Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Dysfunctional Family War Zone Day!

I'm guessing not many of you will be hanging around online today, but for those who do, Happy Thanksgiving!









Friday, November 21, 2014

Okay, Maybe This is a Good Idea After All....

When I started this blog (first over at MySpace and later moving it here to Blogger) some years ago, I wasn't looking for a following. I was just keeping an online journal for myself and for Collin. I'd never been good at that sort of thing, but after watching my mother slip away from us, the result of multiple strokes, watching her memory deteriorate until she no longer recognized either of us, I suddenly wanted to record my memories in case I ended up the same way--unable to remember important things from my life, from my parents' lives. I wanted Collin to be able to come here and share those memories, if he chose.

I do have an author blog over at Wordpress--I didn't want a website, just something simple I could do myself to post information about upcoming books and other author-related stuff. Check out Beishir Books sometime, if you haven't already.

When I started having memory issues, I was convinced I was headed down the road to dementia...or Alzheimers. It was a relief when my neurologist, after ordering an EEG and an MRI, assured me that I'm not even close to that.



My brain--please, no jokes about that wide, vacant space inside my skull. I'm told that's "normal."




My EEG--William (Kendall) says it looks like a seismograph of the San Andreas faultline!

Nor did I intend to do a "writer blog." Yes, I have almost thirty years of experience as a published author, but I'm not quick to give advice to other writers these days for three reasons: 1. There's no one size fits all formula for writing and marketing a book, no guaranteed formula for success. 2. I don't believe writing can be taught. At least not fiction writing. Either you're a storyteller or you're not, and you can learn more by reading your favorite authors than you'll ever get from any class. 3. Patience isn't my strong suit. I've encountered aspiring writers who think they already know all there is to know about writing an publishing a book because they read a lot of how to books on writing or they've taken an online course. If they're not willing to take advice, I'm not going to waste my time giving it...though I am more than willing to issue the "I-told-you-sos" when they screw up. (Yep, I'm bad.)

However, in the past couple of weeks, I've done two posts that were writing-related, and the responses have been overwhelming. So I'm thinking, maybe I do have something to say that might matter to someone. Maybe a weekly writing-related post here and at Beishir Books might prove informative (or at the very least, give you all a good laugh!). If it's helpful to even one person, I'm good with that. Because of my brain issues, I've had to make some adjustments in the way I work. It takes longer. I have to use an outline now. I can't set deadlines for myself. There are good days and bad days. But I'm still in the game, and if anyone else has these issues, maybe I can help there as well. 

But I don't want to just impart my own advice and experiences. I'll be spotlighting my fellow authors and bloggers as well--in profiles, interviews or guest posts. I'm sure it will surprise no one that my first spotlight writer/blogger will be my partner in crime for the past five years, William Kendall....


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Unwritten Rules of the Game (Seriously. There Are Rules!)

I love writers.

Seriously. Nobody understands a writer like other writers. Creative people don't think like normal people. (Stop snickering!) Our brains are wired differently. Don't believe me? It's been researched by psychologists, neurologists, and probably a lot of other disciplines I'm currently unaware of. But that's another topic for another time. Maybe.


Writers support each other. We listen to each other whine and complain when things aren't going well. We celebrate each others' successes. We promote each others' books. We follow each others' blogs and like each others' Facebook pages. We retweet each others' Tweets. Sure, there are always a few rotten apples, even in the literary barrel--those who give nothing but expect everything--but for the most part, we're there for each other. Years ago, when I was starting out, a group of us got together once a month for dinner, during which we'd share publishing info and bounce ideas off each other. We traveled to writers conferences together. 

One of the best bits of advice my agent gave me shortly after the sale of my first novel was to join a local writers group. She stressed the importance of networking, of getting to know other writers. She was so right. No one, not even a writer, is an island. The more writers I got to know, the more I realized how much I didn't know about "the business."



I've been fortunate to have had good friends in the writers community throughout the almost thirty years I've been in the business, first in traditional publishing, then as a self-published author. And I've learned a great deal from each of them....

1. Read each others' books--and review them! If you expect other authors to review your book, you'd better be reviewing theirs, too. (And if you're reviewing books in your genre, readers will see those reviews and be more likely to buy yours, so think about that. When I post a review, my name is always followed  by "author, The Unicorn's Daughter" since that book is now the first in an upcoming series.)


2. Same goes for blogs. If you're not reading and commenting on others' blogs, yours is going to be a pretty lonely place. Again, when you're seen making clever comments on other bloggers' blogs, their followers are likely to check out yours. That's how I found some of my favorite bloggers.

3. Promote each others' books. Invite other authors to guest post on your blog--or interview them. For my Amazon author page, I used an interview my partner in crime, William Kendall, did with me. It was a lot more interesting than the standard author bio!


