Monday, June 27, 2011

Best Beauty Tip of All – SMILE!

We women, and increasingly men, spend lots of the green stuff to improve our looks. It doesn’t stop with creams, treatments, makeup and hair products. It escalates, the older we get - to botox, fillers and plastic surgery.

Yet, the one thing that makes the biggest difference in our appearance, we often forget about or neglect – our smiles.

Seriously, how often have you really not noticed someone only to be blown away the minute their face is altered by a big, warm smile. If they are an older person, like me, you may see the wrinkles around the mouth stretch out and disappear. It’s a rare person that can smile engagingly and not have that brightness reach their eyes. So, suddenly, a furrowed brow and pinched look are transformed into the glory of happiness and therefore a little bit of beauty appears right before our eyes.

The other advantage to frequently smiling is that it exercises your face muscles, bringing a glow back to your face. There’s nothing like the aliveness of skin that’s enhanced by a rosy glow.

Okay, sure, this all sounds a little Pollyanna to you. I don’t blame you. But I do challenge you. Sit in front of a good mirror for ten minutes and practice breaking into a smile. See how many years evaporate from your visage and how over the full ten minutes of smiling, you somehow manage to fake it till you make it and suddenly find that the smile isn’t an effort anymore.

I’m telling you – it’s cheap, it’s easy and everybody loves it – your smile. Cherish it, but use it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish, That Was the Question

I’ve been away for quite a while. After trying for nearly a year to get an agent interested in my first novel, Red Mojo Mama, I decided to self-publish it. This turns out to be one of the best decisions I ever made but it’s been quite a learning curve, one that’s not complete by any means.

First, why did I decide to self-publish? It was mainly because I was stuck in waiting mode and couldn’t move on. I realized that there was certainly more than one book in me. At best, I would be completing something and at worst, I wouldn’t sell many copies. Not many copies sounded much better to me than no copies.

To date, I’ve sold about 44 copies. But I’ve barely begun marketing “Red”. I was sidelined by family situations for almost two months. Also, there’s a remarkable statistic – only 1/3 of all books published sell more than 100 copies – which I stumbled across in a book I bought to guide me through the marketing process “Plug Your Book”. As the author, Steve Weber, so aptly points out, with publishing through an established publisher, if your book is slow out of the gate – selling 500 or less – it disappears from their line-up. With self-publishing, you can keep that book online – selling slowly but surely forever.

Going forward, with the new fiction titles I’m working on, I will still try to find an agent and therefore a publisher. But I’ve got a non-fiction book that I’ll be putting online as soon as I can get it revised.

I encourage anyone who just needs to see a book of theirs in print, and feels strongly that this first book is just the beginning AND who has already tried for a significant period of time to interest an agent, to jump in and self-publish it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Art of Storytelling

Two perspectives on storytelling have always irked me a bit. One is the distrust some people have of anyone who can tell a story well and likes to do so; fearing that they are lying in some way. Another is the individual who can’t tell what good storytelling is and often launches into the most boring and minute details while telling you a “good story.”

I just finished reading Pat Conroy’s 2010 novel “South of Broad.” It is definitely a well-told tale; part love letter to the city of Charleston, South Carolina and part the epic adventures of some high school misfits, who remain friends into their varied and often tragic adulthoods.

I truly enjoyed the read, although, as famous and acknowledged a writer as Conroy is, I found myself chafing occasionally at the dialog of supposed teenagers and frequently at the horrors they all endure together and separately.

The true nugget of the novel, for me, was one passage that completely illuminated what good storytelling is; a snippet near the end of the book.

“While she inspects the house, I spot a lone magnolia blossom high in one of her trees and scramble up to retrieve it, feeling older with every branch I climb. I break off the flower, the first of the season, inhale its sweetness, and decide it was worth the climb. I hand it to Mother and am delighted when she pins it to her hair.”

This is the main character Leo King describing a moment between him and his mother. Here’s where the true craft of storytelling comes in: the women never claws through her purse for a hairpin or rushes back into the house to find one. In one fell swoop, Leo hands the flower to his mother and she pins it in her hair.

