Pretty Please?

America is the land of pet owners. Approximately 68% of American households own at least one, and many have more than one.

So, I get that you love and adore your dog. I love and adore my pets, too.

dogs
Seriously, I get it. How cute are they?!?

But I have to tell you, that slipping on frozen dog poo during my walk does not endear me to other pet owners.

Yes, I am walking on the sidewalks.

No, I am not traipsing down some country road and mistaking coyote droppings for dog poo.

As a matter of fact, I’m walking on company property up to a public sidewalk. A recent dusting of snow still covered the sidewalk, but the landscaping company has already cleared it off company property. Or most of it anyway.

I make note of the few areas still covered by snow and continue my walk. At which point I slip not once, but twice, on frozen dog poo hidden by the fresh snow.

Be careful what the pretty snow hides!

 

The curses that came out of my mouth would’ve made a sailor blush. I think I even invented a few new ones.

Grumbling a few choice words, I wiped my boots into the snow and finished my walk. Whereupon I noticed that the areas the landscaping company had shoveled also had doggy deposits. After talking to the head of maintenance, I learned poo removal was not in our contract with them, so they’d left it. Of course it wasn’t in the contract. We have no dogs.

We had to send a maintenance guy out to dispose of it so that the walkways would get cleared on the next snowfall.

Please, pretty please, if you have a dog, clean up after him. I understand dog poo bags are quite inexpensive, and all of us walking on the sidewalks would really appreciate it.

Seriously, 1,000 bags for $15. That’s gotta last most of a dog’s life.

Have you ever slipped on anything unusual? Please don’t tell me I’m alone on this.

 

 

 

6 Reasons We Don’t Take Good Advice

Whether romantic advice, career advice, or financial advice, there are a a slew of professionals out there that offer it. Sometimes we “get” it free of charge, other times we pay for. Yet, I (and I suspect many of us) are not always good at taking it.  Even advice we’ve paid for.

How many romance stories revolve around a hero or heroine not wanting to listen to their aunt, brother, sister, mother, uncle about who the right person is for them? Especially when it turns out that person was right?

After doing some digging, here are the reasons I’ve come up with:

1. The Advice is Bad

We’ve all been given bad advice, even by a professional. Sometimes, it’s because we haven’t given them the whole story. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t understand. And perhaps sometimes, it’s because they really don’t know and won’t admit it.

advice2
Tried this. It didn’t work. Co-workers looked at me like I was from Mars.

2. The Advice Conflicts With What We Want

I know i’m guilty of this. Not one, but two financial advisers told me not to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible. I ignored them. After living through the Great Recession, I never want to have to endure the belt-tightening we had to go through when our primary income was cut by 50%. Our primary expense was our mortgage.

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3. Discouraging 

You see this less with professional advice as they are (usually) in the business to help you succeed, but not all of the advice friends and family give is the most uplifting. Or helpful (see point #1).

 

4. Gut Instinct Takes You Another Direction

This is so nebulous, but sometimes, you just know something is wrong. It intrudes on your thoughts during quiet times. You find yourself mulling it over again and again. I have no idea what gut instinct is, although I suspect it’s your brain working on a problem in the background, but it seems to be right most of the time.

 

5. It Differs From Other Advice You’ve Gotten

This is always difficult, especially when you’ve gotten advice from two professionals or two very trusted friends/family members.

 

6. Anger

Or other negative emotions make us much less likely to take even good advice. Here are other good reasons from real psychologists. Granted, these are mostly work related, but they could be applicable.

 

How about you? How willing are you to take advice? What makes you willing or unwilling to take advice? How about offer it?

Common Writing Advice That Doesn't Really Work

Some of the most common advice I’ve heard to a new writer is read more to write better. I’ve heard this a lot lately, and those touting the advice quote none other than J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. So it has to be good advice, right?

I can’t decide if the people telling this to authors are:

  • Telling us what we want to hear. Most writers love to read.
  • Using it as an attempt to sell us more books.
  • Genuinely misunderstand how humans learn.

This is pretty dense, but it’ll tell you that to learn, you need to engage the brain. If you tell the brain what it already knows, learning doesn’t occur.

Think about your morning commute. Ever arrive at work uncertain how, exactly, you got there? Happens to me more than I want to admit.

dailly_commute

Just reading is similar to this. You read the book. You finish the book. You either like it or don’t, and then move on to the next book. Kind of like your morning commute.

What’s missing from the advice of “read more” is the critical element of analyzing what you’re reading. Even if you’re not in a formal book club, you can still ask questions of yourself:

  • Why did you like the book?
  • What didn’t you like about it? Why?
  • Would you read it again? Why or why not?

 

After you have the answers to these questions, dig deeper.

