February 18, 2016

At the Top of my Lungs

Reposted from June 2008

It's a good thing I have never been able to sleep in late. Even under optimal circumstances I wake up around 6:30am every day. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy trying to sleep in; an option that's been taken off the agenda since our pets joined the family. Assuming I can sleep through my husband's pre-sunrise routine (only possible when he's feeling magnanimous enough to shower and dress quietly), the kitten begins tearing around the house, which wakes up the puppy in his crate. The combination of not-to-be-ignored whining and the thumpety up-the-stairs and thumpety down-the-stairs wakes my five-year-old son, who always starts my day by belting out, "Mommy! Is it time to get up now?"

It's prophetic that my day begins with so much noise, because if I were to sum up my current existence with one word, it'd be LOUD.

I don't like loud. I didn't expect my life to be loud. In opposition to the mortifying example of my histrionic family, I consciously chose to tone down my loudness gene. I taught myself to think before I spoke, aspiring to a zen-like household, where peaceful silence would produce creative inspiration.

HA!

The disappointing truth is: I yell all the time. I holler, I bellow and let loose with staccato bursts of vitriol at the top of my lungs. My husband, the "quiet" one (unless he's getting ready in the morning), often comes in from the outdoors to inform me he heard me halfway down the block.

With such a fond desire for peace and silence, the question is raised: who am I yelling at?

Let's look at a snapshot of my day, say, the hour that has passed while I sat on the couch typing this essay on my laptop, shall we? First of all, be clear that I cannot sit in one place for an uninterrupted hour. The first disruption comes soon after I choose a title for the piece - in the form of a pleading doggy face placed on my knee. It may have started out as a silent request to go potty, but the simple act of taking the puppy across the street to the little park rarely goes smoothly.

First, my son has to find his socks and shoes, because God forbid I should attempt to leave without him, even though the entire trip *should* last only minutes. I haven't yelled yet - but I'm irritated as I wait for him to go upstairs to get a new pair of socks because he left the pair he'd worn earlier where the dog could get them and they are now unrecognizable lumps of drool-drenched cotton - and the tension builds.

He comes down wearing the oversized rubber swim shoes that he loves because they slip right on. Two seconds out the door my son trips over the shoes and does a face-plant on the front lawn. The puppy dislocates my arm to get to the downed boy before he can right himself. Much licking and biting and tangling of leash ensue. Oh, and the screaming. Don't forget the shrill sounds bleating out of my unhappy son.

Then comes my first verbal contribution, beginning with a word that you will soon become entirely familiar with. I shout, "VIPPER! OFF!"

Once the expedition has proceeded an additional hard-won ten yards to the curb, where I've trained my pooch to stop and sit for his own safety, I notice that the neighbor lady is walking her Shi-tzu. The very moment my dog catches sight of that yappy mop of a canine, he transforms into a lunging, barking, snarling, deaf-to-correction terror.

The Shi-tzu yaps viciously back as her owner silently pulls her to the far side of the park. I yell, not silently, "VIPPER! HUSH!" and place my hand firmly over his muzzle.

When the coast is clear, we look both ways and cross the street. My son bolts ahead down into a grassy depression where he skirts a muddy drainage ditch, looking over his shoulder to see if I am watching him. Before Vipper does his thing, he's distracted by, in order, a golf cart driving on the street with two dogs in back, a patch of dandelions, a bird, an elderly couple who call out that I have the best-looking dog in the neighborhood, and a school bus dropping off children.

As soon as he's done his dooky-walk, the stiff-legged step-and-poop, step-and-poop that leaves a long trail of turds for me to search for like rotten Easter eggs in the grass, I glance over at my son. Who is ankle deep in the disgusting ditch-water.

"AAAHHHH!" I burst out, a border-line scream. His head whips around and he lifts one sodden foot to make a quick exit from the scum. Trapped in slow motion horror, I see him trip over those blasted shoes and start to go down. By some miracle, he catches himself and splooshes to safety.

As my boy runs up the slope, flashing his trademark open-mouthed grin, I launch into a strident lecture that echoes through the neighborhood. I hear myself loudly question the thought process that made him decide he could get away with what he'd just done. He stops a few steps away and gleefully examines his slimy legs and feet.

When he looks up with that unabashed grin, I have to turn away to hide my instinctive smile. Only to see that my puppy is pawing playfully at the full dooky bag I'd dropped at the sight of my child wading in filth.

"VIPPER!" I yell, yanking on his leash. The bag is thankfully intact and we manage to make it back home without further ado. Until we enter the serene environment of my lovely home and I unfasten the leash. As I order my son to remove his shoes and wait for me on the porch so I can get the garden hose, the puppy has spotted the kitten, sitting temptingly on a kitchen chair.

One of my least favorite noises is the sound of Vipper's claws scrabbling across my wood floor, and he treats me to a particularly grating version of it as he shoots for the cat like a homing missile.

It's taken me weeks to get used to the idea that my tiny kitten can handle himself in a fight with the enormous puppy. In fact, the casual observer might recognize that the cat instigates the fighting a good portion of the time. Vipper fights with zeal, but is usually gentle, despite the fact that he can and does put the cat's whole head into his mouth. I'm standing on the threshold, torn between my sure-to-get-into-trouble-again-if-I-look-away son and the puppy, who has already covered the cat's entire upper body with a layer of slobber. I choose the boy and rush to hose down his legs and feet. Upon re-entering, I hear another of my *favorite* sounds: an unmistakable meow of pain.

"VIPPER!" I shout from the doorway, even though I can't see what he's doing. "Leave it!" I practically hear my voice reverberate against my neighbors' double-paned, insulated windows.

I will give it to the puppy, though. He doesn't mean to hurt the kitten. In fact, he adores that cat, and my chastisement is usually unnecessary. He appears from around the corner, head hanging sorrowfully. I enter and see the cat lounging on the table. His fur is spit-moussed up into points all over his head and his tail is twitching invitingly.

I sit for a few minutes with my laptop, but upon noticing the time, get back up to start dinner.

Soon the fish is on the counter in an aluminum foil-covered pan while the oven is pre-heating, the dog has been fed, and my son is watching an old Garfield DVD. I'm distracted by the rude, obnoxious things Garfield is saying to Jon. I study my son's profile and debate whether it will be worth it to summarily end the show just to avoid his sponge of a brain soaking up any more sass that he can use on me at a later date.

I may hate noise, but my ears are acutely attuned to it. The slightest squeak out of place and I'm actively listening. The sound I hear now is the subtle crinkle of aluminum foil. My laptop is safely set aside and I'm halfway out of my seat before the bellow of rage escapes me: "VIPPERRRRRR!"

If his stomach wasn't already bulging from his recent meal of dog food, I'm sure he would have hesitated long enough to take another quick lick of the fish I'd laid out, garnished and glazed, within easy reach of his tongue.