Such a thing could not happen in real life. There she would have to find a means of pinning that flower to her hair. As readers, we do not want to be dragged through the tedium of that task and so we accept the movement from hand to hair, just like that. That’s how we prefer it.

It is not a lie, in any shape or form; not even by omission. It is simply the grit of actual living that has been culled from the moment. It’s also necessary. If we told the truth – in all its tiresome itemization – a story would never be told, a novel never written. All forms of narrative would be far too long, and we would fall asleep in the telling, both teller and listener.

Praise be for the great storyteller! For eons, around the campfires of old, in the courts of kings and before the television screens we have embraced this gift, without always acknowledging that it is at the core of our being – either to tell a story or to listen to one.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing About the Worst Things

Why is it that when I’m going through tough times I cannot write? Not even about the events that are happening. I can’t seem to use my power of communication with myself.

This drives me completely crazy. Perhaps, I need to view it as if I’m speaking to someone else, like I do when I blog – write a letter to an unseen audience, just don’t publish it.

Whenever I’m writing to the world in general, I can speak my mind, say what I have to say quickly, expediently and I think, meaningfully. So, as I write out my problems, I think I’ll begin to express myself to you – my invisible friends. Yet, you’ll never know.

I think, sometimes, that I might avoid writing about issues because nothing is more real to me than things that are written. If it hits paper or a medium like this – a blog - for me, it exists; at least in the author’s mind. By avoiding putting it in words, I pretend something doesn’t exist.

This is probably the exact opposite of how most people see it. Written words are fantasy or unreal to so many others.

But, I’m lucky. I have the ability to express myself without too much effort or pain. Why should I deny myself this tool? When I’m working through a situation, I find I dream solutions all the time. So, I’ve obviously adapted a way to tell myself what I need to know. Yet, a writer writes.

So, I vow here and now, to communicate with myself when times get tough. I will force myself to journal daily. I’ll sit down to Toby, my computer, and let the clarity come. I think it may be a sign of maturity as a wordsmith (my favorite term lately) to have realized this flaw and move forward on addressing it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Men of a Certain Generation

I’m involved, right now, in writing a life history for a member of my extended family, a gentleman of 81 years, who is dealing with terminal cancer and most probably hasn’t got long to live. I feel so lucky to have been asked to do this.

I think the world has probably perceived him mainly as a little gruff and certainly as reserved. But I’ve been granted a window into his core and, boy, has the world got it wrong.

Like many men of his generation, he has spent a lifetime trying to emulate his father, who in this case was a tough cookie, bred on the tough streets of Chicago. He also had a tender core, just like his son, but that was something others rarely glimpsed. Both men were mainly concerned with providing as well as they could for their families.

I have a newfound respect for this generation. Besides having served in the military in vast numbers, men born in that era didn’t have an easy row to hoe in many other ways. There were strict expectations of these fellows and being carefree or self-involved wasn’t acceptable. Giving up dreams and settling into family life was the norm. Adventures were limited to that short period between leaving their childhood homes and entering marriage, if there even was a break between the two.

For the most part, these men succeeded, which the Baby Boom Generation can attest to, because we are the ones to benefit from the efforts of this generation to save significantly and provide for their own retirement, as well as leaving their children something when they pass on.

They are a tough group of guys to try to open up. It isn’t the first time I’ve tried it. It took nearly six hours to get to the meat of this man’s character. But it was so worth the effort.

Next time you spot an outwardly grumpy old man, see if you can’t get him to tell you about his life a bit. Really listen to what he has to say. You may walk away with a nugget of wisdom or two…and a new friend.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You’re So Lucky to Be Creative!

How many times have I heard that? As a writer, many, many times and often from the most surprising people. It never fails to amaze me that people who don’t think of themselves as creative are many times the most creative individuals I know. They just don’t indulge in activities that the world looks at as artistic - therefore they don’t count.

