Morning Coffee: Blind Date With A Book

poinsettia-6Here’s a fun game for exchanging books for Christmas, or any other time, for that matter. I first heard of this when I attended a workshop a couple months back. It was part of a game where we took turns standing up and sharing a humorous, confusing, or even mean review/critique. After you shared you could pick a book out of a basket. Thing was, you couldn’t see the book you were choosing. Each donated book was wrapped in plain brown paper and on the front was written four or five brief descriptions.

I don’t remember the descriptors written on mine, but if I were giving this book away as a blind date I would write: medieval, inspirational romance, lost honor, forced marriage, murder. The book turned out to be “Adoration” by Olivia Rae, a Wisconsin writer. This is a book I wouldn’t normally buy. Not because I don’t like medieval history or inspirational romance, I do, but there just aren’t enough days in my life to read all the books I would enjoy so I have to be choosy and there are other time periods I enjoy more. But I was happy to receive this book. I could hardly put it down.

This is also a game that doesn’t have to cost participants a single cent. You can all agree to bring a gently used book from your own home library. You can add a “white elephant” angle to your game, in case someone picks a book they have already read, or maybe because someone else picked a book they would prefer.

The right to pick a book can be earned by shaking dice or answering a trivia question correctly. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the people playing the game. If you can’t come up with an idea yourself, try Googling it. There are tons of ideas online, from Pinterest to…well…a million other sites. And it doesn’t have to be a party game. Libraries and bookstores are doing it, as well.

Admittedly, the concept goes against the way we normally choose our books. What’s the first thing that attracts you to a book, whether in the library or a store? The cover. Choice of cover art is the top priority when a writer decides to self-publish…other than good content, of course. Unless the book happens to be written by a favorite author, it’s the colors, graphics, even the title font that attracts us. Only after spying an interesting cover do we pick it up and read the back cover blurb before making that all important purchase decision. Blind Date With A Book takes away that visual attraction and truncates the blurb.

I felt an excitement greater than normal as I flipped through the remaining books in the basket. There was a sense of mystery, an intriguing unknown, to the process. I read the descriptors on each. I held them in my hand and felt the size and weight. I ran my hand over the top of each as if willing the contents to expose themselves to me psychically. And when I returned to my seat I didn’t hesitate before untying the string and removing the paper to see my prize, the treasure I had won. The cover was beautiful. I read the full blurb and knew immediately I had picked a winner. But I also knew every book in that basket was a winner. No one “lost” that went on a blind date with a book that night.

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Morning Coffee: Jólabókaflód

Mockingbird2Pronounced Yo-La-Bok-A-Flot, this Icelandic Christmas Eve tradition is one for the books…literally. It means “Yule Book Flood”, and that’s exactly what it is.

Americans are overwhelmed with Christmas marketing even before the Halloween candy has left the store shelves. In Iceland, however, the holiday season begins with the annual delivery of the Bokatidini, a catalog of every new book being published. Can you imagine that happening in the United States? One catalog put out jointly by all the publishing houses and delivered free to every household? The cost alone would be prohibitive, not to mention the sheer weight and size. Iceland, on the other hand, is not large enough to support the year-round publication of new titles. So the few publishing companies “flood” the market with new titles in the weeks prior to year’s end. The arrival of the catalog is met with great excitement.

The tradition began during WWII, when foreign imports were restricted, and paper cheap. Books are exchanged on Christmas Eve and everyone retires to their room, anxious to read long into the night. Forget the raucous parties with too much food, alcohol, and noise. No one is worrying about who should have their car keys taken away, or what the road conditions are like for the drive home. It’s just you and your new book, a warm bed, and perhaps a cup of hot cocoa or tea and a plate of cookies. Maybe a beloved pet curled up at your side while snow falls quietly outside your window.

News of this tradition has spread on social media and book lovers world-wide are starting their own Christmas Eve book exchange traditions. I’m thinking this would be a wonderful idea for next Christmas, although probably not on Christmas Eve as we have our own traditions. I already have a few ideas.

Morning Coffee: Fairy Tales and Princesses

fallThere’s a growing movement telling little girls that fairy tales and princesses are bad. Recently an actress announced she no longer lets her daughters watch “Cinderella” because she doesn’t want them to believe they need a man to come along and save them. Another actress announced she had to have a long talk with her daughters after they watched “Sleeping Beauty” because the prince kissed Beauty without her consent. Women have voiced concerns about “Beauty and The Beast” because that Beauty is held captive by a frightening beast until she falls in love with him. And the list goes on.