Instead, he tucks his stubby tail and runs full-bore for the opposite side of the kitchen island. From there he increases his short lead with a fast trot around the kitchen table and a squeeze through the space between the couch and the wall. My shouts of, "Come here!" bounce off his flapping-in-the-wind-of-his-escape ears. He's in the living room leading me around the coffee table (not for the first time, I curse the many obstacles in our home that allow him to elude me with ease), when he decides he'd better take his lumps.

I'm sure by now my brilliant dog has figured out that the longer the chase, the angrier the mommy. He stops and waits for me to grab him by the collar. I haul him to his crate and tell him to get in, which he gratefully does.

I'm still simmering, angry not at the poor puppy, but at myself for leaving food where he could get it (truth be told, I'm surprised the cat didn't beat him to it), when I hear the sound of the garage door opening.

Vipper begins to whine in anticipation of Daddy the Pushover's appearance. It's always a good idea to take the puppy out for a pre-Daddy pee and to stash him in the crate before Daddy comes home. We've almost got the potty issues under control, but the excitement of seeing Daddy triggers the sprinkler every time.

My husband comes in and gives me an annoyed look.

"What?" I ask, bursting with the need to tell him all that I've endured today.

"I had the window of the truck down, and heard you yelling at Vipper from halfway down the street," he says.

He lets the dog out of the crate and suffers through the usual spastic greeting, which gets more and more frenetic as my husband gently entreats the dog to stop. Vipper is standing on his back legs, clawing at my husband's thighs and nipping at his hands when I can't take it anymore.

"VIPPER! OFF!" I say loudly. The dog places all four paws on the floor and looks up at my husband adoringly. The lesson is lost on my better half, who gives me another disgusted look and asks, "What's for dinner?"

"Ask him," I say, gesturing to the dog.

January 29, 2016

The Warrior Princess Workout

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Driving down the road, you fantasize about spending your lottery winnings. In the shower, you have a flirtatious conversation with a hot movie star. Of course, in your mind you're never a flabby middle-aged woman in desperate need of a grey touchup. You are a Warrior Princess with rock hard abs and not a dimple of cellulite. You'd like nothing more than to trade your mundane existence in for a more exciting life, a more exciting you. These days are usually prompted by

Hormones – it comes and goes every month: those periods of such intense yearning that nothing will fill the hole in your soul but watching back-to-back Jane Austen movies or locking yourself away to drool over steamy pirate novels. When that hormonal cocktail is at its peak, you rediscover your old nemesis

Motivation – that which gets you off your duff and makes you think, for a time at least, that you can do anything you set your mind to. You are now Determined (with a capital D!) to take on the world. And the first thing you need to do is wrest back control of your body. You can't be a Warrior Princess if you look like the Pillsbury Doughboy's main squeeze, so you break out the hand weights and pop in a workout DVD. Fueled by hormonal urges, you are on fire…until you're sidelined by

Physical limitations – the vicious circle of soreness that hits after every workout. That nagging reoccurring pain in your shoulder, Achilles tendon or hip. Pain sets in for the duration – you find it hard to sleep, leading to

Exhaustion – that horrible, headachy feeling, like some psychic vampire sucked out all your energy and left you a mere husk trying to live your life. Getting off the couch is restricted to daily living; the simplest chores feel like you're climbing Mount Everest and just the thought of working out makes you want to dig your own grave and take a nap in it. It's now up to

Mind over matter – an elusive force, slippery as a buttered eel. It takes a monumental effort to get moving, but you still recall how it felt last week when you were in the yearning phase. You remind yourself that phase will return - and you don't want to start all over again, do you? But real life is quite rudely intruding on the fantasy and you're having trouble imagining the

Payoff – will it be worth it that your husband (whose beer belly rivals the pregnant lady next door) will find you more attractive? Is it enough that family, friends and neighbors will notice the new you? Does the prospect of living longer with your newfound health make you happy – or do you cringe at the thought of your workouts being

Endless. My God, have I only been on this friggin' treadmill for ten minutes? Ow…ow…what now? Feels like my knee is about to pop out of the socket! Okay, I think it's time for

Excuses – the opposite of motivation. You worked out hard all week like a good girl, so you deserve a break. And a hot fudge sundae…yeah…calories be damned! During the intense chocolate buzz that follows, you are truly happy for the first time in weeks. But it's doomed to be short-lived. You recognize that this is the first of many upcoming excuses which will disrupt your Warrior Princess goal…but you can no longer be bothered to care because now you're dealing with

PMS – we all get it in one form or another, whether we admit it or not. It heavily influences your powers of concentration, and just acting like a normal human being feels like an accomplishment. Especially since all you want to do is devour the contents of the refrigerator and kill everyone and everything that vexes you, most notably anyone who actually resembles a Warrior Princess. You glance over at your hand weights with deep, heartfelt contempt, pleased when you muster enough self-control not to hurl them through the bedroom window. PMS sheds bright halogen lights on

Reality – that which is impossible to ignore on a consistent basis. These are the imagination's darkest days, when fantasy's influence is on the wane. Power through! – is your battle-cry. And you do, because you have to. Then one day while driving to the grocery store it suddenly occurs to you that if you did win the lottery, you'd be mingling with the rich and famous. Best to get a jump on the body you'll need to pull it off. Time to get cracking on that

Warrior Princess workout.

October 16, 2015

Gifted or ADHD? The Surprising Truth

(Reposted from six years ago, but still relevant today)

If you think back over your childhood, your adolescence, your school years and the transition to adult-hood with fond memories, then this blog post is probably not for you. If you consider your personality to be mainstream; if you were woven seamlessly into the acceptable fabrics of society—the cottons, the denims, the silks, the cashmeres—then this blog post will only give you a little insight, a glimpse perhaps, into the inner weavings of the duck-cloths, the meshes, the lamés and the spandexes of the world.

I was one such misfit. I was smart, a borderline genius (which is not to brag, I would have preferred street smarts to book any day had I only known), but school bored me. I guess I was an atypical nerd, if such a thing is possible. I acknowledge I had an advantage in that I wasn’t exactly ugly and I was pretty athletic, but those pluses were mostly zeroed out by my underdeveloped social skills and overdeveloped intellect. Who wanted to hang out with the weird skinny blonde kid in hand-me-down clothes who always had her nose buried in a book or who hung out in the art room at lunch? Not very many of my peers, I can tell you that. Add to that a deep-seated naiveté that lingered into my late twenties, and you’ve got my particular brand of misfit.

So when I had kids of my own and started seeing reflections of my own miserable childhood, I did my best to help. My daughter grew up brilliant and beautiful, but just as much a social pariah as me. Did I fail? I wondered. What could I have done to prevent her pain? And wouldn’t that just make her a different person than she is now—didn’t she grow into one tough cookie who makes me proud? So what if she wasn’t a cheerleader? She was self-assured enough not to WANT to be one, unlike me. She grew up just fine, thank you very much. Her intolerant peers, the aggressive gangs of girls and boys that ran unchecked through her school and made her academic career a living hell, also made her strong.