4. Invite other authors to join you in promotions.  Example: Hilary Grossman, author of Dangled Carat (which, by the way, is now on sale at Amazon!). Hilary is an inspiration. She was working on her book when a rather nasty hurricane named Sandy hit the east coast. I remember Hilary's struggles in the aftermath of Sandy's devastation--but she finished her book, published it, and went on to arrange a couple of successful book giveaways--not only to promote her own book, but those of her friends as well. I was honored to be asked to participate--and pleased with the boost in sales I got each time.


A few years back, William Kendall, Mike Saxton, Beth Muscat, Krisztina Williams, Eve Gaal, Shelly Arkon, Mark Richard Hunter, April Morone, Lena Winfrey Seder and I formed Writers of Mass Distraction in the Writers Digest online community, a group where we could laugh, bitch and moan, whatever was needed, and have friendly ears listening and providing sympathy, advice and a few cyberhugs as needed. When the WD community went extinct, we moved the group to Facebook, adding a second group, Writers Mayhem, which we opened to a larger membership than the original group. We've had to boot a few bad apples from that group, but overall, it's been a success.


Get a bunch of writers together and we'll put a Shriners convention to shame. After being alone with our own thoughts and a cast of uncooperative characters for days on end, we need the release. Be patient with us. Sanity doesn't come easily to writers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Magic Formula to Becoming a Bestselling Author--There Isn't One!

Recently, I commented on a Facebook post, a link to a Buzzfeed story: 14 Books Every English Major Has Definitely, Totally Finished. Okay, first off, the title sounds like it was concocted by a teenager--"definitely, totally?" Talk about overkill! Not something one would expect of an English major, right?


To be fair, I wasn't an English major. I started out an English major--but I switched to communications early on. I'm one of those authors who believes we don't learn to be writers in a classroom--we learn by reading authors whose works we love, authors writing in the genres we want to write. By the time I went to college, I'd already been told by an editor at a major publishing house that I had talent, I just wasn't ready for the commercial market. And at the time I wrote it, I'd dropped out of high school. I only ended up in college because of an accident (long story).

To this day, I wonder how much of that editorial assessment had to do with the embarrassing fact that I'd stupidly submitted a handwritten manuscript!

In my defense, I was only sixteen at the time. Brains haven't completely formed at that age. But I'm getting off track here. Back to the claim that every English major has read the fourteen books on that list. I've read five of them. Maybe if I'd stuck with that English major, I would have read all of them--but probably not by choice.

The article made me think about how many of today's bestselling authors were English majors and what they did before they were authors. Here's some of what I found....


Not all of the biggest names in fiction even went to college. Nora Roberts didn't. Neither did Janet Dailey, Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Susann (who had an IQ of 140). Roberts was a legal secretary; Dailey worked as a secretary at her husband's construction business. Collins and Susann tried their hands at acting, with mediocre results. 

 
Stephen King and Dan Brown were English majors, and both were teachers before publishing their first novels. Stephenie Meyer also has a degree in English from Brigham Young University--but ended up working as a receptionist. Laurell K. Hamilton has degrees in both English and biology. Tom Clancy majored in English literature at Loyola University, but was working at an insurance agency owned by his then-wife's grandfather when he wrote The Hunt for Red October.






John Grisham and Scott Turow are lawyers--though Turow was also an Edith Mirrelees Fellow at the Creative Writing Center at Stanford and taught creative writing at Stanford as an E. H. Jones Lecturer before attending Harvard Law School. Danielle Steel studied fashion design and worked in public relations. Janet Evanovich was an art major at Douglass College at Rutgers, but ended up working as a temp until she launched her writing career. J. K. Rowling has a degree in French and Classics and worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International--but was on welfare at the time she created Harry Potter. Meg Cabot has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and once worked as a residence hall director. Daniel Silva has a Masters in International Relations and worked as a correspondent for United Press International before he became a bestselling author. George R. R. Martin majored in journalism at Northwestern and was a story editor /story consultant/producer for TV shows including The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast in his pre-Game of Thrones career. The late Sidney Sheldon also attended Northwestern and, like Martin, had a career in Hollywood before writing his first novel because he had an idea he felt wouldn't work as a screenplay.



Novelists come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It doesn't require a degree in English, Literature or Creative Writing to have a successful career as a novelist. When I sold my first novel, nobody asked me to submit a resume or academic credits. They only cared about the manuscript--and that one was typed!




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thank God it's...Tuesday?

I am sooooo happy Election Day is finally here--but then, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's relieved it's almost over.

 
Political campaigns are always annoying, but this time around, it's been more so than usual. My email accounts are flooded with messages from candidates, both Democrat and Republican, begging for support...and donations. No matter how many times I send them emails, demanding they stop sending me messages, no matter how many times I send their stuff straight to Spam, they keep coming. There are messages that actually start with, "I keep emailing you. Why aren't you responding?"

I did email you, idiots. You just can't take a hint!


And then there are the TV ads. You can usually spot losers by who's appearing in those ads, showing support. If the only supporters they have are their spouses and/or children, well, there's a good reason for that. If their opponent's in the same sinking boat, as a voter, consider yourself screwed.

