If I Die Young

I went to the funeral of a young, beautiful, vibrant woman who died of breast cancer this past week. It was a heart-breaking event that caused me to pause and reflect on my life, on how I will or want to be remembered and on how I spend my time. It took two planes then a nine hour drive to be able to go to her funeral, but it was worth it. 

Tricia was no shrinking violet. She was smart and strong and spoke her mind and I loved that so many people were there to honor her for being such a strong woman. She and I shared the fact that we are married to very smart men. Even though she was younger than me, I loved the way, and studied, how she held her own in debates with him. She spoke her mind and never shied away from Thanksgiving table debates. I didn’t really find my voice until recently and there are times I still consider taking the soft-spoken, sweet girl route and not rocking the boat. I’m glad she rocked the boat, that she had strong ideals and wasn’t afraid to share them.

We were also both moms. Her girls got up and read a poem at her funeral and I was amazed at how much of not only her physical beauty they posses, but also how much of her strength. I’m not sure I could have done the same at their age. You could see that though they were devastated by the loss of their mother, they both have her spirit. I could see the amazing women they will become, in part due to this tragedy. Some are crushed by an event like this, others are forged by it. 

I was struck by the ways her family embraced and celebrated her feminist ideals. Her pallbearers were all women, the preacher spoke of how important it was to her that her daughters not believe in a world that limited women, a woman from the church sang “I Did It My Way.” 

Funerals are important for the living. They give us closure and allow us to grieve together and comfort each other, but this one, for a young mother, did more than that for me. It strengthened me and made me more committed to writing this blog, writing novels, jumping out of airplanes, getting tattoos, and basically not living a chicken-shit life any more. It confirmed all the positive changes I’ve made in the past few years.  

I didn’t allow myself to get into thoughts of why this had to happen to her. I don’t believe there is some master plan or reason for such a tragic death. But I do believe that we can choose our reaction to it. I’m using the deep sadness I feel about her death to reaffirm my life. Because of Tricia I will continue to be stronger, to have opinions and crusade for causes I believe in and to raise my sons to be good men who appreciate strong, smart women. 

Popstars, Friends & Lovers Sneak Peek and Timeline

I’ve been remiss and sporadic with posting on this blog lately. My only explanation is that summer happened: summer travel, summer camps, summer weather. I’m not sure if I am happy or not that it will be coming to an end soon. School starts in our world in three weeks. 
Writing on my second book “Popstars, Friends & Lovers” is the other thing that has been too sporadic this summer. I am determined to hit my October deadline, so I revised my end-of-summer schedule to include more time for novel writing. In order to accomplish this, I will only be blogging on Mondays. I still have a lot to share with my readers so I don’t want to let it go completely, but I need to dedicate more mornings to MG and Steve. 
After a rocky start, I’m really happy with the direction things are going in for my favorite couple/noncouple from “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks.” Here’s a sneak peek at chapter two – Steve after graduation and after MG left him to go to New York.  Enjoy and follow my progress on social media with #♪☺♥.