Now my son, fifteen years younger than his sister, has burst onto the school scene with a whole different dynamic. Since preschool I’ve been scrambling to avoid the ADHD label. He’s a bizzy, bizzy boy and some days I despair of him, just, getting it. In preschool: No, my dear son, it is not acceptable for you to throw your shoes over the fence so you can watch the teacher fetch them for you, nor is peeing in the drain in the bathroom floor instead of the toilet amusing to anyone but you (well, okay, I confess that one still makes me chuckle in private). In kindergarten: Yes, my dear boy, t-ball can be a boring sport, but while you wait for the ball to come, would it kill you to just stand there instead of spinning around until you fall, pulling out tufts of grass, wearing your mitt on your head or kicking up dust clouds in the dirt?

Now he’s in the first grade. Two weeks in and we’ve already met with the principal, who didn’t come right out and SAY he thought my son had ADHD, but who gave a rather pointed example of his OWN struggle with it as a child. However, after what I went through and what I went through for my daughter, I was more prepared to be an advocate for my son. I had graphs, I had charts and I had excerpts from books written by experts. In fact, after the meeting, the principal sent me an email reiterating what he’d already told me: he’d never had a parent arrive at a meeting more prepared than I.

The reason I showed up armed to the teeth with information isn’t complicated. I won’t allow the establishment—the school system or the medical community—to label my son. Stamp four humiliating letters on his forehead, shove stimulants down his throat, and shunt him to the classes reserved for those who refuse, because they can’t help it, to cooperate. The disrupters, the clowns, the bizzy, bizzy bees.

I wasn’t just going into that meeting bristling with denial. No sir, I had a different theory, a theory both more palatable and more logical. My six-year-old reads at a third-grade level, or higher. When he was two, he could put a 100-piece puzzle together, no problem. If you can look past the fact that he never stops talking, to himself mostly, his vocabulary is astonishing. So aren’t ADHD kids kind of, I don’t know, dumb? I thought. What if you’ve got a combination smartie-pants-ants-in-your-pants? A bright kid who just can’t hold still, can’t seem to rein in his enthusiasm, be it for bugs or books or barreling around all over the place?

Enter my indomitable research capabilities. I’m a writer; I do this for a living (albeit a pre-successful living). Poor my memory may be, but I still have a fount of information to draw upon; information about this, that and the other thing obtained via books and the Internet for the sole purpose of giving my writing authenticity. Could there be another reason why I and my children (and various other members of my immediate family) are so darn smart and yet so exasperatingly…different?

It didn’t take me long to find the answer: an unqualified YES.

Kasimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist from the early nineteenth-century glory days of psychiatry, developed a concept after years of observation, research and study, that gifted children experience a phenomenon that he termed, “Overexcitabilities.” Gifted children, according to Dabrowski, aren’t just smart, they FEEL more than other kids. They are more sensitive, they respond more to stimuli, they are intensely passionate in ways that normal folks can’t always understand. He broke these overexcitabilities into five categories: Intellectual, where a child might be driven to solve problems, Imaginational, where the world is a child’s stage, Emotional, where the child carries the world’s problems on his/her shoulders, Sensual, where sight, sound, smell, taste and tactile sensations are overpowering to the child, and Psychomotor, where the child has so much energy, such a need to wiggle, jump, run, spin, do, do, do, that they are often misdiagnosed (yes, I said it, and I truly believe it) as ADHD.

A gifted child may experience one or all of the overexcitabilities. Not a disease or disorder that needs to be medicated into oblivion, but a sensory enhancement that causes a child to experience the world differently, sometimes radically so, from his/her peers.

(My personal tongue-in-cheek theory is that in order for the brains of intelligent people to get smart in the first place, something happens in the womb, maybe the developing frontal and parietal lobes needed more oomph, so they steal some essential neurons that would otherwise be used to foster communication between the areas of the brain that enable social interaction…but I digress, as I often do.)

Clues to my son’s particular overexcitabilities were not hard to find. As a baby, he gasped for breath if you blew into his face; as an infant, he refused to put his feet on the grass; bright sunlight makes him sneeze; and I had to cut all the tags out of every shirt he owns—Sensual. My boy is impulsive, he’ll take action so quickly he doesn’t leave himself time to filter the potential consequences through his brain; he is incapable of preventing his body from showing his emotions—he jumps up and down, hands flapping uncontrollably when he’s excited; he absolutely loves to laugh, but once he gets started, it’s hard for him to stop—psychomotor. I hear some kids outgrow the constant questions, but my son’s motto is like a drumbeat in the background of our lives, “Who-what-where-when-why-how?”—Intellectual. And the drama! Sheesh, the kid won’t quit with the stories and the wild scenarios and the intentional fibs to see what will happen—Imaginational.

Yep, I reckon he’s got four of the five, but I’m just grateful to have avoided the Emotional category. I got more than enough of THAT from my daughter!

So.

If any of this resonated with you, I recommend you read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” which was a real eye-opener for me. This is a book written by today’s professionals, not the same folks who learned in medical school back in the 80’s and 90’s to prescribe mind-numbing medication, but the cutting-edge researchers who tend to shun Big Pharma’s answer to the ADHD crisis. One-pill-fits-all is not a given if you have a bizzy bizzy child of your own, especially if your kid is smarter than your average bear.

Yes, even today’s experts admit it’s possible, though significantly less likely, for a child to be both gifted AND to have ADHD or some other learning disorder, and sometimes the disorder can even mask the giftedness, like dyslexia. No matter what combination of wonderful your child is, be the best advocate for him/her that you can by educating yourself. Don’t let anyone label your child without a thorough evaluation—and you should learn what that entails, too!

I now think of myself and my children not as patched together from misfit fabrics like some quirky quilt, but cut from the colorful and complicated brocades, damasks and tapestries that make life such a diverse experience. I found the tools to aid my son as he works at developing the necessary skills to blend into his school environment: patience, persistence, understanding and most of all, knowledge.

December 29, 2014

On a Quest for the Mythical Tipping Point

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I think my last blog post was unconsciously in preparation for this one, because in it I discussed some of the difficulties I've wrestled with in regards to advertising, and it set the stage for me to reveal what I've been doing instead of writing.
I've been rather fixated in the last several years on finding that magical, mythical tipping point, where my work slides from obscurity into at least a modicum of success. If you don’t factor in a marketing budget, authors (indie and tradpub alike) have pretty much the same options, a tried-and-true formula. If you haven’t seen my tongue-in-cheek video on the hoops we jump through to get attention for our books, the link is here. That video, as goofy as it is, was the first thing, of all the things I tried, that put me on the map, which is how I realized sticking to the same old formula wouldn't lift me above the crowd.
I decided to do something different, but do it so well people would be impressed enough to like or share it (without me having to beg them to). So for the last couple of years, I've been working on a fresh new book trailer for the Xenofreak Nation series – but in the style of a movie trailer. I hope I've come close to achieving my goal (because there’s nothing like putting your heart and soul into something that thuds onto the scene).
In the event anyone would like to know how I made it, well, my methodology and resources are way too long to list here, but I’ll narrow it down to the basics:
DAZ Studio – free 3D software. Talented digital artists create the content to use within the software. That content is not free, but over time, you can build up a healthy library of figures, hair, clothes, props, scenes, lights and much more. The learning curve to produce something decent is steep, but as far as DIY 3D goes, it’s the best and cheapest option out there.
Digital Juice – royalty-free graphics, animation, stock footage and music. This is a subscription service, but the cost vs. what you get is a good deal, especially if you’re a video editor.
Adobe Premiere Elements – this is the downgraded version of Adobe’s movie making software, but it has all the features you need at an affordable price.
Adobe Photoshop Elements – same as the above except this is their picture editor.
So, with no further ado:

December 27, 2014

Where’s the Sequel? and Advertising Woes

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So.