I’ve heard similar complaints about romance novels. We shouldn’t be telling stories about love at first sight and finding your one true love. These stories teach young girls they can’t be happy on their own. If it’s a sweet romance or a Christian romance where there’s no sex outside marriage the one side complains it’s unrealistic and preachy. If there is sex outside marriage the other side dubs it “mommy porn”. This makes me sad.

We’re living in a time when women are being encouraged to stand up for themselves in ways that were unacceptable in the past. This is a wonderful thing! Hopefully our daughters won’t have to put up with the harassment their mothers and grandmothers routinely experienced. But why does it have to come at the expense of love and romance? Yes, young girls should be taught they don’t need a handsome prince to come save and protect them. Yes, they absolutely must give consent before being kissed or touched in an intimate manner. And being held captive by another is now, and always has been, a bad thing. But falling in love is a beautiful thing, something we should all be so blessed as to experience at least once in our life.

Love is a biological process hard wired into our brain for both pleasure and procreation. That feeling of excitement, the racing heart and sweaty palms we experience when first falling in love, is due to a release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine. Dopamine is the “pleasure chemical”, the cause of that feeling of happiness whenever you are with him or her. Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline, the reason for the racing heart and excitement. Put them together and you have that crazy cocktail we all recognize: happiness, excitement, sleeplessness, loss of appetite. Researchers studying MRI images taken while their subject is looking at a photo of their love have observed the area of the brain that lights up is the same area connected to cravings and addictions. It’s why when we are in those first throws of love we often find it difficult to focus on anything else.

Love is what connects us to others. Whether it’s the love of a parent, a friend, or a sexual attraction, it’s the one thing that assures us we are not alone. Love is a good thing. So, let’s be careful we don’t sacrifice love in our search for a better future. Have those important conversations with your daughters and sons, but also let them experience love through the eyes of an animated prince and princess. And if you, your friend, or your neighbor enjoys reading a good romance novel, whether of the sweet or erotic or anywhere in between kind, celebrate that, too. We could all use a lot more love and a lot less judgment in this world.

Morning Coffee: History of the Jack O’Lantern

halloweenHalloween! It’s that time of year again when countless pumpkins go under the knife to create scary, and sometimes not-so-scary, Jack O’Lanterns. They’ll sit in windows, on front porches and lawns, lit from inside, to welcome all the little trick-or-treaters. But why do we do it? Whoever thought of carving a face into a hollowed-out pumpkin and then lighting it with a candle?

The name comes from an old Irish folktale about a man named “Stingy Jack”.

The Legend of Stingy Jack

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olantern-history

The Irish and Scots used turnips and potatoes to recreate Jack’s lantern. The English used large beets. The “lanterns” were placed in windows and near doorways to frighten away Stingy Jack’s ghost, and any other spirit that might happen to wander by. When the Irish immigrants brought the tradition with them to this country the much larger pumpkin, a native fruit, became their new favorite and soon a part of the Halloween tradition.

Scary-pumpkins

Morning Coffee: Unlocking My A Game

fallLast weekend I attended WisRWA’s fall workshop, “Unlock Your A Game”, led by Heidi Cullinan. It was an intensive one-day workshop based on the book by her and Damon Suede, “Your A Game: Winning Promo for Genre Fiction”. Going in, I thought I understood the concept of branding, but I had no idea just how involved a process it is. It’s not merely a tagline that describes my books. It’s symbols and pictures and even colors used on business cards and websites, maybe even the clothing you wear to an event. It might be the font color, size and style on your website and book covers. It’s how you portray yourself in everything you say and do to agents, editors, publishers, media, and, most importantly, your fans and readers.

Think about it. When you go to the grocery store what products immediately catch your attention? Why? Which ones do you buy, claiming they taste better when maybe it’s more the color of the packaging than the actual flavor? Brand is more than the name on the label, or author’s name on the cover. There’s Flo from Progressive Insurance, the Geico gecko, Madge the manicurist who used to soak her hands in Palmolive dish soap, Mr. Clean, and those scrubbing bubbles, just to name a few. You don’t need to be told the brand name to recognize them. That’s branding.Your A Game: winning promo for genre fiction by [Suede, Damon, Cullinan, Heidi]

“Your A Game” teaches using game theory to craft Brand, Presence, and Market strategy. Brand is my piece in the game; presence, the rules of engagement; and market, my playing board. I’m currently working on my brand, my tagline, my piece in the game. It’s the thing that will first and foremost set me apart from all the other players.