Not true. I’m convinced that everyone has a creative side, because what is that after all? It is simply the ability to imagine something that you can’t yet see, hear, feel or taste – something that your senses haven’t yet experienced. Well, everyone does that in some form or another.

The housewife who wonders what rosemary would do to the wine sauce and then tries it, is opening a whole new channel of taste experience for at least herself. The scientist who suddenly envisions a new connection between two previously unconnected properties has just used her imagination and if that connection truly exists she has just created the awareness of it. How about the guy stuck by the side of the road with a broken accelerator linkage who then wanders around pacing until he finds an old piece of a spring and fashions a temporary fix?

All these people are creative. They just don’t access that part of themselves to paint or dance or write. They don’t live an artistic life.

I dearly wish those who labeled themselves as uncreative would throw that tag away.
They would be giving themselves a gift – the gift of allowing themselves to play with that part of their brain that imagines without judgment.

What pleasure could that bring them? Who knows? But wouldn’t it be a wonderful experiment?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The True Witching Hour

Midnight has been found out! I have proof positive that 2:30 a.m. is the new midnight.

Two nights in a row my sleep has been disturbed by noisy, inconsiderate and even violent neighbors. Okay, so I live in a trailer park of ill repute but still….listen to this.

So, two nights ago, I’m snoring away. Yes, I do that occasionally. It’s a sign that I’m really in deep REM sleep – that’s how I’ve sold it to anyone I shared sleeping quarters with, anyway.

Suddenly my deep breathing (with sound effects) is interrupted by a few loud thumps. Nothing close enough to my RV to worry about, so I settled back in. A few minutes later, the banging around begins again and in my sleepy fog I try to locate where the sound is coming from. Still, I’m not induced to actually leave my warm bed in 33-degree weather.

The timber of the sounds had picked up as well as the pace, so finally, I pick up my cell phone to check the time. Sure enough, it’s 2:27 a.m. I drag myself out of bed and part the curtains between my abode and the cab of the truck. Peering out into the dark, I spy one of the creepiest of my neighbors schlumping around his RV like he’s looking for something he lost or maybe doing some spring – oops, winter – cleaning.

What an idiot, I think to myself. What the hell is he doing? Let me just explain. When I say creepy, I’m not using the term lightly. The first time I saw him up close I wasn’t truly convinced that he wasn’t a creature of the night – one of the undead. His pallor is somewhere between the color of octopus white meat and that grey part of an oyster, except the portions that are covered with tattoos, which give the old (I’m guessing 60 or so) guy a bit of color. I can’t explain why seafood comes to mind, except that both of these items are pretty slimy. Yep, that’s it.

He’s burdened with stringy, greasy, dyed, black hair that he covers with a drooping and dirty Gilligan hat. His personality isn’t exactly enhanced by the nervous jerking and occasional overly-long stare that usually accompanies drug use.

Anyway, I gave up on trying to figure it out and went back to sleep, more easily than I would have expected because the racket was still going a half hour later. Morning came too quickly and as I unlocked my car to head for work I glanced over at his space. The vehicle and its owner had vanished in the night.

Then, last night, I’m startled awake by a loud bang that at first I took to be a gunshot. But it wasn’t. It was my other disturbingly decrepit neighbor, who is a close encounter of the third kind (alien to more than an hour of sobriety) and his pals slamming his RV door. This was followed by a sound that could only be made by a fist hitting a body – hard. Moments later, as I slung open my own door (not a smart thing to do), I was witness to two men screaming death threats at each other and scrambling down the lane as if they were taking the fight to town.

Guess what time it was! Yes, of course, it was actually 2:36 a.m. About an hour later, after two sheriffs, an ambulance and a fire truck had visited, the park settled down for the remainder of the long winter’s night.

This evening I discovered that one of the men running had been stabbed. Hmmm…. Might be time for that move I’ve been talking about for a year.

Anyway, these two events I submit as absolute confirmation that just like 50 is the new 40 for women, 2:30 a.m. has replaced midnight as the witching hour. Especially on a work night!