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If you loved the hero, why did you love him? If he was too stupid to live, why did you feel that way? Did you want him to succeed in the end? Why or why not?

How do authors engage your senses to make you feel like you’re riding along with the characters? How do they connect you so you care what happens?

I normally love to read romance novels, and I write them, but lately, I’ve had a bad run of them. Characters I hate, situations I find contrived at best, love stories that are a study in lust. But, they have taught me a lot. And not just because I’ve read them.

I may not even finish a book, but I can learn a lot if I take the time to figure out why I didn’t finish. Were the characters not compelling? Was the situation so contrived that my eyes got stuck when I rolled them?

I want the happily-ever-after ending, but I want the characters to earn it. I’ve learned this about myself, and I try hard to put it into my writing. I also want the love story to be believable. I need the characters to earn that, too.

But learning how to do this takes more than reading. It takes the time, patience, and brain engagement to really analyze what I’m reading. I can learn a lot from the bad as well as the good, but I still have to take the time to think.

 

How about you? Do you find reading improves your writing? Do you stop and think about why you love or hate a book? What makes you love a story? Hate it?

Down a Rabbit Hole

There are many, many rabbit holes on the internet, and you don’t always know you’re about to go down one when you start your research. Kind of like Alice. I’m guessing she had no idea that following the white rabbit would lead her where it did.

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I’ve seen some chatter recently on the power of positive thinking. On engaging the subconscious to make it work for you whether you’re sleeping, working, or watching reruns of Sherlock to catch-up. So, I decided to do a little digging.

It got creepy fast.

I was surprised how much was out there about it, and how little was from sources I’d consider reliable. No scientific papers. No news outlets. Nothing I recognized.

You  know you’re down the rabbit hole when you’ve moved past the first page of Google and still don’t see what you’re researching.

So, I’m left with the bits and pieces I’ve been willing to read from various sources of dubious credibility. Which, frankly, wasn’t much. Partially because I’m not looking to contract a new computer virus, but mostly because I have enough crazy in my life.

Still, their general message was pretty much the same.

According to less-than-credible sources, your subconscious can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie. If you lie to it, telling it something you want to be true but that isn’t, your subconscious will work to make it true. It’ll work on this all the time. The subconscious never really stops, so once you’ve engaged it, your subconscious will work to help you achieve your dreams even while you’re sleeping, commuting, doing whatever else your conscious mind needs to do.

Sounds too good to be true. So, it probably is.

The other general theme was that very little of our brain is actually focused on our consciousness. As shown by the graphic below:

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But, I could find NO scientific evidence of this. And, of course, the sea of universal consciousness being referenced repeatedly made me narrow my eyes.

So, I looked up this sea on Wikipedia as I no longer trusted where Google would take me.

And this is what Wikipedia had to say:

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Fringe theories, indeed.

Still, as wacky as a lot of my “research” was, I’ve decided to try a very watered down version of what’s out there. That watered down version says to write down what you want to have happen and let your subconscious take over and help you make it happen.

I wrote down:

I am a New York Time’s best-selling author

    I am a USA Today best-selling author.

 

Okay subconscious, do your stuff.

Attending My First Town Hall

I pay taxes. I vote at almost every election, even primaries. I considered myself to be doing my civic duty as a member of a democratic republic.

Yet, there are so many concerns that when I e-mail my congressman, I simply get a form letter back telling me he’s glad I shared my concerns with him, but he’s going to do whatever he wants to do anyway.

town

So, I attended my first town hall to see him face-to-face and make him tell me face-to-face that my concerns don’t matter to him.

It was an interesting experience to be in a room filled with people, all of whom were demanding action, and watching the man we elected dance around the facts and basically tell us he didn’t care about our concerns.

town-hall-debate-meme

See, my congressman has been in congress since around the time I was born. He has absolutely no concern for what I have to say. Apparently, he’s not worried about being re-elected. We are one of the reddest counties in the country, so, he’s probably right.

Rather than feeling defeated, it makes me want to go to more town halls and continue to push. To make him listen to me. And if not, perhaps to find enough other like-minded people that we can force a difference in how he acts if not how he thinks.

I’m interested in the political process now, in how we could run someone against him effectively. Not because I think the challenger will win, but because I think real competition might make him listen when his constituents speak.

Makes me wonder why there has never been real competition for him or for many in a Congress most Americans think are doing a terrible job. I need to research more to understand this.

Makes me wish there were federal term limits.

termlimits

Not that I think I’ll make a difference, but if we all think that, then we’re all correct and our politicians can continue to not listen to We the People.

How about you? Do you make sure to vote? Have you ever called or written your congressman? Ever been to a town hall with them? How did it go?