It’s difficult for an OCD-type such as myself to admit it, but I’m late again. I had intended to have written and released the third book in The Gossamer Sphere series by now, but I’ve only just begun writing it. For those readers waiting, I humbly apologize. It WILL come out eventually.

Why have I dropped the ball? Well, I have some pretty compelling personal reasons, but since I’ve mostly outgrown the over-sharing tendencies of my youth, I won’t trot those out. Instead, I thought I’d ramble on a bit about advertising and how it has affected me, as a writer who enjoys the occasional meal of Top Ramen but prefers not to subsist off of it.

First off, Captain Obvious is tapping me on the shoulder. He’d like to point out that nothing is free, especially not advertising.

Not anymore.

Not long ago, Facebook was free. I created my Author Page there, a happy little place where I could blithely update my fans on upcoming releases, etc. In hindsight, those were the good old days. It was a truly good time to be online. But then Facebook decided to limit what posts our fans saw unless we paid to promote them. That, too, was okay, because I knew my fans could always pop over to my page if they wanted to know the latest.

Now Facebook is rumored to be planning further monetization changes that will restrict or ban entirely anything they deem to be advertising. So my fans will have no way of knowing what I’m up to. Unless, of course, I pay for it.

Something to look forward to in 2015, apparently.

Anyhoo, advertising:

If I want my books to sell, I have to invest more than just the usual blood/sweat/tantrums of the actual writing/editing/formatting process. That’s right, I need to market them. I’ve blogged about this before, ad nauseam. Since I’m only one person, blahblahblah, with limited capacity to market my work online, blahblahblah, I have to pay someone to advertise for me.

The process sounds cut and dried (payment for service), but it really isn’t.
In the real world, a business pays to have an advertisement placed in a publication, whether it be a physical paper or online webzine. Unless that business is offensive to the publication (like, say, a brothel attempting to advertise in a religious journal), the deal is likely to go through. In Indie Author Land, not so simple a matter. Because even though we are each of us individual small-business-persons, we are collectively lumped together.

And, as it happens, some find our lump offensive.

I’ll use, for example, a new business model that developed on the heels of the ereader/ebook explosion: the Discount Mailing List. Here’s how it works: Publishers and Authors pay to be included in a daily email that goes out to a mailing list bursting with eager Readers. The books in question must be steeply discounted or free to be included. More on this later.

So here we have these (shrewd, shrewd) Discount Mailing List entrepreneurs whose businesses were at least in part built on the backs of indie authors. Say what? Well, I won’t go so far as to suggest they lured us in with a classic bait and switch, but we indies wanted our books to be included, so we signed up in droves, plumping up their mailing lists. At some point they got enough Readers to attract the attention of the big boys, traditional publishing (tradpub).

Once tradpub was on board, the crafty Discount Mailing List folks could pick and choose who they offered their service to. Indie authors, in general, were no longer good enough for their discerning Readers. Bookbub, for instance, accepts or rejects a book based on their “editorial team’s” determination of worthiness. Do they actually read it? No, silly, they don’t have time for that business, nor do they have time to explain why you were rejected. However, since they have your email address, you’re welcome to console yourself perusing the daily list of books that were worthy.

If you’re lucky enough to get accepted, however, Discount Mailing Lists are effective, even though you’ll be forced to steeply discount your book, or even give it away for free in order to use the service.

Wait a minute! Did I not just claim above in this very essay that nothing is free?

My mistake.

Because my work has been free on multiple occasions. I have no choice; the competition for Readers is fierce. Authors, indie and otherwise, are in a constant elbow fight, jostling for space on the Amazon lists, one of the only places where we can be SEEN. In the case of the indie, our best chance of getting on those lists is to give our product away for free, and to exhaustively advertise the event. It’s ironic that we literally have to pay Readers to take our work. But if they like the free sample, they just might come back for more, and that’s why we do it.

Certainly not because we’re making money hand over fist at this writing lark.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the vast majority of indie authors, if you were to calculate payment for hours worked, bring in well below the minimum wage. Personally, on my best sales year, had it been my only income, I would have been forced to beg on the street to feed and house my family. And I know several indie authors – really good writers, mind you – who envied me that sales income.

This negative return on investment tends to wear a writer down, but I won’t quit. I’ll try to keep my sense of humor intact and resist bemoaning the futility of it all. It might take longer for me to work up the old enthusiasm, but at the very least I’ll finish The Gossamer Sphere.

Not for the money, but for my fans.

Because they rock.


September 4, 2014

Win Signed Copies of Books I, II, and III of Xenofreak Nation!



Goodreads Book Giveaway


Xbestia by Melissa Conway

Xbestia

by Melissa Conway


Giveaway ends October 04, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

October 17, 2013

Judging a Book by its Cover, A Cautionary Tale


Several months ago, I entered SelfSame in the Writer's Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards in the Middle-Grade/Young Adult category. Winners were announced this week; I'm disappointed to say I wasn't one of them, but I was sent my scores and the judge's commentary.

In the scoring criteria, SelfSame was given 5 out of 5 points for Structure and Organization, 5 out of 5 points for Grammar, 5 out of 5 points for Plot, and 5 out of 5 points for Character Development.

The Judge's Commentary was a flat-out rave:

"This was another of my top favorites! It was very hard to choose this year. I was captivated by this story of Enid and Sorcha, 2 halves of the same soul. One in 1764 and the other in today's world, two centuries later. It was a fascinating novel. I loved all the historical facts in Enid's story. I loved that they knew about each other all along. I loved that their grandmothers excepted [sic] all of this.

"The writing was spot on. The characters, in both time periods, felt real and were interesting. The pace was even and kept me engaged. I loved the way Melissa Conway wove the story with each chapter going back and forth between the girls. And I am a romantic, so I loved the ending!

"I think YA girls will eat this story up! I will add this to my library and be happy to encourage my readers to pick it up."

So why didn't it win?

Well, the judge gave me a score of 3 out of 5 for Production Quality and Cover Design. That's right. She said: "The only place that I can see improvement is the cover. I get it after reading the book, but nothing about this cover would entice a reader to pick it up and delve in to it."

