Thursday, May 28, 2015

Meaningful Connection

Zestful Blog Post #108

Here’s an example of how social media led not merely to an expansion of my circle, but to a meaningful exchange.

The excellent and well known FoxTale Book Shoppe in Atlanta regularly tweets the names of authors whose books are selling well that week. A couple of months ago they tweeted my name among a handful of other authors, and I tweeted back thanking them, and favorited the tweet and all that bullshit. I asked if they were talking about You’ve Got a Book in You, and they said yes. They tweeted my name a few weeks in a row, and I said thanks every time.

[I have come to accept that social media is a bucket of tools that can build relationships.
Photo by ES.]

Then the social media guru for the store, Gary, asked for my email saying that the store was hosting a multi-week writing workshop with my book as its text, and maybe I’d like to Skype in sometime? I said sure.

So he linked up me with Beth Hermes, an accomplished author herself and the workshop leader. We set up a video Skype connection (yes, I brushed my hair first), and it went off very nicely. I was able to give some energy and ‘extra stuff’ to the aspiring authors, and they were able to ask any questions they wanted. And they had some good ones! Questions I hadn’t gotten before, like, “Please discuss the physical aspect of ‘heartbrain’,” and “How did you develop your book as a whole?” Answers to these and other Qs led to specific tidbits and aspects of bigger things that it seems only spontaneous discussion can yield.

It was a fun hour. When it came time to say goodbye, I asked if they felt this had been worthwhile, and got an enthusiastic chorus of yeses. But did I mention that I blog and give them the url? Did I ask them to friend me on Facebook? Did I hustle up my custom coaching services? That is the kind of stuff any speaker should do, and I forgot, because I was focused on them and what they wanted. It was a mistake not to try to sell myself a little bit more, but I will learn. I swear I will learn and do better.

The reason I wrote this post, though, was to show how one connection can lead to another, and result not simply in more connections, but something beautiful, fun, and substantial.

If you have something to offer, you can help people.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stoic Message

Zestful Blog Post #107

Ever since taking some courses in philosophy at Michigan State, I've been interested in Stoicism, that ancient Hellenistic school of thought. Zeno, Seneca, and Epictetus were the main guys we still read today. To hyper-simplify, the Stoics said: Let nothing bother you; suck up any discomfort you can't immediately eliminate; if you do so you'll be free.

I was re-reading Seneca not long ago, and was struck by this passage, which I underlined:

"It is disgraceful that a man who is old or in sight of old age should have a wisdom deriving solely from his notebook. 'Zeno said this.' And what have you said? 'Cleanthes said that.' What have you said? How much longer

[Photo by ES]

are you going to serve under others' orders? Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources."

I think of this quote when I see somebody's blog that only comprises links and quotes from other bloggers or sources. I'm like, if I follow your blog, I expect YOU to write it. But what about 'guest posts'? What about 'blog tours'? I guess those things must be OK. Are they? It all seems like such a hustle. Am I hopelessly out of it?

Moreover, my point is this: There's so much thought out there, so much, yes, wisdom apart from the dreck, that it's easy to give over the wisdom-making to others. Hell, it's easy to give over the MAKING to others. Let's not. What do YOU think? What do YOU say? What do YOU make?

I love you.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writing for Writers

Zestful Blog Post #106

One of my favorite things to do is write articles for Writer’s Digest magazine. At a Q & A recently, someone asked whether the magazine assigns me topics, or I have to come up with them myself. And what’s a ‘contributing editor’, anyway?

The answer to the second Q will answer the first as well. In general, a contributing editor is a freelance writer who has contributed frequently to the publication, who is thought to have something of a fan base, and who has demonstrated reliability, both in generating new ideas and executing them. The term ‘editor’ in this case is usually an honorific, and I've begun seeing the term ‘contributing writer’ on magazine mastheads instead of ‘contributing editor’.

[Now that's what I call a masthead. Photo by ES]

In the case of Writer’s Digest, in exchange for the credential, I agreed not to write for other magazines that might be considered directly competing with WD, such as The Writer and Poets & Writers. Besides getting your name on the masthead, as a contributing editor your ideas get special consideration by the editorial staff. The top editor at WD, Jessica Strawser, and I have become friends over the years, which is a very nice side benefit.

But yeah, I’m expected to come up with ideas for articles I’d like to write, and pitch them in some cogent form. I send Jessica two or more at a time, a practice that worked to get me my first assignment at that magazine 10 years and several editors ago, and to which I cling superstitiously. If the editor likes a particular idea, there might be some back-and-forth as the editor gives input. You work together to refine or shift the focus or whatever, and then you agree on length and payment.