Five Tools in the Battle Against Eczema

My daughter has eczema. She developed it around three months old, and it literally covered her body. I will not disgust you with pictures of what eczema, particularly on an infant, looks like. Trust me (or, if you don’t, Google it), it’s awful.

To “cure” it, (those of you who suffer from it or know someone who does, are laughing right now), we started with her pediatrician. After failing to get it under control for weeks, he referred us to a pediatric dermatologist She told us it appeared to be caused by an allergy. She referred us to pediatric allergist.

At this point, the allergist had my daughter and me (I was nursing at the time) remove all of the following from our diet for 16 weeks:

  • Peanuts
  • Seafood
  • Cow’s milk (including cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • Tree Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat

 

Imagine a diet without this for four months. No pizza. No bread. Nothing pre-packaged as most of it has wheat or soy or both in it.

Probably the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life, but it meant absolutely no going out to eat. If we went to a friend’s house, I had to pack my own food. But I did it because I’d do anything to make my baby not hurt and itch.

At the end of 16 weeks, there was no improvement. It wasn’t food based.

As we were going through this, I began to research.

eczema1

I read anything I could get my hands on regarding eczema. Reams of it. Some of it was good, a lot of it wasn’t.

 

Here Are 5 Things I Learned

1.It’s All About Moisture. – My daughter’s eczema clears up in the summer and comes back in the winter.  We are fortunate she doesn’t have it year round, and this gave us clues as to what was causing the issue.

Her skin is losing more moisture in the winter, and this is giving the eczema the weakness it needs to take hold.

I tried lots and lots of eczema friendly skin moisturizers. Best thing I found was coconut oil gently rubbed into her skin (dye free, and the scent is all natural). We follow this by slathering her with baby aquaphor.

 

2.Household Cleaners: Most of the cleaners we use aren’t eczema friendly. Goodbye Formula 409, hello apple cider vinegar.

 

3. Dryer Sheets – I learned about dryer sheets, why I shouldn’t use them, and what to replace them with (and that I had to wash out the inside of my dryer). I use these from an Etsy seller. She was super helpful about how the balls were made so I could be sure they were made in a way that wouldn’t further irritate.

dryerballs

4. Detergents – I learned all about detergents, how they worked, and how they could cause eczema. This was HUGE. Detergents are in everything. Why? Because they are cheap and extremely effective.

I found a way to make homemade dish soap for our dishwasher. It works, but it’s not as good as detergent.

I still needed to tackle washing clothes and washing us.

Trying to find real soap (and not detergent in disguise – which darn near required me to get a chemistry degree) was incredibly hard. After a lot of searching, I eventually came across this place.

It’s amazing. Almost anything sold there is safe. Everything I have tried has smelled good and worked. It looks like the owner of the store might be a sufferer himself, and when he couldn’t find the products he needed, he went into business making them.

Nothing here is cheap, but it’s good stuff (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that). As a matter-of-fact, since switching over to these products, my husband no longer gets super -dry scaly hands in the winter.

5. Contact – I learned changing things out for just the little one wasn’t enough.  Any of us that touched or held her had to use the same products or the residue on our skin could inflame her eczema.  I had to wash all of our clothes as I did hers. We all had to use products that were okay for her.

 

We were fortunate. A combination of these techniques worked, and she is mostly eczema free. I just put in another order for the special hand soap as we’re getting low.

She still gets the occasional flare-up, and we have to reassess what might be causing it.

 

If you’ve ever had to deal with eczema, any tips on what you’ve tried? Anything work really well? If not eczema, something you ever spent a lot of time researching when traditional methods failed? What worked for you?

 

 

Top 7 Things to Focus on When Editing

I’ve talked to you about my first drafts and how they require a great deal of editing. I think most novels require some level of editing after they’re complete.

revision4

As much as we’d all like to produce J.K. Rowling or Stephen King level work on our first draft, I have yet to see someone who does. I try so hard not to cringe when I hear a writer say they’ve just finished up, they’re going to take a look at it, and then self-publish.

rewrite2

As I am working through this first rewrite, there are 7 things I really focus on:

1. Beta reader Comments – this isn’t entirely fair as I don’t even let a story out to Beta readers until I’ve done a revision or two. But once I do send it out, I take their comments very seriously. These are no people who’ve spent months with these characters in their heads. They frequently see things more clearly than I do as I sometimes get lost in the trees and can’t see the forest.

