-hour period will keep you up all night so you can format your novel for Kindle.

3. You use "one another" if there are more than two people being discussed, "each other" if there are only two. (Thanks, Faith). It's funny how we latch on to things we're taught, because I once had an English teacher tell me that "each other" is NEVER correct. Even though I learned soon after that she was wrong, and use it regularly in speech, I still cringe when I write it. Even to the point of being incorrect. Teachers, beware....

4. I learned that I have been completely under-utilizing and in many other ways misunderstanding Twitter as a social marketing tool. I'll probably do a separate post about that at some point, so if you're Twitter-clueless like me but want to be able to start using it for marketing or networking, stay tuned.

5. Finally, I learned that when you are potty training a little boy, you are guaranteed to have one bathroom that ALWAYS smells like pee. It doesn't matter how often you clean it, how many air fresheners you use or what kind of hard-core environment-destroying chemicals you enlist. I'm calling this the Law of Urinespraylocity. There's an equation and everything, including variables like distance of reach beyond the toilet, time allowed between "gotta go" and "going," and miles of paper shoved into toilet while parent's back is turned; but trust me, it all ends in PEE. It's a joyous time. Really.

Feel free to post what you've learned this month in the comments section. And if anyone blogger-educated knows how to get blogger to notify me of new comments, would you let me know? I swear I'm not ignoring you guys.

Have a great August!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Poison Ivy and a Weekend Surprise: REGRETS ONLY is here!

The bad news (for me) is that I have a RAGING case of poison ivy, which I got working in the backyard last week. I've always been allergic and our yard is full of the stuff, but this is definitely the worst reaction I've had. It's just gross. For some reason I also got hives simultaneously. So after days of scratching, swelling and ignoring Hubs' pleas for me to go to the doctor, I finally dragged myself in on Friday to get an antibiotic and steroid pack. Since the steroid regimen was supposed to start at breakfast and I picked it up around 4 p.m., I decided to play catch up and get all 6 pills in between then and bedtime. As we say to our boys, "Good idea, bad idea?"

The good news is, I had something to do with myself when I was up all night long! As a result, the formatting and preparations for publication for REGRETS ONLY are done much sooner than I'd planned. So... it's ready for you a few days early! To celebrate, I've decided to price it at just 99 cents for the first 24 hours or so, and then it will go up to the regular price of $2.99. I'm hopeful you will find it's well worth either price, but I wanted to reward my blog & Facebook followers with a deal! 

You can find it here. There might be a few little glitches with the first downloads, so please bear with me and let me know of issues you find.


At thirty-three, Suzanne Hamilton has it all.  A successful party-planning business with an elite client list.  A swank condo in a hot Atlanta neighborhood and a close group of friends – especially her longtime best friend Marci. A list of men a mile long who have tried to win her heart and failed. Plus, she’s just landed the event that will take her career and social status to the next level. What could she possibly have to regret?

Then a freak accident changes everything, and Suzanne discovers that her near-perfect life is just a few steps away from total disaster. She is humiliated and at risk of losing it all… except the surprising support of her newest celebrity client. With nothing else to go on, Suzanne follows him into an unexpected job and unfamiliar territory. Soon she will question everything – her career, her past, her friendships, and even her own dating rules.

But when her catalog of past relationships turns into a list of criminal suspects, she is faced with the horrifying possibility that she may not live to regret any of it…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Countdown to REGRETS ONLY; Cover Art!

For those of you anxiously--no, wait, eagerly--awaiting a first glimpse at REGRETS ONLY (the sequel to THE MARRIAGE PACT), I'm happy to say you can get a little preview for free this weekend!

While I was finishing the sequel this summer, I also invested in some revisions to the original novel. Nothing major, for those who loved it, just cleaning up some editing errors and streamlining in a few places. I re-published TMP to amazon today, and while I was at it, I added the first two chapters of REGRETS ONLY at the end.

 (c) Marla Kaplan Design
But what about those who've already bought TMP? Well, I'm happy to say it will be offered for free from Friday - Sunday, July 27-29. So please re-download, re-enjoy, and don't feel bad about skipping to the end just to get started on REGRETS. :)

The full text of RO is scheduled to be out next Wednesday, August 1st. Make sure that you are following the blog or sign up for the email list to be notified when it hits the virtual shelf!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MJ & The Sunshine Blog

Well, hello everyone! I hope this post finds you having the most super-special day ever!! Are you having a great summer? I hope you're staying cool and working hard and battling against the forces of negativity with a gigantic smile, loud music and your usual razor sharp wit. Because YOU rock! That's right, YOU!!!

Hmm... It is juuuust possible that I had too much coffee this morning. Anyway, moving on!

I am so excited to report that very early Monday morning, while my little guys were eating Cheerios and watching "Curious George," I sent Regrets Only off to the proofreader, who is currently working her magic on all my typos and misplaced hyphens. Yay! I still have a few little minor tweaks to do when I get it back from her, but otherwise it will be ready to be formatted, uploaded and on its way to you by August 1. Don't you love indie publishing?