While I'm thrilled she liked the content, Judge 52's disdain for my cover really cost me. Any indie authors out there thinking about entering the Writer's Digest Annual Self-Published Book Awards, please be aware that your cover WILL be judged. As it is judged by all your readers, despite the old adage that they shouldn't. ;-)

 

April 2, 2013

Modesty and the Indie Author

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I once had a job at a retail clothing store. It lasted six weeks before I could no longer force myself to, well, force myself upon people. The manager of the store was always hovering over me, urging me to make myself indispensable to the customers. In my mind, the best way to do that was to greet them, let them know I was available if they needed anything, and then get the heck out of their way. But the manager wanted me to strike up a conversation and begin suggesting clothing items. I was supposed to spew flattery and steamroll over any protestations that they didn’t need my help.

It was far from my dream job and I ended up quitting before I got fired. Sales has never been my thing; I’m painfully shy when it comes to approaching people I don’t know. I don’t like it when a salesperson gets in my face, so why would I do it to other people?

Imagine my dismay upon discovering that being a successful indie author requires not just having the sales skills to effectively market myself and my work, but using them, blatantly and often. Indie authors must somehow gain a following. It’s not enough for us to write a good book, we have to inspire our readers to help us, to spread the word for us, because most of us can’t afford to pay for advertising.

It’s called ‘marketing,’ and for those of us with deeply ingrained modesty, it’s a nightmare. I’m supposed to be on Twitter, constantly tweeting about my books. I’m supposed to be on Facebook, constantly posting about...yeah, you get the picture.

The thing is: I’m grateful to every single person who’s not only read my work, but taken the time to go to my Facebook Author page and click LIKE. I’m beyond thrilled every time I get a review on Amazon or Goodreads or LibraryThing, or a tweet from someone begging me to write faster because they are dying to read the next book in the series.

I don’t want to repay them by filling their inboxes with spam.

There’s no question that I’m shooting myself in the foot by not taking advantage. Thing is, how am I supposed to interact with my fans when I can’t even comfortably call them that? They’re just people who happen to like something I wrote. And I’m just a writer who seems doomed to fade into obscurity because I cringe away from putting myself out there.

I’m exceedingly lucky to be able to write my books. Note that I didn’t say ‘write my books for a living.’ I’d have to be a salesperson for that to happen.

 

February 20, 2013

Yet another post On Book Reviews (as they apply to Indie Authors)


Opinion [uh pin yuh n] a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. A personal view, attitude or appraisal.

Subjective [suh b jek tiv] existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought. Pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

All opinions are valid except for the fact that they are also subjective.

On the surface in this day and age there are two main ways of choosing a book: by browsing a physical book store or online retailer, or hearing about it through a book recommendation site (word of mouth).

Browsing might feel like you’re asserting your own will in picking out a book, but the reality is, finding one is rarely a happy accident. At the bookstore, the prominently-placed books are more likely to catch your eye – if you don’t see a book facing spine-out on the bottom shelf, you’re less likely to find it. This visibility principle applies to online stores as well. Those books high up on popularity lists are more likely to sell. But how do they get there?

In a word: Hype [exaggerated publicity; hoopla].

We all know what hype is, but I wonder how often we consider that its pervasiveness gives it a sort of credibility. Behind every blockbuster you will find a focused marketing team and a coffer full of advertising dollars. A book you may have initially dismissed as uninteresting will begin to look better and better under a constant barrage of hype. It influences us whether we are aware of it or not; that is the nature of being repeatedly exposed to something – it becomes familiar, and spurs us to find out for ourselves what all the fuss is about.

What has this got to do with book reviews and indie authors? Well...indie authors don’t have the benefit or even the option to use hype to promote our books. To use a couple of arguably clichéd but apt phrases, an indie author’s only hope is to create ‘the perfect storm,’ of publicity using what limited resources s/he has available to them; in effect, setting in motion that nebulous confluence of circumstances leading to the mythical ‘tipping point.’

Without paid-for hype, we have only one method at our disposal to get the attention we need to sell our product: book reviews.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: it is common practice for Big Name authors to review each other’s work. They place gushing quotes from their peers on their book jackets, and use them in their advertisements. When indie authors review each other, however, the practice is considered suspect – even though it’s the exact same tit-for-tat behavior coming from the Big Names. I can only attribute this to public perception of authenticity: the Big Names are officially vetted by professionals, whereas everyone knows indie authors were rejected by those same professionals, making them desperate and willing to lie for each other to sell a few books.

Now, of course it’s an exaggeration to lump all indie authors together in such a stereotypical manner, but there you have it. I happen to be acquainted with dozens of indie authors whose integrity would never allow them to stoop to underhanded methods, but I also know a few who, like the child who considers any attention better than no attention, will resort to bad behavior to get ahead.

Avid readers are the target, because they will have already plowed through the blockbusters and tend to dig deeper, browse further, take more chances to find a good book. If they stumble upon an indie book (unlikely), or deliberately seek them out (due to affordability), the first thing they see is the overall star rating (I’m using Amazon in this example, but most [all?] online book retailers use a similar rating model). After the star rating, they check to see how many ratings the book has gotten. If the book’s overall rating is a glowing 5-stars with very few customers having rated it, they might move on. Why? The most obvious reason is s/he might assume a book no one has reviewed is a book no one has read. S/he might also jump to the conclusion that it is a book no one wants to read. It’s also possible our avid reader is aware of the well-known ‘fact’ that the first several reviews on any given indie book are written by friends, family and peers.

Next, s/he reads the blurb. If it’s intriguing enough, s/he will then move on to the reviews, or, if s/he is that rare creature who doesn’t let a stranger’s opinion influence him/her, s/he will read the sample – the first 20% or so of the book. Reading the sample is the best way to evaluate quality of writing and the author’s ability to ‘suck you in.’ But for the purposes of this post, we’ll say this potential customer peruses the reviews.

What will s/he find? A veritable mish-mash of subjectivity with so many potential factors it would be impossible to list them all, but I've identified some of the more colorful types, from an author’s tongue-in-cheek point of view. Assuming the book is not riddled with spelling and grammar errors, these are the kinds of reviewers you will find:

The Family-member. Despite what our naysayers might think, a Family-member is the least likely person of the average indie author’s acquaintance to write a review of our books. This is because very few of our nearest and dearest can be bothered to read them. I’ll use myself as an example: I have five self-published books under the name Melissa Conway with a total, as of this writing, of 103 reviews on Amazon. Not one of those reviews is from a family member. However, when an author’s Family-member does venture to post a review, the result is usually easy to spot. Delirious praise from someone with the same last name as the author is merely cringe-worthy.

The Friend. Way more likely to not only read the author’s book than a Family member, but to review it. Always 5-stars, always a Rave. This is not to say the opinion isn’t sincere, but the simple fact that the Friend knows someone who wrote an actual book can often influence their review more than their opinion of the story/writing. Now, keep in mind that the average author is probably an introvert who doesn’t have many actual friends, so there won’t be an abundance of these reviews. Also, subsequent books by this author are likely to have few, if any, Friend reviews, for the simple reason that the more familiar an author becomes with the ins-and-outs of marketing his/her books, the less likely it is they will want a Friend review casting doubt on them.

