Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Choice Between Encouragement and Sarcasm

My first day of class is always the best. The minds are open and eager to learn. I teach developmental classes at a local right-to-try college offering technical training and medical technician degrees. I love the right-to-try concept in that anyone can attend regardless of whether they successfully completed high school or not.

My students can be anywhere from just out of high school to men and women in their 50s or 60s with kids and families trying to be retrained in a state that has lost too many higher paying manufacturing jobs to low-wage service jobs. Their former jobs are now being done outside the country. By the time the students arrive in my class, they have come to terms with their lost and want to be retrained and provide for their family. They are dedicated and eager to learn.

They also share another common trait. Some educator or family member along the way has done a number on them and convinced them they are stupid and can never learn to read properly or write an acceptable sentence.

The best part of my job is telling them they will learn. I will see to it. You can see the hope shine in their eyes because no one has encouraged their education before. And usually that is all they need along with some work to improve their skills. When they leave my class they are ready to take on the rest of their education and improve their life.

What frustrates me is the stories I hear along the way. The humiliation dished out at the hands of role models or parents. Imagine what these people could have already accomplished if given just a little bit of encouragement instead of negativity? We throw around the word “stupid” like it was candy instead of poison to a struggling soul. What would the world be like if we replaced the scorn with a helping hand, a word of encouragement instead of sarcasm? Could it be that simple?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Google Alerts Now Filled With Hockey Instead of My Book!

I have Google Alerts for my name and the name of each of my books. What that means is when someone mentions my name or one of my books, I get an email from Google letting me know along with a link to go look at it. I love it and it is a super cool concept. I’ve seen lots of buzz about my books including a great review from the Lansing State Journal! I had no idea my publisher sent an advance reading copy to them. I encourage everyone to have Google Alerts.

As I mentioned, I have one that I created this summer for A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES. I didn’t think too much about it until hockey season started this past week. The St. Louis Blues trigger my Google alert nearly every day. I’m trying to decide if I should make the search more specific, but wouldn’t want to miss something if my book title isn’t exactly as it should be.

For now, I’m keeping up on hockey which is a big sport in our house with my daughter being the biggest fan. The bad part is the Blues aren’t “her team.” That would be the Detroit Red Wings. I must admit I don’t keep up on their season much, but I’m more of a red and white girl than blue and gold. For now I will just cheer for more alerts for my favorite team – the Mitch Malone Mystery series. Go Hometown Blues!

What would you like to see more Google alerts for?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forecast: Characterization with sunny flowers

I splurged yesterday at the grocery store and purchased a large bunch of yellow alstroemeria, a lily-type flower. The weatherman is forecasting gray days for the rest of the week. Something about a trapped low pressure system waiting for some stronger weather to move it out. While we wait, it sits and spins over Michigan creating clouds and off and on showers. To offset that tired, crankiness the weather can cause, I wanted to be proactive and purchased the flowers. For me the yellow helps replace the sun.

I never was one who wanted a beau to deliver a big bouquet as a sign of eternal devotion. Now that I’m older and married, I appreciate them more. And they do make me smile as the rain pelts the window. When the grayness pulls me to the couch for a nap, I look at the flowers and it helps me go back to writing. I’ve been struggling to create some vivid characters for a short story that needs to be done by the end of the month. Making charcters come alive in short stories is very difficult unless you can show traits by actions. Flowers can help with that.

Does your main character adore or scoff at flowers? Mitch Malone, the crime beat reporter sleuth in my mystery series, would scoff at flowers. He has no idea why the world needs them, thinks they are silly and the folly of woman. However, he would bring them to a date, if he ever had one and thought it would help the girl like him better. What I need to decide is how the female character would react when Mitch shows up with a large bouquet? Does she throw them in his face? Take them and gush giving him a big hug? Take them and then slam the door in his face?

Characters are funny things. You create them, then they have the nerve to have a mind of their own and tell you what they are going to do. Have you ever read a book and the character did something you didn’t expect and you couldn’t say why? Was that good characterizing or bad? My guess is bad unless there is a compelling reason for the character to change that you could find about later.

