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Human Rights and the Writer

Blog Action Day
It’s been a busy week for me already, so I’m taking some time out to reflect on a topic that affects us all: human rights. Whether we acknowledge the history that has allowed us the power to vote, associate, or stay healthy and work, and notwithstanding the comprehensive statement any participant nation in the UN has signed on to with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, too many forget that these rights exist for ALL, and have been gained at many times at terrible cost. For my story-writing self, this is rich fodder; for my friends who are still in limbo on whether their marriages will be recognized… or for women who seek equality under the law… or for victims of human trafficking who are stuck in slavery… the reality is that we have a long way to go before even the basics outlined in that document become universal in the way they were intended.

As my friend, critiquer, and fellow blogger Sabrina Garie points out in her post on the topic, our ability to expose these contradictions in our stories can help individual readers wrestle with those same issues. I suspect we all hope that our entertainment efforts plant a few seeds of consciousness in our audience so they’re not as automatically unconscious about how they treat their fellow beings. As another friend and blogger, Kasia James, points out, by listening to and understanding each others’ stories, we gain empathy and true compassion. In my experience, it’s when we truly internalize those characteristics that we not only gain tolerance, but also the strength to join the fight for those who still need our help in attaining what some few already have.

My experiences growing up around the globe have shown me that by and large, individuals are not that different. We’re all looking for satisfaction in our lives, work, and relationships. Differences of opinion and belief for the most part boil down to varying approaches to handle the same core issues: What is the meaning of our existence and how do we align ourselves in such a way as to maximize our capacity to fulfill our goals. As an Anne McCaffrey reader and Star Trek fan, internalizing the utopian view of a meritocracy where regardless of skill, basic needs are always met, has had a profound impact on my own sense of justice and equality. It is my hope that someday, some nuggets from my own stories push others in the same way.

Many bloggers are participating in today’s Blog Action Day; I encourage you to read what they have to say–and especially to visit Sabrina and Kasia.

Caveat Emptor: Worthless Sealy Warranty – Mattress Review

Sealy Posturepedic Mattress

Exhibit A for the definition of Buyer Beware

I’m not a great complainer. I tend to view the world through rose-colored glasses. So when I run up against head-scratchingly bad decisions, I generally opt to raise the conversation at the next higher point of decisionmaking. Typically, another perspective resolves the issue and either helps me understand what the problem is in my viewpoint, or changes the previous decision.

This set of guidelines has served me well in my life, and has been validated in both of the first two MBA classes I’ve taken.

In particular, when you market your product as solving customer issues (in my case, that a latex-core mattress will reduce my allergy symptoms, and mine and my husband’s back problems, that had resulted from our old mattress’ springs failing), you build up a certain level of enthusiasm and good will. When your sales people assure your customers that this is a 20-year mattress, with a 10-year warranty to stand behind its quality and worth as an investment, and that despite the fact that you will sweat more because of the nature of the latex mattress, using a standard mattress pad will protect your investment sufficiently, then please, let these words be your company’s truth. After all, this is a not-insignificant investment that should only come around once every 15 to 20 years.

We loved our mattress for 5 years. We took normal and recommended care of it. And we sweated a lot. Because of this, there are sweat stains on the mattress. Because we took seriously the “do not expose to liquid” injunction, and the “it’s fine so long as you use a mattress pad” explanation, we shrugged about the stains.

Apparently, those are now the reason Sealy does NOT stand behind its warranty.

I’ve just spent the better part of two weeks going round in circles first with the store (who sent out an inspector with complicated measuring devices and confirmed that the foam had collapsed 1.5″ on one side and 2″ on the other–far outside their warranty’s parameters) and then the Sealy home office.

Their final word:

For the reasons listed in the email above and outlined in your warranty it’s never pleasant to disappoint our consumers, however we must inform you based on the limited warranty your mattress can not be replaced. We feel the decision of your retailer, The Boston Store, was the correct decision based on the information provided.