Since I have a week or so of down time, I am taking a deep breath and trying to hold back the tide of backlogged stuff that is now demanding my attention after being on hold for weeks while I finished writing. Plus I've been folding laundry, like, the SAME DAY it comes out of the dryer. Did you know you could do that? Turns out it doesn't need 48-72 hours to cool off!

Meanwhile, if you're one of those people who's been waiting and waiting and emailing me asking when the sequel is coming out, here's what is coming up:

1. TMP UPDATE: Sometime in the next week or so, there will be a revised version of The Marriage Pact e-book released. It's the same book as before, just a little cleaned up editing-wise. From what I understand, you can re-download the book to your device at no charge if you already purchased it. I will also be sure to offer it for free for a few days as well, so check back for that.

2. SNEAK PEEKS: At the end of the new TMP, you will find a couple of sample chapters of Regrets Only. You'll be able to start reading the book before it's even published! Also, the book jacket synopsis and cover art for RO will be out soon and posted here.

3. LAUNCH: Regrets Only should be available as an e-book on Amazon by around August 1st. (The paperback will follow shortly). My contest winners will get it in their hot little hands a few days before that. It will be priced a little higher ($2.99) than The Marriage Pact ($.99). All the feedback I've had so far is that you'll find it's worth every penny. I hope you agree!

4. LOVE: How is Marci doing three years after turning 30? Did she make the right choice about her marriage pact? Will the beautiful, notoriously picky Southern belle Suzanne ever find the right guy? Or will her life fall apart around her first? She may have more to worry about than missing out on a good man...

5. STAY TUNED: Keep an eye on this blog for the synopsis and a preview of the cover art. If you're not already FOLLOWING me here, please sign up at the left to make sure you don't miss anything. You can also join my email list to be the first to know about everything. I'm going to do a couple of fun little contests there and on Facebook.   

In summary, here are all the ways to keep up with me and the latest news...
Twitter: @MJPullen
Email updates: Sign up here
Blog updates: <-- Sign up over there.

So if you miss out on a free book or a cool contest, or something completely witty from me, it's not my fault.

Have a sunny day!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hubby vs. Mean Reviews, Touched by an Email

I'll be very honest with you, blog reader friends. Just between us, negative reviews about a book you've written can suck. Even though every book gets them, even though you can always learn something from feedback, even though it's part of what you signed up for when you decided to take the self-important step of foisting a book on the world. Even though, even though, even though.

It doesn't matter how you re-frame it or how much you're expecting it; if any part of your fragile writer's ego is exposed when you peruse the one- and two-star reviews that are an inevitable part of the publishing process, you are open to be a little wounded by them. The ones that make valid critical points are challenging enough to swallow, but at least they offer you something you can take away with you to improve for later. Or, choose to ignore and better define who you are as a writer. Both useful behaviors.

More difficult are the reviews that seem just plain mean-spirited. These are definitely the minority, even of negative reviews, and they don't bother me as much as they did at first. I'll admit to being surprised sometimes at the vitriol that some people feel after reading a book that wasn't exactly what they expected, or they felt was wordy, or whatever. But I'm the writer, and I knew the minute I clicked "publish" that one of my new jobs was to work on checking my sensitivity and keeping perspective.

Hubs, on the other hand, is still working on growing thicker skin. He's learned to handle my (often intense) self-criticism and even helps me wade through feedback to pull out themes to improve my writing for next time. But when people are mean, he still gets a bit hurt and defensive. And, you know what? I think it's sweet. At the end of the day, I'd rather have the guy who gets mad on my behalf than a thousand five-star reviews.

All that said, I also wanted to share that I have received some incredible emails in the last few weeks that have been really heartwarming. Several people have reached out to let me know that The Marriage Pact was more to them than just an entertaining read (which was my primary goal), but that it had some personal significance to them. Whether it was something Marci experienced that resonated with them or just a connection with one of the characters, some people have a special experience with the book, and I've been delighted to hear it.

One note in particular landed in my inbox last week while I was taking a break from working on Regrets Only. The note was from someone who would probably not be considered my typical target audience (as he pointed out): a 63-year-old man. I'll respect the privacy of what he shared with me specifically, but several events in his life mirrored some of those in The Marriage Pact; though his real-life story was in many ways far more beautiful than my fictional one.

It meant the world to me that he enjoyed the book, and that he took the time to send such a personal email about it. It means even more, since my Dad -- who was also 63 -- died last year before he could finish reading my first novel. I never got to hear his impressions, but it's nice to know that it's at least possible he might have enjoyed it.

Self-publishing can be both a raw and rewarding process. We get to play a lot of roles: from parent to author to spouse to business owner to editor to marketer. Sometimes in the midst of the chaos, the universe gives us what we need: useful feedback, a supportive spouse, or an encouraging word at just the right time. The trick is being able to look up from the keyboard long enough to appreciate it!