Think about your favorite characters? Would they buy flowers? Would they never notice them or would they smile every time they walked by? Tell me about your favorite character and their flower choices.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Technical Terms Defined

Today's post is a guest blog from the Murder Must Advertise loop which is dedicated to helping mystery authors get the word out on their books. As a little background, I am taking a book blog tour class and get lost in all the technology terms. I thought Paul's comment on the litserv was very informative and others might benefit from it. Thank you PolyWogg. To see more about Poly, check out his website at

The mechanics differ from site to site, but the "theory" behind them is
relatively straightforward.

Note though that one should distinguish between a blog (regularly updated
content on a website) and a newsletter (regularly updated content sent out
by e-mail). If you get Hitch's business updates by e-mail. they are truly a
newsletter -- all the content is there to read, for the most part,
relatively self-contained. At the other end of the spectrum is a
auto-generated newsletter that basically does nothing more than tell you
there's a new blog entry on the website (this is what my e-mail followers
get, designed to drive people to the site). In the middle is something CJ
Lyons does -- she sends out what looks like a newsletter in that it is a
nicely drafted/crafted e-mail, but also contains announcement info on links
to more info on her website. So, if someone wants your newsletter, there's
really only one way to get it -- sign in and give you their email address.

However, if you want to "follow" a blog (or any website generally), there
are generally five ways to do it, only one of which requires an e-mail or
login. First, you can do it manually -- some people have a few bookmarks
that they just click on once a week or once a day and go to the site to see
what's new. Upside is it is totally within your control, no distractions, no
inbox filling up, etc.; downside is you forget to click and miss something

Second, you can use a tool like iGoogle or MyYahoo etc to create a special
page that does nothing more than give you little windows of other pages --
so you "add" someone else's URL to this page and next time you go to
MyYahoo, it will show you if there is anything updated on that page (usually
the home page of the blogsite). This is basically how most news sites work
that aggregate other news sites.

Third, you can subscribe "manually" to their updates (if the site allows
it). My site gives this option -- if you subscribe, enter your e-mail
address, etc, then every time there's a new blog entry, you get an e-mail.
Most sites don't have it, at least not by default, but it is usually easy to
add. I have mine set to send out the "notifications" daily only cuz I don't
generate a lot of content, it's a personal site. And I use a plugin called
FeedBurner which includes an e-mail option. They manage all the e-mail
addresses, not me, and it is a lot more sophisticated then me having them
register on MY site (which btw also creates essentially a type of account on
my site, which is also an opening for future vulnerabilities) .

Fourth, you can click on the RSS feed and add it to your browser (some
browsers have built in plugins that will allow feeds to appear just in their
toolbar as pulldown menus). RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and was designed for "following" someone without necessarily telling them and having to provide your info. If you are on a site that is even the least bit social media friendly, you usually see a little icon for Facebook, another for Twitter, several others for other social media sites, and then one that is orange and looks like a dot in the bottom left hand corner with two semi-circles radiating out to the right -- the image is supposed to be like a speaker giving off "waves". Clicking on this activates the RSS feed, and your browser set up decides if it knows what to do with it (i.e. add it to your pulldown menu) or not (gives you a really ugly page of computer code that is almost unreadable).

Fifth, and I find this the easiest, is to run an RSS reader program. Some
are standalone and run on your desktop, others are web-based. I use Google's web-based RSS reader, called, dum dum de da: Google Reader. In the reader, you basically give it the URL for the site you want to follow and it will try to figure out the feed address for you -- usually something like feed or something similar. Most of the time though I just click on the RSS icon and up pops a bunch of options like "How do you want to follow this?" with a list of various readers to choose from, and Google is almost always an option. I click on google reader, it adds it for me to the google reader, and voila, my google reader has another bookmark in it that is now following George's Guide to Navel Lint. If It doesn't give me the popup, I can add it manually by opening google reader and entering the URL myself, and that will find it most of the time. If not, last resort is to "right click" on the RSS icon on the blog, say "COPY LINK LOCATION" and
paste *that* into your Reader program. This isn't a great explanation, there
are pages and pages of examples on the Google Reader Help site, if you can't get it to work, but it's not as bad as I describe. Like I said, most of the time, I just click on the RSS icon and say "add to google reader". I have even added a Google Reader widget to my iGoogle home page that tells me when google Reader has something new in it. Of course, Google Reader also "pulls" the content from the original site and gives you a viewer reader to see the entry -- which means if you're following your favorite author, and they add a special banner to their site advertising a new book or a sale, you don't see it in the reader ... you read the text, not the original website. You can click through to it easy enough to see more, but it does mean you're not visiting the site.