The reason I went through the second round of information trading was because there WAS NO LIQUID SATURATION. It was sweat-stained as part of normal wear and tear, after careful protection with both high-quality mattress pads and sheets.

So I’m posting this warning to any potential Sealy customers: The company is in the business of producing a product that will seem great for a short while. Just long enough to make sure you’ve sweated enough to ensure that their warranty is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Meantime, we’re back to having back issues. Does anyone have a recommendation for a better mattress?

Tribute: Teachers Who Formed Me

Bernis von zur Muehlen

Photo by Stephanie Knapp/The Connection

Today I filled out the final forms and submitted the last paperwork to make it official: I start school again next week for the first time in almost 20 years. I’ll be pursuing an MBA in marketing and project management, fields that reflect my career path–but I never thought I’d be the one to add that appellation to my name and resume.

Reviewing my old college transcripts and looking through my files at High School awards last night, in preparation for that step, was a trippy enough experience that I woke in a muck sweat this morning at 5AM from a nightmare about a hulking brute of a man who was intent on torturing and raping the female character of the dream. I don’t think that’s a preview of experiences to come, but it does point to the profound impact school can have on a person.

In my case, it’s also brought to mind my favorite and most impactful teacher: Bernis von zur Muehlen. She was the first person to eviscerate my early poetic attempts; she was the one who selected me to be the editor of my school’s literary arts magazine; she accepted me as her teacher’s aide; and she was the one who said something on the order of: “I’m so jealous you’re an NFJ-type; you have all the propensities of the best novelists”. It was a startling thing for me to consider–not the least because I so looked up to her for having her photography hanging at the Corcoran, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had loved words and writing from an early age, but I never thought I could string together enough of them to produce an entire book. Poetry was more my style and inclination. And that, I knew, would need a back-up plan, given the dearth of space dedicated to that literary form. Yet, my senior year, I won fourth place in a state-wide poetry contest. It was the first time I won an award like that–and got paid for words I had made up.

Now that I’ve published two novels–and gotten my first royalty check–that echo to the past has been replaying in my mind. Vonz had it right, but I didn’t have faith in myself to accomplish what she expected until 25 years later. It’s a testament to her impact that I even considered the possibility, the first time I heard about NaNoWriMo.

And it’s a testament to some of the other great English teachers I had (Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Bakke) that I learned the fundamentals of English well enough to have tested out of that core graduation requirement in college. They also instilled the love of literature deeply enough that I majored in two other languages to ensure I continued to be exposed to great literature. I’m hopeful this new course of study will prove enriching along those lines, but my new teachers will have some big shoes to fill.

Plot Bunnies and Story Prompts

Plot BunniesI received my edited manuscript this morning in the wee hours. I have a lot of work to do. As my editor said: “You’ve fallen into some bad habits…” Ominous words for an impending deadline.

The good news is, she likes the plot, the characters, and the ending, so the rest is just editing my laziness (otherwise known as speed-writing at the tail end of NaNoWriMo last year, trying to cram the remainder of the story into the short deadline). So, naturally, I’ve been thinking about all the other stories I could be writing. Because anything could be more fun than the hard work of revising my own logorrhea. (And, what better excuse to share a picture of some baby bunnies we rescued from our back yard a few years back…)

Kidding aside, I figured I’d share some of the plot bunnies that occurred to me today (or recently), while I was procrastinating facing both blogging and editing duties:

  • A conflict of tastebuds: A new romance, soured by the need for different definitions of home cooking
  • Hidden magic: Two long-time friends, one of whom develops magical abilities she has to hide
  • An assistant, trapped by a magical house after her boss dies and a high-tech mausoleum springs into being
  • A young woman who must learn to control “her” elements, or be consumed by them
  • A 16th-century monk looks up from prayer and discovers he’s in a 20th-century airport terminal
  • Not to mention the decent start I have on book 2 of the Red Slaves series…

And, if those aren’t your cup of tea (I’ve written a few hundred words on four out of those five plot thoughts), there are actually plot generators online:

If you feel like voting on my next non-Red Slaves story idea, let me know in the comments, otherwise… I’m off to slay the editing demon this week.

