Saturday, September 24, 2011

First Signing

Ricky Ricardo might hold his head and say, “Ay, ay, ay.” I'm just crossing my fingers.
Yesterday I spoke to a group of—well, we forgot to count, but twenty to twenty-five people--in the library of Concord University, where I was a student back in the 1960s. My college friend, Sharon, took pictures as I greeted the attendees, posed with the university president and his wife, and signed copies of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me.
The room was lovely and just right for a signing. At one end of it, two wing chairs flanked a large fireplace. At the other, soft seating contrasted with the library tables that made up the middle. It was like being in a family room during a loving and occasionally boisterous event.
The boisterous part would be mine. Before the signing started, it occurred to me that letting my voice drift out into the main library might bring more people in; after that, I have no excuse except that I was having an absolute picnic. Fortunately, none of those who were there to study in a quiet atmosphere had brought baseball bats. I’m kidding, I think.
I’ve told you this before: It’s funny about fame, and how it plays with our egos. I’m not an assertive person. In a group, I’d rather listen than talk; but when you publish a book, you have to put yourself out there. Concord rolled out the red carpet for me. Even though the university was hosting my very first book signing, every person treated me like I’d already made it as an author.
I was pumped up. (A) You have to be, to do this; (B) the university treated me like a star.
In my publishing career I learned to speak in public, so stage fright wasn’t an issue; I couldn’t have wished for a better audience. Caffeine wasn’t an issue, either: I’d watched my intake, and most of my morning coffee had worn off by the time I walked into the library. It was my own happiness and heightened sense of importance that brought out my chattiest of selves.
My preparation process is to make lots of notes over several days, read them obsessively, and then put them away. I don’t use notes when I speak, and I don’t memorize; therefore, I never really know what’s going to come out of my mouth. One of my index cards says, “STOP AND THINK.”
Yesterday I had to forget that a camera was rolling and that a young woman in the back was taking copious notes. Forgetting the reporters was easy to do, but that night as I lay in my bed I got a sinking feeling. What had I said? As usual, I’d spilled more beans than I’d intended.
My friend Sharon told me afterward that my presentation was fabulous, but I wonder: What will end up in the paper? What will end up in the archives of Concord University? I’ll admit to you and you alone that I begged the media not to include certain statements I had made.
As we were leaving, a young man hurried after me to ask if we could film a ten-minute interview in the signing room. This was for the university. I have no television experience and no training for it, but I agreed. That would have been a good time to plop the Diva (my two-by-three-foot poster) into one of the wing chairs by the fireplace and let her handle the interview, but she was back in the car.
I don’t want to come down too heavily on myself, because I know that my presentation was a success. The entire day at Concord was lovely. But there was a lesson in it for me. It’s nice to be in the spotlight, if we don’t get carried away.
In my second interview—let’s call it the fireplace chat--I rambled on, hardly needing a question from the nice young interviewer to prompt me. In fact, he thanked me for my robust answers. He was used to having to draw people out.
With the camera rolling, I gaily volunteered that I’d had porcelain veneers put on my two front teeth to repair a gap. “My daughter-in-law told me the dentist would file my teeth down to points like a vampire’s,” I said, “and maybe he did. But I haven’t bitten anyone.”
Ay, ay, ay.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Personal Branding: Blog like Crazy

In your quest to become known—to build that oh-so-important harbinger of success called platform—blogging can be a quick way to reach an audience. Additionally, blogging is all kinds of fun.

When I traveled to India for business in 2008, I was with a colleague who planned to blog about her experiences for the folks back home. She invited me to do the same, but back then I didn’t know what a blog was. Sally helped me set up my India blog using a free website that provided templates. Designing my blog was easy. Writing it was a blast. Posting pictures was a snap, once Sally showed me the steps.

We arrived in Bangalore on a weekend and had plenty of time to unpack, relax, and blog. Our experiences were all so new that topics easily presented themselves. Soon we began seeing favorable comments from our colleagues and families in America, and I was hooked on blogging.

There are a couple rules for blogging, and these are coming directly from my experience. I don’t mean that I have all of it down. I don’t even do everything I say, but I’m speaking as someone who’s learning from putting my blog out there.