We spent all day breaking down each of the three components, interspersed with exercises meant to put our new knowledge to work. This proved to be not as easy as you might think. By the end of the afternoon, when it was time to put everything we learned together into draft bios and pitches, we were exhausted. Heidi warned us in the beginning that there was a lot of information and by the time we were done our brains would feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and be just plain over flowing. She wasn’t kidding! By the last exercises I couldn’t put two words together on the page and have them make sense…or even not make sense. My hand refused to move my pen across my paper. And I wasn’t the only one in the room who looked like they might need help remembering their own name.

Despite all this, I loved every minute of it! That’s right. I loved it and even bought the e-book when I got home. I anticipate some long winter hours studying and practicing until I get it just right.

Morning Coffee: The Not-So-Straight Path

fallFew paths in life are straight and easy. Changes have to be made, twists and turns, perhaps back tracking before choosing a new direction. The reasons can be many, from an unexpected personal or family situation, to the decision that another path has become more desirable. I have made the decision to change my path toward becoming a published author.

My dream to publish has been a lifelong one. I have taken classes, joined critique groups. Over the years I’ve had success publishing poetry and short stories, but the goal of publishing a novel still beckoned, just out of reach, until recent years when I felt ready to push ahead.

My goal has been to find an agent/publisher. This is a high-reaching goal. Agents and editors receive thousands of submissions. Some requested and some cold. Some are not very good, but many, if not most, of them are very good and worthy of publication. Unfortunately, not all of them can be accepted. It costs a publisher considerable money to bring a book to the marketplace and they have to give everything they can to each title chosen to make it a success. Because of this, many wonderful stories have gone unpublished, unread, in the past. The rise in the number of small independent publishing companies has improved the odds of publication, but they have even less money than the big houses to invest in new titles.

Then along came self-publishing. The down side is this allows even poorly written unedited books to be published. The up side is now readers have so many more good books to choose from, books that don’t necessarily fall into the specific needs of traditional publishers but do provide an exciting and exceptional read.

Comments received from submissions have indicated my book is a good read but it just doesn’t fit into the narrowly defined needs of publishers at this time. I could decide to stick it in a drawer to wait and see if those needs change, or I can take control of my path and publish it myself. This being said, my path to publication has taken a turn. I’ve decided to abandon my search for an agent/publisher and self-publish.

I have arranged for a professional editor. I am discussing the correct path forward with authors I know who self-publish. I am considering cover design. I’m even considering a different title. While my path has changed, the end goal is the same. Stay tuned for updates.

Morning Coffee: A Change of Seasons

fallSeptember is here. While technically it’s still summer, fall not scheduled to officially arrive until the 22nd, all the signs are here. Leaves are changing. Nights are cold with mild days. Acorns litter our yard this year in greater numbers than ever before, which causes me to fear a harsh winter is coming. School is back in session for children everywhere and their mothers are celebrating with pumpkin spice anything: coffee, lattes, muffins, scones.

Fall is one of my favorite seasons. The cold nights make for better sleeping. Mild days still allow for a round of golf, or a hike on one of our many beautiful trails. And I admit I might just love pumpkin spice a little more than is healthy.

When I was growing up I loved that school would be starting again. By then I was bored with summer and ready to go back to the classroom. Store shelves stacked high with colorful notebooks, file folders, and 3-ring binders made my heart race. There was nothing better, to me, than a new box of crayons, colored pencils, or markers. Oh the possibilities in that box! I couldn’t wait to find out who my teacher was going to be, and which of my friends would be in the same class with me. In high school, fall meant football games, dances, Homecoming.

When my children were young I still felt that excitement. Except, by then I was looking forward to days free from the complaint, “I have nothing to do!” From our current home I can hear the school bells ring and listen to the children on the playground during recess. That’s when all the old memories come back.

Perhaps my excitement came from my father. He was a high school teacher and always anxious to start the new school year. I think his excitement became my excitement. Before school started I would sometimes go with when he prepared his classroom. At the end of the year I could help him pack anything that wasn’t staying over the summer. During the school year he graded papers while we did our homework.

Later, when we were older, my mother went back to school to become a grade school teacher and librarian. I always knew that one day I would attend university, but the example of her going back as an older, non-traditional, student gave me the courage to do the same and finish my degree after my children were in school. And when I did, that old feeling came back, the excitement of a new school year, new classes, and old faces.

The one bad side…fall fast becomes winter.