The Peer. There is nothing an author holds in higher esteem than the Peer. They are other writers/authors who have quite likely also developed an online friendship with the author. The Peer review will focus on the positive, but will not always be 5-stars. The Peer thinks the author is at least an adequate writer, and often s/he was a beta-reader and/or editor of the book in question. Peer reviews are generally honest because the Peer wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety, which will reflect negatively on their own career. Often, Peers will identify themselves with a qualifier, such as, ‘I am acquainted with the author through social networking.”

The Drive-by. These are low-star-rating-givers more likely to haunt reader sites like Goodreads where the reviewer doesn’t have to give a written opinion. Often, but not always, the Drive-by has just created an account and the book in question was one of many s/he rated upon first joining. If you look at the other books the Drive-by has given low stars to, you will find many beloved classics. If you look at the Drive-by reviewer’s profile, it probably doesn’t have a picture or any personal details and will show that their last activity was on the same day they joined.

The One-and-Only. These reviewers claim to have been so negatively affected by the book they have broken out of lurk mode to post their first ever review with the sole objective of warning other readers.

The Spurt. This reviewer is similar to the One-and-Only, but instead of just one review, has written a ton of them all on the same day, including an unflattering one of the book in question. The reviews in this cluster are all short, and seemingly honest.

The Shill. This reviewer gives out 5-stars or 1-stars with the express purpose of pumping up one book while taking its competitor down. I know the Shill exists because I’ve read a lot about them lately; how some authors hire people to do this, or make multiple fake accounts to do it themselves. I have no idea how to recognize a Shill’s review because it might look like a Rave or a One-and-Only or a Troll; conversely, the Rave or One-and-Only or Troll, might in reality be a Shill.

The Troll. This reviewer seems to really have it out for the author. Often the review is accompanied by claims that the writing was so bad s/he could only get through a few chapters. The Troll always uses a pseudonym (usually one innocent-sounding name like ‘Jennifer’) with no profile information. They have plenty of reviews over a convincing period of time, but most of them are negative. Trolls relish trash talk and will go to the trouble of posting the same scathing review on multiple review sites.

The Blogger. A reviewer that identifies him/herself as a book blogger can almost always be counted on NOT to be a Shill. They have often been solicited by the author in exchange for a free copy of the book, but this won’t influence their opinion of it. The majority of Bloggers focus on the positive aspects of every book they read and many won’t post a review of a book they didn’t like. On the other hand, and especially if the Blogger is using a pseudonym, they can be unapologetically blunt and difficult to please. Some authors seek the difficult Bloggers out in particular in the hopes that their book does please them.

The Rave. I’ve lurked enough on Amazon’s Customer Discussion boards to have a good idea what kind of reviews seem suspicious (a positive Shill review). Unfortunately for those of us who have gotten authentic reviews that include lots of ALL CAPS enthusiasm and liberal use of exclamation points, these are at the top of the ‘yeah, right’ list. Phrases like IT WAS AMAZING!!! and BEST!! BOOK!! EVER!! will generally garner skepticism whether the sentiment was genuine or not, especially if the reviewer doesn’t point out specifics in the story. Sometimes the Rave will add a caveat that they saw all the 5-star reviews but didn’t believe them until they read the book. This is an indication that the Rave is genuine.

The Editor. This is the low-star kind of review written by someone who is obviously another writer, or worse, a wannabe. The Editor usually thinks the book’s premise was intriguing, but the writing lacked (insert favorite writing ‘rule’ of choice here). These reviews are almost always written under a pseudonym and are most likely to send the author into a tailspin of paranoia. Since it’s obvious the Editor is a fellow writer, the author may wonder, with all the nonsense going on (see Shills), whether this is a competitor or even if they actually *know* this person. (As an aside, you can find out the real name of any given account holder on Amazon who has a baby registry and sometimes a wish list.)

The Freebie. People don’t tend to read outside their comfort zone. The Freebie knows what s/he likes, but being a shrewd and frugal reader, takes advantage of the temporarily free ebooks on Amazon. The Freebie may not understand (or care) why those books have been made free. They may not know the author is attempting to give away as many as possible so the book will rise to the top of the ‘free’ charts and get much-needed exposure. This has been one of the few reliable ways to make our work known, but it has its (sometimes severe) downsides. First, savvy Freebies are aware that an ebook in Amazon’s KDP Select program will likely become free in the future, so they pass on purchasing it. Second, Freebies are less likely to select a free book based on whether they actually want to read it. This wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t also have the ability to review it. Even the honest Freebies who put a disclaimer in their review such as, “I don’t normally read this genre, but it was free, so...” have still brought the author’s overall star rating down if they review it negatively.

In the end, despite lumping reviews and reviewers into groups that make the worst of them easier to swallow, I believe subjectivity rules – and comforts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated the phrase, “You can’t please everyone.” When an incomprehensible review is suddenly stinking up one of my book pages, I take it on the chin and vent in private to those I trust. It would never occur to me to confront the reviewer, even if the review reeks of Shill – and even if I only imagine it does.

Reviews are all we got. Those of us lucky enough to acquire enough of them, good, bad or ugly, might even generate a little Hype.

 

September 6, 2012

READ THE SAMPLE

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It gets busy at Costco during the lunch hour on any given day because they give out samples of various food products. Samples help me decide whether to purchase a product. Oftentimes, if I like the sample, I’ll try the product.

But what if I got the opportunity to sample something and chose not to because it came highly recommended?

Or I didn’t want to take the time to sample it, and only purchased it because it was on sale?

Would I be justified in feeling duped if this product I didn’t bother to sample fell short of my expectations?

Books and ebooks are one of the few products a consumer can sample beforehand. In a bookstore, you can stand there and read as much as you’d like. Online, you can generally read a percentage of an ebook, up to as much as the first 20%, to help you make your decision.

There’s been a lot of media coverage recently about book reviews. Any given review on any given book, whether the book was written by a traditionally published author or an indie, can be faked. A fake review will generally either sing the book’s praises or trash it. That’s not to say all five-star and one-star ratings are not to be trusted, but who has the time to investigate their veracity?

Further, even if you know a recommendation or condemnation is honest, you still have to take into consideration that it is one person’s opinion. Opinions are subjective. Even an honest appraisal of a product can be biased - or I should say will be biased based on that person’s likes and dislikes, which may be the polar opposite of yours whether you admire that person, hate them with a passion, or don’t know them at all. And sometimes an honest appraisal comes from someone who had the opportunity to sample, but didn’t, often because they got the ebook for free. The opinion is perfectly valid, but would that person have even chosen the book if it weren’t free?

My time is precious. I’d rather use it reading the sample, and let the product convince me whether or not to buy. Then if it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll feel perfectly justified in giving my opinion.

Read the sample.
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September 3, 2012

THE DEVIL WENT ONLINE TO AMAZON

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Sung to the tune of
"The Devil Went Down To Georgia"

The Devil went online to Amazon. He was lookin’ for a book to read.
He was in a funk ‘cause all he found was junk. There was nothin’ but chicken feed.
When he came across an indie author, writin’ ebooks and sellin’ ‘em - not,
And the Devil posted on the Internet, and said, “Scribe, you ain’t makin’ squat.”