Another Award? Napping Blogger Award

This one came to me via Sara, and her Leggy’s Many Sides blog.

Napping Blogger Award(Who can resist a doggie-smoosh-face like that one??)

The rules for the Napping Blogger Award are easy:
  1. Link back to the ones who gave you the award.
  2. Tell us what you do to take time for YOU! That might be a hobby, a musical break, a favorite movie or show, sitting outside enjoying nature, or even taking a nap!
  3. Nominate five other bloggers – especially folks you think deserve a break from their routine.

For me, reading is my me-time. I start getting twitchy if I don’t get a chance to retreat into some fictional space on a regular basis. Ironically, now that I’ve started writing (and especially, started giving myself firm deadlines!), the amount of time I have to read has declined dramatically. I feel like I have to sneak a book late at night. Oh, wait… that’s not really a change.

😀

And, for the five bloggers who need a bit of a break and will enjoy the kissable doggie porn of this badge, here they are:

  1. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – OK, I know that’s a group, but they produce too much for me to keep up with, so they obviously need a bit of a break. 😉
  2. Julia Barrett– she just got her cast off, so she still needs the rest.
  3. Emmie Mears – another daily blogger; she has a Husky too, and I know how exhausting they can be! (And she’s doing Camp Nano… more successfully than I. O_o)
  4. Elizabeth Spann Craig – who took her breather pre-emptively. 😉
  5. The Passive Guy – so much useful, interesting information – I’m on overload… He must be too. 😉

Thanks, again, Sara! See you on Twitter. 🙂

Beautiful Blogger? My Second Award

Every so often when I see a fellow blogger earning recognition, I hit that melancholy patch that reminds me of the childhood sting of being the little girl nobody wanted to play with. Thursday afternoon, my online friend and talented author Jane Isaac made my week by nominating ME for an award, assuring me that my words do have value in some quarters.

🙂

Beautiful Blogger AwardLook at how shiny it is!

In accepting, I have to tell you 7 things about myself:

  1. I’ve lived on four different continents, and until this latest move hadn’t lived longer than 6 years in any one city or house.
  2. My college adviser laughed when I showed him how I had planned out my four years when I was a freshman and assured me I’d change my mind before I graduated; I didn’t, and managed a triple major in three and a half years, allowing me to take a semester off and still graduate with my class.
  3. I dedicated Shel Silverstein’s “Hug o’ War” to my first “boyfriend” in fifth grade, so the poem still tickles a special place in my heart.
  4. I would rather live with dogs and allergies than without either.
  5. Growing up, I teased my dad about not liking desserts; as an adult, I’ve discovered I have sensitive teeth that react painfully to sugar. So I’m not big on sweet stuff either. Except for fruit.
  6. I’m lucky enough to have maintained the same size/shape since High School–I can still wear “the classics” my mom made for me way back when.
  7. I’m also lucky enough to have married my best friend almost 15 years ago, now.

And, I need to pass on the love to 7 other bloggers (but since Jane chose 8, I will too):

  1. Gayla Drummondhttp://gldrummond.com/ – The first author I met on Twitter about 3 years ago now. She’s taught me most of what I know about responsible indie publishing.
  2. Liana Brookshttp://www.lianabrooks.com/ – The most recent author I’ve met on Twitter. I love her writing style and sense of humor.
  3. Sarah Casshttp://redefiningperfect.com/ – Another author who also juggles some pretty steep motherhood issues – with a good sense of humor.
  4. Jennifer Jameshttp://www.authorjenniferjames.com/ – A multi-published romance author who is supportive and friendly toward those who are also working at writing.
  5. Sabrina Gariehttp://sabrinagarie.com/ – A fantasy/scifi author who geeks out about strong female characters the way I do.
  6. Jodie Smithhttp://www.riverinaromantics.blogspot.com/ – Another romance author who’s super-supportive of the community of authors she’s connected to.
  7. Fiona Drucehttp://www.fionadruce.com/ – A fun romance author who has the salty background of a stint in the Army to make her laugh-out-loud hilarious.
  8. Ellie Hellerhttp://elliewrites2.wordpress.com/ – A paranormal romance author who is also thoughtful and funny and supportive.