**This excerpt and the novel are recommended for readers age 17 and older.**

Steve’s afternoons with Carrie were the highlight of his week.  Since his dad refused to get a phone for their apartment (Don’t wantanyone to call me) he had to just hope he would see her pull up in Ben’s jeep on Tuesdays and Thursdays at three.
They watched reruns together, she brought him food from the restaurant where she worked, and being around her reminded him of high school, and MG.  There was no way to justify how much he missed MG.  She was never really his girlfriend so she never broke up with him, but she left him behind, just the same.  Now she was in New York, with her mom, chasing some dream of big money and a big life. And he was here, hanging out with her best friend, clinging to the way he had felt when he was around her.  
His dad wandered into the kitchen, which could easily be seen from the living room.  He and Steve worked the night shift together at Tricon, so he was just getting up and, as usual, he hadn’t bothered to put pants on.  
“Put some god-damned pants on,” Steve yelled.  He had to tell him this every time Carrie was coming over.  
“Why, that lil cutie comin over again?”
Steve glared at his dad.  It almost seemed like he wanted Carrie to catch him in his underwear.  Like she’d be interested in some sorry-assed, middle-aged man.  Steve looked at his dad, slumped over the door of the refrigerator, searching the contents for anything edible.  He was tall, lean and lanky; just like Steve.  And like his son, he was also a lot stronger than he looked.  Steve had seen him heft some seriously heavy boxes at the warehouse.  But time and bad living was definitely taking a toll on him.  He had blotchy skin on his face, some from too much sun, some old scars.  His hair was starting to recede from his forehead, particularly on the sides.  And he had the nastiest smoker’s hack when he woke up, like now.  Coming up empty on his search of the fridge, he scoured the cabinets, lungs rattling, working up to a vile-sounding coughing fit.  
Steve snubbed his own cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray on the floor next to the couch, “Her name’s Carrie and she doesn’t want to see you in your underwear.”
“How do you know? She smiled at me last time she was here.”
Shit!Sometimes his old man just drove him insane, maybe because they were too much alike.  At one point in time, Jim Shrader was a charmer and a flirt and a ladies man.  Then he met Steve’s mom, his waterloo.  He fell hard for her and was actually thrilled when she got pregnant their junior year of high school, the result being Steve’s older brother, Tony.  To this day he kinda wondered if Tony really was his full brother.  They were nothing alike, in looks or personality.  He wondered if his mom had just decided Jim Shrader was most likely to marry her. A marriage that lasted all of 10 months before she bolted, leaving Jim with a newborn.  The other thing Steve never understood was why his dad took her back five years later, when she had Steve then left again.  His best guess was that his mom was a drug addict and Jim thought he could save her, or she was reformed briefly, or something like that.
Not that he would ever know those answers.  Neither he nor Jim was much for talking.  They were both so laid back they could be home together for days and never say more than two words to each other.  Yep, him and his dad, two mellow-assed saps for women.  It depressed the hell out of him how much his life was starting to look like his dad’s.
Carrie knocked on the door.  Steve pleaded with his eyes for his dad to go in his room.  Jim reluctantly complied.  
“They were out of chicken fried steak, so I got you meatloaf.”
She spoiled him.  She went out of her way to do things to make him happy.  With her boyfriend Ben away at basic training, it was like she needed someone to dote on as much as he liked being doted on, so it worked.
“Meatloaf’s great, thanks.” He held the door then closed it behind her.
“I grabbed a bunch of plastic forks and knives from the take-out bin too.”  
The first time she showed up with a meal for him they had to look under the couch for one of the three forks he and his dad owned.  It took a lot of hot water to get the gunk off it.  She had been bringing plastic utensils ever since.  
“Good idea.” He dropped his voice a little, “My dad’s here and awake, so let’s just go in my room.”
Carrie set the bag containing his dinner on the floor and plopped on his mattress, which sat on the floor.  Her Swiss-themed uniform skirt poofed out in a circle around her.  Steve shut the door, retrieved the bag of food and propped himself up against the wall, sitting on his pillow, to eat his meatloaf.
“You will not believe what I heard today.”  Carrie laid down, her head on his out-stretched legs.  This was something new, touching each other – nothing sexual, just touching in some way, filling the gaping affection void in both their lives.  
“Rat-boy got busted.”  Rat-boy was their nickname for a kid from their class who, well, had a rat face.  He opened a pizza place right after graduation, but everyone knew it was a front for his drug dealing.  
“Fuckin’ moron, probably sold to a cop.”
Carrie smiled and nodded, “if he names names, would you be in trouble?”
Steve popped another chunk of meatloaf in his mouth and shook his head no.  He never bought from Rat boy because he was a stupid fuck who cheated his way through high school. He doubted he’d changed much in the seven months since they graduated. 
Carrie rolled onto her back and picked at a torn cuticle.  Steve finished his dinner.  He set the plate on the crate he used as a side table, almost knocking the card off of it.  It was a graduation card from MG and her mom, the only one he got.  He set the card upright again.  
“Are you going out Friday night?” It would be New Year’s Eve, 1999.  People were going crazy all over the place with big parties or fears of the world ending.
He shrugged.  “Party at Chuck’s house.  I might go.  You?”
“Probably just stay at Casey’s and hang out with her and Gina.”  Carrie looked up at him and smiled, “So tonight I’m gonna party like its 1999,” she sang.  Steve chuckled softly and tugged at a tendril of her hair that was lying across his knee.  He stretched and grabbed an ashtray with a half-smoked joint in it.  He lit it, held the smoke in his lungs then blew it away from Carrie.  
“I definitely thought life after high school would be more exciting than this, didn’t you?”
He shrugged.
“Is this what you want to be doing? Ten years from now?”
He shook his head, “But I don’t have a fucking clue what else I could do.”  He thought about his old man, 25 years at Tricon, hefting boxes, moving crates, night after night.
“What do you say we just take off, start driving, see where we end up?”
He smiled at her, “In what?”
She smirked, “Good point.”  Neither of them owned a car.  He used his brother’s motorcycle while Stony was in jail and Carrie was using Ben’s jeep while he was in basic training.  

Carrie thought about asking him where he would want to go, if they could just take off, but she pretty much already knew the answer, New York.  

Living with Generation Z

I didn’t know it until I read it in my local alternative paper, The Memphis Flyer, but I’m living with two members of generation Z. I’m not even sure my two Z sons knew it either. 