First, if you begin a blog, keep it going. That’s how to build a readership. Decide how often you’ll post something new and stick to it, so that readers know what to expect. That was as difficult in India as it is now.
As our work week began there, I was preoccupied with what I would write in my next blog post. I couldn’t wait to get back to my keyboard; but blogging wasn’t our purpose in Bangalore. Work took precedence, and many times our hosts also kept us company after the workday had ended, taking us to malls or restaurants. On weekends, we all toured. Thus, I was often too busy or too tired to write. Occasionally I would wake up in the middle of the night with a blog idea and be unable to sleep, so I would post in the wee hours.
I guess the second blogging rule is have something to say. Topics are infinite, as are opinions. Express yourself well. People are not going to have a lot of patience for junk; at least, I hope that’s true.
We’re in an age of online communities where anyone can write for public consumption. People who would never call themselves writers will blog, share their opinions with discussion groups, and regularly post status updates on social media. Reading those gems can be painful. I just read a blog on a publishing site in which the author incorrectly used lay, split an infinitive, ended a thought with a preposition, and incorrectly made molehill two words. I won’t even go into the comma faults, incorrect use of a pronoun, and poor sentence construction.
It’s like being in school when the teacher asks you to write an essay and not to worry—or should I say TO NOT WORRY--about spelling or grammar, but to focus solely on creativity. Sorry; I don’t agree with that one.
Blogs can be pretty. Many bloggers decorate with graphics or photos. Choosing a readable typeface is important. If you don’t use a designer, blog sites have templates for those sorts of things.
The other rule I would inject is write responsibly. Cuddle up to the English language and do your very best with it. Do your research. Be considerate of others. Make your blog worth their time. It's a thrill when others tell you how much they like something you wrote.
Read other people’s blogs. Decide which ones are good and which ones speak to you. Read your own from time to time. I just reread every one of my posts this morning, some of them long forgotten. Doing that helps me to see the big picture--where my blog is going, and how it might come across to readers.
So, blog like crazy. It’s a good way to work on your writing skills, and you might just set the world on fire. I bet you’ll at least make somebody think or smile.
Thanks to all of you who pause during your busy lives to read this blog.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Here’s a little story that made me laugh this morning. It’s more about life than it is about writing.

I was putting on my makeup, as usual; but this was not my usual makeup. I’d bought a few new cosmetics in anticipation of some upcoming author events on my calendar. After all, how could I sign books without new makeup?

I like to watch the TV show What Not to Wear. It’s a makeover show whose clients generally are women whose images need a boost. Unbeknownst to her, a woman’s friends, relatives, or business colleagues nominate her for a $5,000 New York shopping spree, courtesy of the show. In return, she must give up her current wardrobe. Her makeover consists of new clothes, a new hairstyle, and a session with a makeup artist.
The makeup artist on What Not to Wear is named Carmindy. She has a website ( that helps to illuminate the mysteries of cosmetics and the human face. I like what Carmindy does on the show, and sometime I try to emulate her techniques.
Carmindy does wonders with women’s eyes. So, when I bought my new makeup, I took a bit of advice from What Not to Wear and went shopping for eye shadow that was “the opposite” of my eye color, to make my eyes “pop.” Only what is the opposite of brown? I got to the store and had to ask a clerk, who steered me to a nice blue-gray.
Next I had to practice putting it on. Carmindy has a way of sweeping the shadow across the lids to make “smoky eyes.” The color looks so pretty and smooth when she’s done. I had been trying this for two or three weeks, every day, but I just couldn’t get it. My eye shadow wouldn’t behave!
Again today I looked in the mirror and oh, so carefully applied the shadow to my eyelids. The same thing happened! I knew my hands didn’t shake. How long was it going to take me to learn this? And then it dawned on me. The eye shadow did not go on smoothly because my eyelids are WRINKLED!
I just celebrated another birthday last week, and let’s just say that wrinkles should not be a surprise. I guess they were there all along; it just took a little blue-gray eye shadow to make them pop.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


If we change one letter, writing becomes waiting. Writing does become waiting, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s what freelancers strive to avoid. You finish one piece, log it, send it out, and start another; or you finish the one and immediately rework it for other markets.

You don’t stay on Facebook all day hoping someone will “Like” the tiniest thing you write. You definitely don’t click the “Send/Receive” button on your e-mail service every few seconds in case that message you want is on its way. You keep busy. You keep writing. It’s the hardest thing.

I’m in a major waiting period right now. My book will be out by the end of this month--very exciting, but still weeks away. My brother and I have a manuscript out to readers, but the deadline for feedback isn’t until October. Last week I wrote a new story and submitted it to an anthology, but I haven’t heard anything yet.
I should have a perfect house; there’s no excuse. This would be a great time to clean every surface and discard or donate older items to get rid of the clutter. I did clean my office a few weeks ago, and my brother and I recently uncluttered my garage, but I don’t spend my days with a bucket of Murphy’s Oil or Mr. Clean. Deep cleaning must be for the desperate; that’s all I can figure, and I must not be there yet.
A fallow period does allow one to plan. With events scheduled from late September through mid-November, I’ve already made some notes, had my clothes pressed, and scheduled my initial beauty appointments.
The first event is a book signing at the college where I graduated--45 years ago. Even though the current student population was not born when I was there, I’ve timed my appointments for that event. Current needs had nothing to do with it. If you’ve ever postponed a grooming appointment past your usual point of panic, you will understand how I feel slowly sliding down the slope of “Before.”
Once when I was in my twenties, my grandmother came to visit. One morning I told her I had an eye appointment in a few hours and invited her to go along. She was dressed and ready, complete with jewelry, an hour before we needed to leave. There was nothing to be gained from going early, yet we did; it was that or sit and stare at each other at home. Grandmama probably was the best-dressed person in town as we walked up and down the little strip mall where the eye doctor’s office was located, looking in windows. This is a little bit like that.
It seems the best response to down time is to get busy at what we do best. After all, if we change one letter, waiting becomes writing.