The things I’ve learned from all these women have helped my own writing and kept me focused in my own development as an author–and share the absolutely necessary characteristic of that sense of humor that allows them to laugh at themselves as much as the strange things that happen in the world around us.

I keep thinking of other people who’ve supported me (like @zencherry and @AKMamma and @safireblade and @evilmynx and @moonduster – you get the picture! – as well as most of the nominees Jane already mentioned), so I’ll count this as a happy shout-out to everyone else my tired brain can’t conjure at the moment – let’s all dance a beautiful, virtual dance together in celebration of great words on a regular basis.

🙂

Win a Kindle Fire and Amazon Gift Card

How? Easy peasy. Head on over to winwithebooks.com or the Facebook fanpage and follow the directions on the Rafflecopter. Check back daily for 50 extra chances to win.no purchase necessary

Congratulations to Chris from Ohio who won the Kindle Fire in December!

You can also run the Rafflecopter link

Once your direct link is received, your blog will be tweeted, shared, and plused!

If you can’t use Rafflecopter, just link back to winwithebooks.com

Only through tomorrow, Wednesday February 15th, join myself and WinWitheBooks offering you 20 great books from various genres for only 99 cents! Come have fun, get a book or two or three and discover great new book bloggers to boot. Check out the posts that have been happening since the beginning of February under my Indie Promotions for what I have shared. At the bottom of each are links to other’s posts that share authors and reviews! Follow winwithebooks on Twitter  (also everyone sharing the with #winwithebooks) For those that think I might slack with my food related blogging? Think again! I have had and am still have some amazing surprises up my sleeves, so sign-up for email delivery or bookmark me and remember to check back often! I have some great stuff lined up for everyone!

NaNoWriMo – Two-time Winner

NaNoWriMo 2011 WinnerI know… it’s a little bit of old news… But, honestly, I had to take a keyboard break after the breakneck pace of writing I needed to maintain to actually finish. I did finish–even better, with 35 minutes left before the deadline. And it felt like much more of an accomplishment this year than last. By day 11 I had only written 5,689 words (I was supposed to have been at 18,333). I had a productive weekend, then, and got to over 15K when I was supposed to be over 21K. And I kept churning out little bits here and there.

Then we got the kind of baffling, world-pulled-out-from-under-your-feet kind of news from my father that required an unexpected trip to Virginia for Thanksgiving. I had really planned on using that vacation time to catch up/get ahead/finish early. It was not in the cards. I got further behind. There were several days when I wrote nothing. I seriously contemplated just chalking it up to a “life got in the way” experience of loss. Then I read one of those “how bad do you want it” inspirational posts and decided that wasn’t a good enough excuse for me.

And I found a group of amazingly supportive writers who were doing “Wordmongering” writing sprints. I discovered that with this kind of motivation (and a looming deadline!) I am actually a pretty fast writer.1000 words in 30 minutes At my best, I was producing almost 1,200 words in 30 minutes. I astonished even myself. But at day 26 I was still only at 35,014 words of my 50K-word goal. I didn’t think I had enough energy and time (after working full days) to write 15,000 words in 4 days.

I’m going to have to revise my faith in myself a little, I guess. And I might have to consider the fact that now that I’ve written two novels in two 30-day periods that I could manage this on a more regular basis and increase my output to a more year-round basis.

I’m still getting over myself on that one.