As my oldest gets ready to start high school, the media has begun the group-clumping analysis of traits that became popular with the Baby Boomer generation. Presenting as a huge bubble in population stats, the Boomers influenced and even recreated societal norms for each life phase they passed through. The groovy sixties, greedy eighties and Viagra nineties are all courtesy of them. As world events happened to them, their collective energy responded and happened to the world. 

They were followed by generations X and Y, neither or whom seemed to make nearly as huge an impression on history as their predecessors. So what about generation Z? (And what alpha demarcation will the next group get? Did we just run out? Is that a sign of the apocalypse?)

The article in the 6.12.14 issue of the Flyer was interesting and presented a list of possible influences on these kids, but it left me wanting to know more about how the outside influences on their lives will translate into their daily lives. As someone living in the trenches with two Z teens I decided I could at least anecdotally add to the story. 

They may have been born into the ‘hanging-chad’ election, but I don’t see this as an influence on their lives. Unless a news story interrupted Blues Clues, it was a non-event to them. The one event that is pre-memory that has shaped their existence is 9-11. In so many ways it continues to define who they are and how they live. Air travel has always been a huge, ever-changing hassle for them. (Can I bring my favorite juice bottle on the plane or will the mean guy take it and throw it away again?) Dads, Moms and other adults in their lives have joined the military and went to war. A war that played in the background their entire lives. It is woven into the fabric of their existence. As teens I see them searching for black and white answers that aren’t there. They want to know how to prevent it all from happening again.

When mock elections in 2008 and 2012 were held at school they were asked to have an opinion on the wars. Most were happy to parrot what ever their parents or teachers told them rather than give their attention to the childish mud-slinging of TV politics. For them Hurricane Katrina was just another reminder that their government is inept and often useless.  

Growing up in the digital revolution could be a huge influence in itself, but having that digital world play such a vital role in world politics through the war on terrorism has made it the rallying point of their generation thus far. They are much more likely to remember Edward Snowden than the attack in Benghazi. While the attack is part of the current war on terror, Snowden and his message are part of the movement away and out of that part of history. They want to make their mark on this world with their weapons of choice; cell phones and I-pads with cameras and instant messaging. They feel more connected with teens and young people all over the world because they communicate with each other in real time as events are happening and they influence those events. That is very powerful for a 14 year-old in small-town Mississippi.

They are as sex-obsessed as any teens in history (raging hormones still rule), but the influence of access to internet porn and over-sexualized main-stream media makes their conversations vastly different than other generations. The big questions isn’t “are you doing it?” it’s “Are you pansexual? bi? trans?” Their generation is more open to being and accepting once-taboo sexuality. But, that has not produced a free love comeback. All this openness has produced more confusion about how to interact and date than crazed free-for-all sex. 

School shootings have been far too common in their lives and they are on a constant lookout for their peers who might be on the edge and about to go over. They reach out to each other through the anonymity of the internet to find others who feel disenfranchised and lost as so many do in adolescence. While this is positive and no one will ever know how many possible shootings have been averted, it demonstrates a gap in counseling that is being filled by amateurs. 

As for their future, my kids know it is uncertain and they welcome it. The old standard high school, college, starter-job path is fading quickly and they are ready to fill it with fantastic innovative ideas at a pace that is guaranteed to make X and Y gen heads spin. They love the idea that they can move society so much faster than the old stodgy institutions. They want to self-educate and self-govern or at least move all this into microcosm societies that can keep up with their rapidly-firing, multitasking brains. It’s is truly exciting to live with these kids and watch them welcome and shape societal changes. 

But they are still teens. It is still incredibly embarrassing that they have parents, especially ones that are so stupid and expect them to do chores. They still fall in love and pass all the physical milestones of first make-up or first time to shave that we all did. And while it is interesting to step back and look at their generation as a lump-sum whole, it’s more important to be there for them as individuals. I often have no clue how to handle some of the situations my kids present to me. I try to hide how much I wing it. The best thing I can offer them is my belief that they are awesome and will find their place in this world and that the world is a great place filled with more kind people than haters (who often just yell the loudest). That never seems to change.

What worked 6 Months Ago, Might Not Work Now

My last post was about the excitement I have about being part of the self-publishing revolution. For me the pros of doing it all myself definitely outweigh the cons. But I don’t want to paint the picture that going this route is in any way easy. By self-publishing you also take on the task of self-marketing. This is one aspect I actually enjoy, but that hasn’t made it any less confusing and at times overwhelming. 