"I bet you didn't know it, but I'm a published author, too.
And if you’d care to be aware, I’ll share trade secrets with you.
Now you spin a pretty good yarn there, Scribe, but give the system its due.
I’ll bet a book deal of gold against your soul I can sell more books than you.”

The indie said, "I’m an Author, and it might be a sin,
But I’ll take that bet; ‘cause I don’t want to regret that I’d do anything to win.”

Author, sharpen up your pen and write that novel hard,
‘Cause the trolls are loose on Amazon, and reviewers deal the cards,
And if you win you get this shiny book deal from trad-pub,
But if you lose - welcome to the club!

The Devil conjured up his fakes and he said, "Five-star reviews."
And lies spewed from his sock-puppets as his readership grew.
And he bought a thousand paid raves and smiled in entrepreneurial bliss.
And a band of wannabes joined in and didn’t sense anything amiss.

When the Devil wrapped up, Author said, "Well, you're pretty corrupt ol' son,
But sit down in that forum right there and let me message you how it's done."

"Fraud in the book world." Run, boys, run!
Devil's in the publishing house of the rising sun;
Public found out and he’s eatin’ crow.
Author, does your book suck? No, reader, no.

The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat.
And he sent that golden book deal to the box on Author’s street.
Author said, "Devil, just come on back if you can’t stop bein’ a crook,
'Cause I've told you once--you son of a hack--it’s the sample that sells the book."

And he wrote:

"Fraud in the book world." Run, boys, run!
Devil's in the publishing house of the rising sun;
Public found out and he’s eatin’ crow.
Author, does your book suck? No, reader, no.
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August 19, 2012

Now an official Award Winner!



There's a new addition to the cover of Xenofreak Nation: the WINNER sticker from the 2012 Global Ebook Awards!  I'm happy to report it won the top prize in its category: Speculative Fiction - Science Fiction.

In other news, I'm heading into the home stretch on the sequel, titled Xenofreak Nation Book Two: Mad Eye. Tentatively scheduled for publication early this fall! Like me on my Facebook Author page to get updates:

https://www.facebook.com/MelissaConwayAuthor?ref=hl

June 25, 2012

Liebster Blog 'Award'


I have been tagged with a ‘Liebster Blog Award’ by Manu Bedo at her new blog, Hunt of Books.  It’s not really an award, of course, but a question and answer game. I happen to think these are kind of fun, so I’m going to play along, with a twist. Below are the questions Manu asked the bloggers she tagged, and my answers. Below that are the questions I’m asking - and I will be tagging my blogger friends who are most likely to respond. The twist is: my questions are not about books or reading, but are completely random things I’m simply dying to know.

Manu's questions:

1. Hardcover or Paperback?

Depends on how badly I want to read the book. I’ll pay extra for a hardcover if I’m really jonesing for that particular read.

2. What are your hobbies and interests?

Photography, digital art, genealogy, antiques, nutrition.

3. If you could meet any author who would it be?

I’d like to meet some of the authors I’ve befriended on the internet. They’re wonderful people I’ve never met face-to-face.

4. Favorite book series?

Of all time? I suppose The Dragonriders of Pern.

5. What's your favorite 2012 reads?

The Child of the Eyrines series by Rebecca Lochlann and The Halo Revelations by J. S. Colley.

6. What books would you like to read again?

I rarely read a book twice. Those that I have include:  A Deepness in the Dark by Vernor Vinge and Emergence by David. A. Palmer.

7. Favorite author?

I don’t have just one at the moment.

8. Favorite movie based on books?

Harry Potter, hands down.

9. Do you think there would be a World War III?

If there is, I suspect it won’t reach the point where it is referred to as WWIII, because there won’t be anyone left to name it that.

10. Favorite quote from a book?

I’m drawing a blank on this one....

11. Which one is better: The Hunger Games or Harry Potter?

I haven’t read/watched The Hunger Games. I’ll probably wait until the movie comes out on Netflix, but I highly doubt it will surpass Harry Potter in my estimation.


NOW for my questions to you, the unfortunate victims - I mean, friends - I’ve tagged as ‘winners’ of this ‘award’:

1. Does cilantro taste like soap to you?

2. Do you think jumping spiders (with their shiny button eyes) are cute?

3. Do you say the word ‘obviously’ in your head like Severus Snape does here?

4. Who would win in a battle of wits: Betty White or George Takei?

5. Which movie was more painful to watch: The Forty Year Old Virgin or Bridesmaids?

6. Who would you like to play the main characters in the movie version of the last book you wrote?

7. How many fillings do you have?

8. If you could give truth serum to anyone on the planet right now, who would it be and why?

9. Which is the worse gift to receive from a man - a bouquet of flowers that will die in a few weeks, or a live plant that you will kill from ineptitude or neglect in a few weeks?