In the meantime, heartfelt thanks to all those lovely Wordmongerers who were so supportive that I felt I couldn’t let them down after coming so far with their encouragement:

It’s entirely possible I’ve neglected some of the others I met through that exercise (and if you know what’s good for you, you will follow each one of these folks for their creativity, warmth, and unstinting support!), but it confirmed for me the utility and importance of Twitter as a means of finding a community of like-minded and helpful others who are working toward similar goals as you.

So I’m taking a deep breath, and will be on the Katarr Kanticles Press publication schedule next year… (You heard it here first!) (Thank you, Gayla!)

🙂

Me? Blog Award?! I’m a Versatile Blogger

Versatile Blogger AwardHere’s something I never would have expected: Having started this blog a year ago, flush with the amazement of having conquered my first NaNoWriMo challenge, I really only thought this blog would serve as an aide-memoire for myself, and maybe a roadmap for my friends and colleagues on the things I had been reading. I never expected to find a thriving community of other writers, let alone other writers who thought my blog was a fun place to stop by. Yet, here I am: @zencherry included me in her list and said she LIKES my reviews. Thank you so very much! 🙂 (AND…. why don’t the rules allow me to nominate you back??)

Zowie.

I was so excited I did a little happy dance–despite being up to my eyeballs in life and my second NaNoWriMo challenge. So it’s taken me quite a few days to formulate a response and keep the chain going…

😉

Thar Be Rules In These Waters:

Thank the person who nominated you (see above <G>). Tell 7 things about yourself so that your readers may learn more about you. Nominate 15 other newly discovered bloggers then let them know you nominated them.

And I’m incorporating Maureen’s rule addendum, too, since I’ve generally poo-poohed chain letters myself:

Well, hey. Just so you know, I’ve always been a stopper of chain letters and such so the winners have NO obligation to pass this on whatsoever if they don’t want to and I’ll take the hooey for it. It’s my award to give out and I’m a gonna make up MY rule. How’s that? Of course, if you want to pass it out, feel free, but not under any circumstance, are you obligated. (Nods and crosses arms) Okay. Onwards.

hmmm Seven Things

  1. I’ve lived on four of the seven continents.
  2. As a corollary to #1, the longest I’ve lived anywhere is six years, but we just busted past that this summer, here, and don’t appear to be in any hurry to move on, so each day is a new record for longevity living in one place for me.
  3. My father decided to divorce my mother after 42 years of marriage this past March with little explanation and no effort at reconciliation, insisted there was nobody else for him, and last weekend announced he will be remarrying in April. Family stuff has thus been a bit of a distraction for me lately.
  4. I’ve had the joy of living with four Siberian Huskies in the years since my marriage in 1998. Two are no longer living.
  5. I reread Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragon Riders of Pern series (all of them) at least once every two years. They *are* my happy place.
  6. I named this blog “A Book A Day” because when there are no other distractions, I can pick up a regular-sized novel after work and finish it in time for bed.
  7. If I pick up a book too late at night, though, I’m unlikely to put it down before I’m finished, so my book addiction has repeatedly led to some very sleepy day-afters.

So… my nominees (in no particular order)

1. AnnarchyAnn Handley is the Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs, the professional organization I follow most closely, but her personal writings, while irregular (and, lately, rare) move me immensely.

2. All About Writing – I found Nicole Humphrey Cook via her recent post on different types of Nanoers and stuck around when I discovered she shares some really useful writer’s tips (and is as addicted to Twitter as I am).

3. Lynette LabelleLynnette Labelle is another one who shares seriously useful writer’s tips.

4. Quills and ZebrasA.M. Harte runs a whole host of writerly blogs; this one does reviews and interviews and generally supports the Indy publishing industry the best way it can.

5. Origami UnicornCatherine Mintz is another author I’ve interviewed here, whose blog is a quirky collection of useful and interesting links and includes some links to her own work.

6. Smart Bitches Trashy Books – Someone posted  a review from these gals that was not only useful and insightful, but covers that whole guilty pleasure genre of books I’ve always called brain candy for myself. 😉 (And now they’re getting a new website too, so they’ll have some more bling to share with their readers after the reboot!)