Part of the challenge in being part of a revolution is the rapid pace of change in the industry. Since it’s a free-for-all when it comes to ideas or ways to market your book some clever soul is coming up with a new idea every day. Occasionally someone hits a jackpot and their idea launches their work into the stratosphere where they reach million upon millions of potential readers. And when that happens, the rest of us struggling self-publishers (and most likely publishing houses too) take note and want to jump on that band wagon. We reason that if fanfiction (or social media, or blogging, or giveaways) helped launch a top seller, then that’s what I will do to get similar results. 

There’s a two-fold problem with this formula. First there are so many of us in this revolution. Viva self-pub is being chanted by thousands of authors with more joining the fray everyday. This can be a shock to a new author. Just finishing that first novel and getting it on Amazon and/or another site feels like such an enormous accomplishment  that it can be a letdown to realize there isn’t an immediate line forming of readers clamoring for your work. Worse, you find your work lost in a very crowded space, struggling to even be seen. 

Not to fear, once you identify as a self-pub author help will come pouring in. This is good, but the second part of the problem. What worked six months ago for an new author, might not work now. Last year there may have only been a few authors doing blog tours, so their work stood out. When fewer authors were using Pintrest or Tumblr their posts and pins stood out. As each medium becomes saturated, your messages becomes diluted and eventually lost.

I love to follow other authors on Twitter. They give me insight into their writing process and share their ups and downs, but I’m getting frustrated with those who only tweet ads for their books, ad nauseam. I get the feeling that someone told them about how bombarding twitter with book ads blew their sales through the roof. And that may have worked at some point in the past, but I honestly skip past tweets that simply say, “get your copy of my murder mystery” with an Amazon link. I want to know you, are you a self-pub? Is this your first book? Why did you write it? Why is it different? 

One hot current marketing debate is the value of free. At first this promotional idea was very effective and you can read about authors experiencing huge bumps in sales following a free promotion. As more authors tried this technique sites emerged that solely promote free books. Unfortunately, it looks like people that follow these are constantly downloading books solely because they are free, accumulating more in their e-libraries than they could possibly read in a lifetime. Its now more common to get lost in the free sea than to stand out for offering readers a chance to try your work.

So how do you market your self-published book? Having only been pondering this question for less than a year I am hardly an expert, however, I can offer my been-there, done-that advice. First, prepare to be in this for the long haul. It’s all about making connections. As I pointed out with Twitter, social media can be used to connect with others; other authors, other romance novel lovers, etc. Connection is what will get others to want to try your work and/or share it. If you dedicate time to connecting on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. you will eventually get a following of people who genuinely like you and your work. These are the people who will be looking for your second novel, not the thousands who downloaded a free copy of your first then forgot about it. 

Talk to teens. Even if your book is not marketed to teens, they are the ones truly in the know when in comes to social media trends. Whatever they are using today will become mainstream tomorrow. This is the way to be one of the first to try a marketing technique and stand out. 

Know your audience and your niche. Each genre and especially subgenre has an audience who is looking for new books, especially those recommended by others within that community.

Find the indie author supporters (and support them!). There are some seriously crappy books in the indie world (unedited, poorly written) that give all of us a bad rep. Not every blogger or reader is willing to keep giving indie a try, so find and support those who do. 

Finally, beware ads promising you the moon. Yes, there are companies who will get your tweet seen by tens of thousands of others on Twitter. Which sounds great, until you realize that most of those volume numbers are not targeted. It’s just random accounts, with no breakdown into romance readers or really even readers. Shouting out the name of your book at any public event might be more effective. Stop and analyze the odds of reaching your specific market then look at the number other authors using the same technique. If yours is one of  hundreds of books being promoted in the same way I can promise that mode has become saturated and you should consider spending your money and time elsewhere.

A Report From the Pub

After a crushing defeat yesterday, USA is out of the World Cup. It is a huge loss to lovers of this beautiful sport to no longer get a weekly dose (or two) of Graham Zusi sightings. So what do you say I throw in one more …

The good news is that he will reappear for your viewing enjoyment with Sporting Kansas City from now through October. While the home team may be out, there are still so many good reasons to keep watching. Not only is it a great excuse to hide out in an air conditioned pub and drink beer (or Jameson) with other fans, but the eye-candy festival will continue for your viewing enjoyment. 

 I’m now throwing my hat (beret) in with France. They were one of my four initial picks (based on hotness) and what do you know, they’re really good at playing futbol too.  It’s a win-win, or at least let’s hope it’s several wins so we can keep enjoying the French-accented beautiful men show. 

This Friday they play Germany. It’s a holiday so you have no excuse for not going to your local Irish or English pub for a few hours of unhealthy food, cold drinks and other fans to share your enthusiasm. Here’s a quick review of the players to keep an eye on during the game:

Hugo Lloris

Karim Benzima

Mathieu Debuchy

Olivier Giroud

Yohan Cabaye

 You’re welcome.