As for MM's comment about, ahem, commenting and wanting a universal commenting system, I hope no one holds their breath. It won't come anytime soon, I don't think -- two of the main drivers for running different commenting systems is (a) how it integrates with the underlying software which varies from other sites for specific offerings (FB and Google+ do similar things, but not identical, and comment systems will differ in their ability to integrate with them too); and (b) combating spamsters. If anyone follows The Passive Guy's blog, he even gives good examples of Spam 2.0 attempts on his site -- spamsters who post what look like perfectly
legitimate but somewhat generic comments, no spam involved, and wait until you approve it. Which seems like a waste of spam time, except most sites have similar policies -- all first time comments get moderated, *but* if you are posting from an e-mail address that has already had at least one comment approved, the site allows direct posting without moderation. So the first comment goes in as "innocuous" and then they can spam your site at will, because the address is already "validated" as okay. So expect the commenting systems to respond in different ways, and to continue their parallel but incompatible development.

RSS is a great way to market your site, build followers, etc., but the downside is it is also anonymous -- you don't know who is following you, unlike Twitter or newsletters. It's one of the reasons too why it is so popular -- I don't necessarily want to share my address with you for all eternity opening myself up to the potential of eternal spam from you. I just want to read your blog :) But while it builds support for your CONTENT, RSS readers also encourage people to view your content in THEIR windows, not the original site.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kerrytown BookFest Featuring Louise Penny

On Sunday I went to the Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’d never been and it was really nice. I didn’t realize there were so many specialized book publishers. I also had the privilege of listening to Louise Penny being interviewed by Robin Agnew of Aunt Agatha’s Book Store.

I’ve not read any of Louise’s books but I will be, I guarantee it not only from Robin’s kind words but because of the author. She was so interesting, engaging and comfortable playing the 200 plus people there.

I’m comfortable talking to people but she related to the audience within seconds. She talked about her husband, her writing process, a hilarious story about how she got one of the ideas (from her husband). Her mysteries feature Inspector Armand Gamache and are set in Canada. The first book on my list is the one where someone is killed by electrocution on a frozen lake during a curling match.

I wish I had taken notes and been closer to the front so I could see more of her facial expressions. But you didn’t need to see her to know she was having fun. The hour flew by and the audience’s questions came fast and furious. Someday I hope I’m as comfortable with an audience and have people entranced by the stories I tell.
Kittling Books: Great questions, different answers and bonus travel tips.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blogging and Too Much Information

I’m taking this great Blog Tour Class from Dani at We’ve only just started and I’ve learned so much. We are working on critiquing each other’s blogs. Usually I’m a dine and dasher when it comes to blogs. I don’t seem to have time to read them all. I pop in and read what I want, post a quick comment, and then move on.

Since the class started, I am spending more time on the blogs I look at. I just went to post on a blog because the woman was looking for help getting her author portrait taken. (I’ve had many jobs/careers and one was with a great photographer and picked up a few tips. I also hate horrid photos that with a bit of tweaking could have been great.) After making my comments I spent some time looking at her blog and trying to evaluate as we are learning.

In the class there has been a bit of discussion about Feeddjit which shows you where the people are from who are looking at your blog. I saw one from Lansing and thought it was cool because I am trying to connect with writers who life near me. (I just moved.) After a few moments I realized the person was me. Ugh! Now I understand Feeddjit – a live traffic feed and why the woman who had it said she just likes to see where people are coming from. I think that is cool too. I’m scared to add here because I think all my views will be my mother! Does technology give you too much information? What do you think? Are you my mother?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Worked hard researching this weekend -- not.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Has sensitivity been overridden by a need to be funny?