10. Have you ever been tempted to write an anonymous memoir?

~~~

June 6, 2012

Calamity Jill and the Wind Tunnel


This is an excerpt from a manuscript I never finished called Calamity Jill.  It won the Kathryn Hayes Love and Laughter contest in 2008 and I thought I'd share it:

As soon as they pulled into the parking lot of their destination, Jill recognized that the evening was going to be a “litmus” date.  He’d be watching closely, and her reaction to his choice of entertainment would give him a better idea of their relationship potential.  Tonight she was in for a rousing evening of indoor skydiving.  Jill mentally cracked her knuckles.

The first thing they did upon entering was read and sign a waiver that graphically depicted a long list of possible wind-tunnel injuries.  Tom looked like a kid who had just presented her with the best gift of all time, so she was determined to enjoy herself.  Or at least survive.

“Hey Zeke,” he said to the guy behind the counter.

“What’s up, Tommy-my-man?”

“Sam said chamber two was mine if I wanted it at seven.”

“Yeah, it’s dead tonight.  She certified?”  Zeke asked.

“Nah, I’ll give her the basics.”

“We got a party coming in at eight, so no unzipping.”

“Got it.”

Tom led her into a narrow room and retrieved two blue jumpsuits from a rack.  Jill slipped the one-piece garment over her clothes and pulled the zipper from mid-thigh up to her chest.  Even though the lightweight nylon was loose-fitting everywhere else, the inseam was not long enough for her torso.  It was uncomfortably snug from shoulder to crotch, but she didn’t want to complain.  The next size up was big on Tom.  If she said anything, he’d outfit her in what amounted to a tent.

 “What did he mean by ‘no unzipping?’” she asked as they entered the main arena.

He reached out, pinched Jill’s zipper pull and slowly pulled it down, holding her gaze with a sexy smile.

“Oh.” She looked at the octagon-shaped vertical wind tunnel.  Although the facility appeared for the moment to be deserted, anyone walking by could see through the clear plexiglass lower walls right into the chamber.   Not very private for the ‘unzipping,’ Jill thought.  She wanted to ask if he’d ever unzipped anyone, but was afraid of the answer.

Tom must have seen her dubious expression, because he laughed and said, “It’s a joke, Jill.”

“Oh,” she said again.

He helped her fasten elbow and knee pads, and handed her a helmet with goggles attached. 

“Ready?”

“Sure,” she said with what she hoped was the right quantity of enthusiasm.

He explained the rules and instructed her on the basic hand signals they would need to communicate over the noise of the fans.

“So can I do flips and stuff?” She was getting excited now.

“Not on your first try.  You’ll see what I mean.  It’s a challenge just balancing your body against the wind.  I’m going to hop in first and show you some of the stuff you can do once you’ve tried it a few times.  Then it’s your turn.  Oh, and Jill?”

“Mm?”

“Don’t open your mouth in there.”

“Bugs?”

“Nope.  You may not be able to close it again.”

He winked, tucked a bright orange silicon earplug into each ear and entered a small room attached to the chamber.  He tapped some keys and turned some dials, stepped out onto the elastic mesh floor in the tunnel, and was rewarded with a hum that within seconds built to an almost deafening roar.  He put his head back and his arms out in a dramatic pose as he slowly lifted into the air.

After watching Tom cavort in the 120 mile-per-hour wind for a minute or so, Jill suspected he’d tried it more than a few times.  People began to gather on the observation deck to watch him.  He expertly flew front-wise, on his back, head-down and he even pretended to sit cross-legged.  Despite the chill of the blasting wind, Jill was almost overheated watching him, but his gymnastic skill was not her primary focus.  Ignoring the comical flapping of his cheeks in the wind, she examined the lean, muscular contours of his body revealed through the thin fabric plastered against him.  She’d already been treated to the memorable sight of his chest, and now she got a teasing sample of the rest of the package.

Tom finally stopped showing off and brought Jill into the chamber with him.  The goggles protected her eyes from the force of the wind, but it was hard to breathe with her mouth firmly clamped shut.  She was very unsteady at first, since every movement changed her body’s aerodynamic profile.  Tom placed his hands on her, impersonally guiding the position of her shoulders and arms, the arch of her back and the angle of her hips.  Within seconds he must have gotten an intimate portrait of the shape of her, like a blind man seeing with touch.  Under his tutelage, Jill soon learned to hold a steady horizontal pose, turn right and left, and slide forward and back.  If she wasn’t afraid her mouth would get stuck open like a puffer-fish, she would have laughed aloud in the wake of each accomplishment.

After her miserable performance on the slopes, Jill just knew her quick grasp of free-fall choreography was impressing him.  He hovered next to her with a big smile, and she was riding such a wave of exultation that for a split second she forgot every cautionary lesson he’d just taught her.  She threw her arms wide for a spontaneous embrace, maybe even prelude to a little ‘unzipping.’  Before her mistake had time to register, the wind fired her at him.  Like a battering ram, her helmeted head made contact with his chin.  The repercussion sent her flipping head over heels and instinctively she thrust her arms and legs out.  The convulsive action put too much strain on her already overburdened jumpsuit seam.  She felt the back split from crotch to waistband.  Not sure if her jeans had exploded along with the jumpsuit she shot one arm behind her to cover herself.  Her body immediately curled backwards in another flip and her compromised jumpsuit poofed full of air.  She felt one foot connect solidly with something soft in Tom’s midsection.  Upside down now, rolling like an inflatable beach ball, she glimpsed him doubled over in a slow agonized spin.  Without his guidance, Jill had no idea how to stop her momentum.  Still trying to beat the torn fabric down to hide her exposed rear-end, she bounced off the mesh floor and headed like a pinball on another course straight for the out-of-commission Tom.

Just before her flailing limbs made contact, the air cut off abruptly.  Like cartoon characters falling off a cliff, she and Tom seemed to float for a split second before collapsing in a tangle of arms and legs.

“What the heck are you doing?” cried Zeke from the control room

“Everything’s fine.  No problem here.” Over the ringing in her ears, Tom’s groaning voice came from somewhere beneath her, and she realized with alarm that his head was pressed face-down into the mesh.  As soon as she scrambled off him she heard a muted sound like the fans were starting back up, and thought for a brief, frightened moment that she was about to be launched back into the air.  When she pulled her helmet and goggles off, however, she saw to her ultimate humiliation that the entire observation deck had erupted in laughter and applause.

May 23, 2012

INSPIRATION: MY MUSIC PLAYLIST

I don’t listen to music when I write. It’s too distracting. Music inspires emotion, and I need to be in control of my emotions when I’m writing or else the scene may end up with a completely different feel than I’d intended. I also don’t listen to music when I’m driving, because that’s my thinking time. I do my best plotting when I’m driving or cleaning house or taking a shower.

So when DO I listen to music? When I’m walking the dog, or running for exercise. I have a little SanDisk music player that I loaded with the following songs - hand-picked to help get me in the writing mood.

How it makes me feel: Strong
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinking that we almost had it all.”
Movie you’ve heard this song in: I am Number Four.
Note: Currently my favorite song.

The Adventure, by Angels and Airwaves
How it makes me feel: Hopeful
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Here we go, life’s waiting to begin.”

The Diary of Jane, by Breaking Benjamin
How it makes me feel: Formidable
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Do you like that? Do you like that? No!”
 
Firework, by Katy Perry
How it makes me feel: Inspired
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Baby you’re a firework. Come on show ‘em what you’re worth.”

You’re the Reason, by Victoria Justice
How it makes me feel: Sentimental
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “You’re the only reason that I’m not afraid to fly.”

This Kiss, by Faith Hill
How it makes me feel: Satisfied
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “All I wanted was a white knight with a good heart, soft touch, fast horse.”
Movie you’ve heard this song in: Practical Magic.
Note: I’m not a big fan of country music unless it crosses over into pop, like this song does.

All Around Me, by Flyleaf
How it makes me feel: Spiritual
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “I can feel you all around me, thickening the air I’m breathing.”

Bodran, by Young Dubliners
How it makes me feel: Exhilarated
Favorite quote from the lyrics: No lyrics; instrumental

Here with Me, by Dido
How it makes me feel: Sexy
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Oh, I am what I am, I do what I want, but I can’t hide.”
Television show you’ve heard this song in: Roswell

I’m Like a Bird, by Nelly Furtado
How it makes me feel: Fatalistic
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “I’m like a bird; I’ll only fly away.”

Rush, by Aly & AJ
How it makes me feel: Invincible
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Don’t let nobody tell you your life is over, be every color that you are.”
Movie you’ve heard this song in: Twitches (A Disney flick which I’ve never seen).

Poker Face, by Lady Gaga
How it makes me feel: Pumped
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my poker face.”
Movie you’ve heard this song in: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Letters from the Sky, by Civil Twilight
How it makes me feel: Epic
Favorite quote from the lyrics: “That you and I were made for this, I was made to taste your kiss.”
Movie you’ve heard this song in: I am Number Four.