Once I was asked to write an FOB (front-of-book, meaning the magazine) column on a particular subject on short notice when some other writer had to bow out for some reason. That was fun, and I felt honored to be trusted to execute the piece fast and well. But that was an exception.

Needless to say, when you agree to a deadline, you must meet it. Given the long lead time of most monthlies, you usually get weeks, sometimes even months, to deliver. Having started my career at a small newspaper, deadlines have never bothered me. I've never missed one, whether for the magazine, or contributing a story to an anthology (which by the way see below), or turning in a book-length manuscript. [Sound of vigorous knocking on wood.] And I’m always shocked when I hear of some writer missing a deadline. I’m like, what? You have this great opportunity, multiple other people are counting on you, and you fail to get the job done? Being busy is not an excuse. I guess somebody dying might be an excuse, especially if it’s you.

I want to write more about coming up with ideas for magazines, but will save that for a future post. Meanwhile, I’d like to plug a new anthology I'm honored to have a story in (along with a buncha cool women):

These tales of murder, mayhem, and suspense by some of today’s finest crime writers will keep you up way past your bedtime!
The lesbians on the loose in this collection are an entertaining mix of protagonists: cops, amateur sleuths, a PI, a judge, a bounty hunter, and one very insightful dog. There’s even an intrepid high schooler and a mystery writer.
Despite greed and grief, rage and revenge, secrets and lies, many of the stories feature humor from a variety of characters trying to find their way in a difficult world—cops who’ve seen too much, revenge seekers, and women who want justice for themselves and others.
You won’t regret going on the lam with these terrific writers!
Stories by: Elizabeth Sims, Carsen Taite, SY Thompson, Andi Marquette, Linda M. Vogt, VK Powell, Kate McLachlan, Lori L. Lake, Lynn Ames, Sandra de Helen, Jen Wright, Sue Hardesty, Jessie Chandler, J.M. Redmann, and Katherine V. Forrest
Available here:
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Zestful Blog Post #105

Forgiveness has long been an absorbing interest of mine. I wonder if that’s so for most people who grew up under the Judeo-Christian ideology. My family was as Roman Catholic as my mom could engineer. All of us kids were sent to catechism lessons, the weeknight equivalent of Protestant kids’ Sunday school. As far as I was concerned, the only reason to go to catechism was Sister Jeffrey Ann, whose job was to prepare us public-school seven-year-olds for our First Communion. She was kind and beautiful, standing approximately eight feet tall in her full habit and wimple.

One snowy Michigan night, she deconstructed the Our Father for us. We—all the little Poles, Italians, and Irish in town—lots of Irish, as Mr. and Mrs. Flynn obeyed the proscription against birth control scrupulously—had been reciting the prayer for years, but had we stopped to ponder what it really meant? We hadn't.

Sister Jeffrey Ann went over the prayer line by line, word by word. When she came to “as we forgive those who trespass against us,” it hit me like an ice bucket challenge. According to the sister, holy crap, we, us'ns, who were years from even learning what Kotex were, we, personally, were supposed to forgive.

Up until then, I had the impression that just by saying the prayer you were making a deposit on the good side of your ledger; it had nothing to do with real life. Whenever some other kid did me wrong, all I cared about was revenge.

Sister Jeffrey Ann’s lesson can be ultimately simplified to THIS MEANS YOU. Immediate. Timeless.

Little slights, of course, are easy to forgive. Aren’t they?

What fascinates me are people who forgive the unforgivable.

[It was my honor to meet and hang with Agnes Furey earlier this year. Photo by Unknown Barista.]

In Zestful Blog post #67 (Aug. 21, 2014), I wrote about how to develop one's voice as a writer. I mentioned a book called Wildflowers in the Median: A Restorative Journey into Healing, Justice, and Joy by Agnes Furey and Leonard Scovens. Leonard is a confessed and convicted double murderer, and Agnes is the mother and grandmother of his two victims. The book came about because Agnes decided if she didn't forgive Leonard, her life wouldn't be worth living. She did so, he responded, and they began to build a friendship. The book was a result of that relationship. (And my meeting Agnes was a result of that blog post.)

Separately yet together, Agnes and Leonard are working on an initiative called restorative justice, whereby victims and perpetrators get connected and have a dialogue. If the dialogue goes right, three things happen: the perp acknowledges and takes responsibility for his or her crime; the victim (or survivor) forgives; both find a measure of peace. Agnes is a member of Restorative Justice International, where you can learn more.

This is a huge subject, and I’m thinking I ought to write much more about it, beyond this blog. The times seem to demand it. Although Agnes, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, is well into what people call ‘the retirement years’, she’s constantly busy. Today she told me she’s on her way to a conference on restorative justice in Louisiana. “Are you going to be a presenter?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I’m going to learn.”

Our human world seems full of chaos. One does not have to give in to it.

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