 
There seem to be a couple of catchphrases almost everyone is using in this campaign: "There's a better choice" and "Like you, I'm fed up with (insert opponent's name here."
And almost every attack ad is immediately followed by a rebuttal ad of sorts from the attackee (is that a word?).

 
Welcome to Campaign 2014: The Year of Redundancy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Verdict is in...the Brain is Normal (Sort Of)!

Those of you who've been here before know that I've been having brain issues. I've been epileptic since my teen years, but for a long time, I didn't believe it because I didn't have seizures--or at least I didn't have what I thought seizures were.

 
Boy, did I have a lot to learn!

Ten years ago, under a long period of extreme stress, my blood pressure was out of control. I was having raging headaches, periodic tremors, short-term memory loss--pretty scary stuff for someone whose mother was a victim of strokes. My primary care doctor sent me to a neurologist, who scheduled an EEG. He informed me I was epileptic. He prescribed Dilantin, which I had taken years before but had discontinued--as I said, I couldn't ever recall having had a seizure. 

 
He asked me a lot of questions, determining that, while I don't have tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures, I'd had absence seizures early on, and more recently, complex partial seizures. He gave what I'd experienced a name: temporal lobe epilepsy. The EEG was inconclusive, but he was certain this was the diagnosis.

I was rattled by this revelation. The temporal lobes are on the sides of the brain--did this come from the first injury--or from a blow I sustained in a short-lived street fight back in the '80s? That blow had done some major damage to my inner ear on the left side. For a long time after that fight, I would get so dizzy, I'd stagger around like a drunk. Sometimes, I couldn't stand up at all. It was pretty bad.

Anyway, the neurologist wanted to do further testing, some of which I resisted. The idea of being confined to a hospital room, kept awake and monitored on an electroencephalogram was more than my claustrophobic self could handle. I had no doubt the seizures he wanted to observe would occur under those circumstances, but for me it was a case of being careful what we wished for. When that little beast is provoked, it comes out of its cave enraged.

 
I felt we were making progress, but my doctor's residency ended and he left the St. Louis area to set up his private practice in Joplin. The doctor who took over my care suggested a change in medication. Dilantin is an "old" anti-seizure drug, and there are several newer meds that have had impressive results. He prescribed Topamax. It was a disaster. The side effects were worse than the seizures.

Back to Dilantin.

 
By the time I was referred to my current neurologist, the seizures were more pronounced. I would have both visual and olfactory hallucinations. I love watermelon, but I could no longer eat it because it smelled so foul. Canned salmon and chili both smelled musty. I was sleeping far too much. I'd see fleeting shadows. 

My current neurologist ordered a sleep-deprived EEG and an open MRI. She also prescribed a new medication: Keppra. I was given pretty specific instructions for avoiding injury during seizures: no driving or operating heavy machinery (cancel my order for that bulldozer!), no going anywhere alone, no swimming alone, no cooking alone (as if I'd argue with that one!), no baths--showers only (please--if I got in the bathtub, I'd have to call Greenpeace to get me out!).


The MRI and EEG were normal--the first normal EEG I've ever had! This meant: A. I did not have a seizure during the testing; B. I don't have abnormal brain activity while not having seizures; and C. There's no permanent brain damage. Yay!

I expressed concern because I've been having trouble remembering words. I lose my train of thought. I still have major short-term memory issues. Having watched Mom slip away after multiple strokes and seeing what Parkinson's did to a childhood friend and Alzheimers to a longtime family friend, I wanted to know if I was at risk.


"You don't have Alzheimers," my doctor assured me. "You're far too sharp."

Hey, that sounded like a compliment! 

I guess being a writer, someone who's made her living with words, I was sounding the alarms unnecessarily. 

 
But I'm still epileptic. The test results also mean the Keppra is doing its job. The restrictions remain, because one can still have seizures even while medicated. But I'm fortunate to have a son who looks after me and two wonderful friends who are there for me when Collin can't be. Carolyn drives me to almost all of my doctor appointments and goes into the exam rooms with me, remembering all the stuff I forget. Cathy always offers to drive us to the grocery store or anywhere else we might needs to go. I try not to take advantage of her generosity, except for an occasional stop at the grocery store on the way home from our writers group meetings. I know how fortunate I am to have three such wonderful people in my life. There are far too many others who won't go five minutes out of their way. 

Breathing a heavy sigh of relief here....



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ultron: The World's Worst-Kept Secret!

Avengers: Age of Ultron. I've been waiting for this. I'm looking at "ready" in the rear-view mirror and crossing the border into the Great State of Impatient!


And it's still just over six months away!

The trailer was to be included with showings of Interstellar at theaters. Interstellar opens on November 7th, I believe. Collin and I were planning to go. Even if we didn't want to see the movie (we do, just for the record), we would have gone anyway, to see the first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer.

Then it was announced on Tuesday night that the trailer would be aired during next Tuesday's episode of Agents of SHIELD.

Then, the trailer was "leaked" yesterday. Today, it's all over the internet. And I still can't wait to see the movie!