 

2. Characters – this is where I spend the lion’s share of my time. I’ve put together a lot of stuff on heroine analysis herehere and here. And on heroes here and here. During this first revision process, I know my character a lot better than when I was writing them. They’ve shown me more. I’ve been with them all the way through the end of the story. Seen their foibles, felt their fears. Seen them succeed or fail. I know a lot more about them, and I can bring that back through the whole story. Here are a few things I consider:

  • Do I like the hero or heroine? If either are unlikeable, time to rewrite. And no, this doesn’t mean they need to be “perfect”. Truly likeable characters seldom are.Is what the character doing within their personality?
  • Are they making choices true to them? For example, is the British spy-master forgetting who he is and what he does to marry a woman being manipulated by a French spy-master. Please, please, please tell me no. Or go back and rewrite it.
  • Do their words in the dialogue sound like them? I still struggle with this, but a prince and scullery maid should not be using the same words.
  • Do I want to see them get what they want? Will the characters getting what they want give the reader that happy smile that says “I just read a great romance novel”.

Invariably, I answer “no” to some of these things, and that means rewriting. Sometimes it means changing the characters early on in the story, and that usually flows into changes later.

And that means the ending must change. *sigh* Perhaps with practice, I’ll get better at getting the characters right earlier in the writing process and not have to scrap the last 10-15% of the story.

 

3. Point of View –  This is an area that an editor corrected me on. Once, romance authors were allowed to go back-and-forth between the hero and heroine’s point of view in the same scene. Best-selling authors and authors who started when this was allowed are still allowed to do this. Those of us that are trying to break into the genre aren’t. Changing the point-of-view and making sure I stick to it has been one of the most difficult aspects of rewriting for me.

 

4. Plot – A lot of this is taken care of by character actions. But, I want to make sure things are logical and consistent.

  • Is anything happening that appears weird, unusual or out of context?
  • Am I keeping things happening at a realistic but not boring clip? This should be true for the external plot as well as the romance itself.
  • The romance is the main plot. But I can’t tolerate lack-of-communication or stupidity, so it has to be real things keeping the characters apart.
  • Is it engaging? Do I want to know what happens next?

 

5. Descriptions – My first draft is pretty bare bones. What will ultimately be a 75,000 – 85,000 word novel starts out at around 50,000-60,00 when I’m done. Why? Because I’m so busy getting things done in the story that I skip right over descriptions. My first draft sort of takes place in a void. Yeah, there are occasional descriptors, but nothing that pulls in the reader with sounds and smells. Maybe even tastes.

 

6. De-Clunking –  Revising clunky words or phrases and streamlining the actual words themselves. This takes a larger chunk of time than it looks, but it’s important that the story reads well/

 

7. Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling I don’t bother much with this in the first edit as so much that’s going to be rewritten, I wait and save this revision for prose I’m pretty sure isn’t going to just get cut.

 

How about you? What’s your rewriting/editing strategy? How do you tackle it? What do you look for first? How long do you wait after writing the first draft to start revising it?

6 Reasons We Don't Take Good Advice

Whether romantic advice, career advice, or financial advice, there are a a slew of professionals out there that offer it . Some free of charge. Some we pay for. Yet, I (and I suspect many of us) are not always good at taking it.  Even advice we’ve paid for.

How many stories revolve around a hero or heroine not wanting to listen to their aunt, brother, sister, mother, uncle about who the right person is for them? Especially if it turns out that person was right?

After doing some digging, here are the reasons I’ve come up with:

1. The Advice is Bad – We’ve all been given bad advice, even by a professional.Sometimes it’s because we haven’t given them the whole story. Sometimes because they don’t understand. And perhaps sometimes because they really don’t know.

advice2
Tried this. It didn’t work. Co-workers looked at me like I was from Mars.

2. The Advice Conflicts With What We Want – I know i’m guilty of this. Not one, but two financial advisers told me not to try to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to hear them. I lived through the Great Recession and remember how much belt-tightening we had to do to get through it when our primary income was cut by 50%. I don’t ever want to go through that again.

advice

3. Discouraging –  You see this less with professional advice as they are (usually) in the business to help you succeed.

4. Gut Instinct Takes You Another Direction – This is so nebulous, but sometimes, you just know something is wrong. It intrudes on your thoughts during quiet times. You find yourself mulling it over again and again. I have no idea what gut instinct is, (although I suspect it’s your brain working on a problem in the background) but it seems to be right most of the time.

5. It Differs From Other Advice You’ve Gotten – This is always difficult, especially when you’ve gotten advice from two professionals or two very trusted friends/family members.

6. Anger – Or other negative emotions make us much less likely to take even good advice. Here are other good reasons from real psychologists. Granted, these are mostly work related, but they could be applicable.

 

I guess this means I need to look at Point #2 and reconsider the advice an editor gave me on my manuscript. Just because I don’t want it to be true, doesn’t make it wrong.

 

 

How about you? How willing are you to take advice? What makes you willing or unwilling to take advice? How about offer it?