7. The Daily Blog – I met Erica Lucke Dean recently through my participation in Triberr and found a woman with a deep sense of humor who doesn’t shy away from sharing some of the bumps in the road of life.

8. The Writing Life of LJ Quillyn – Here’s another Nanoer with a unique perspective and interesting posts on how life can get in the way of what you really want, but doesn’t need to stop you.

9. Women’s Literary Cafe – This is something totally new to me: A consortium devoted to supporting authors in their quest to find readers. What a kewl idea, that totally deserves kudos.

10. Mystery Writing is MurderElizabeth Spann Craig‘s daily efforts at collecting writing tips and contributing them to a Writer’s Knowledge Base is beyond admirable, and fully worthy of many rounds of applause; she really knows how to pay it forward to other writers.

11. Feral Intensity – The writer/publisher who started me down this road more than two years ago now: Gayla, stand up and take a bow, I wouldn’t have done this without you.

12. Ramblings,Reviews and Interviews – I found Peter Hobbs via Maureen (aka @zencherry, from above) and laughed my way through “I want my 2-ply” then discovered he does the same sort of stuff I do: Reviews, Interviews, and the occasional post about life. How could I not keep coming back?

13. The Bookshelf Muse – Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman have pulled together an extensive collection of prompts and other thoughts for writers. The first one I saw greeted me with a picture of Han Solo, and I was instantly smitten. 😉

14. Writing on Writing: Amlokiblogs – I just discovered Damyanti G this week on Twitter via her extremely polite and sensible post on writer no-nos and then discovered a whole other world of enjoyable resources for writers.

15. Kait Nolan – You may remember her from the author interview I did a while back (or my review of her book Red), but she’s definitely someone I enjoy following, both for her gluten-free (and general gourmand cooking) as well as for another perspective on an author who has to work out the balance between a day job and the joy of writing.

And now it’s back to trying to catch up with my own Nanowrimo word count. Wish me luck!

Furry Angels – Sacred Whispers

Kyra & NatashaThe other day one of my Triberr buddies, @JustinBog, posted about Russell Blake’s Pet Wall, since his Zippy is prominently featured there. As I read the stories outlined on that site, and in particular Blake’s explanation regarding the inspiration for his latest book, An Angel with Fur, I was particularly moved by his desire to help street dogs in Mexico.

Since I’m an unabashed animal lover, I could totally appreciate his sentiment–and had, in fact, started my own book, titled Sacred Whispers, some time ago, though I wasn’t exactly sure whether there would be a market for my interpretation of the importance and impact of the relationships I’ve had with various pets over the years. Now I’m curious to read his book to see his take on sharing a life with a furry angel.

For myself, I can’t help but share a recent picture of the two furry angels currently gracing us with their presence. It doesn’t take much for me to post an *awww, squee* moment, so I do try to self-edit that way, so you can blame this edition on Blake and Bogdanovitch…

😉

The two pictured above are Kyra (on the left) and Natasha (on the right, with a chew). Kyra celebrates her 14th birthday this January, and was the best wedding gift we gave ourselves–we got her from a breeder in Charlottesville, VA, shortly after we returned from our honeymoon, and she was born just before we got married, so in my heart represents all the good things about my marriage.

Natasha just celebrated her first birthday in September. We got her from a Wisconsin breeder after we had suffered the loss of our two rescue puppies last year (both due to complications of old age; ironically, both were younger than Kyra). We were worried about Kyra having the stamina to establish herself again over a rescue who might or might not have dominance issues, so we decided that we would get a puppy this time around. This tactic worked beautifully to pull all three of us out of the deepening depression that settled on us as we mourned the loss of two pack-mates within six months of each other, and I can’t say enough about the importance of having a reminder to be joyful living in the house with us.

Now… If I manage to keep up with my NaNoWriMo commitment this year, maybe I’ll sit down again in the new year to finish my own tome on living with and learning from the furry angels who have graced us with their presence.

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