Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Sad Farewell

Today, we mourn the passing of Maya Angelou--a poet, writer, actor, dancer, gardener, and civil rights activist.



She was so many things to so many people. I believe she was probably best known as author of the best-seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This first novel put her into the recordbooks as the first Aftrican-American woman to produce a best-selling novel.

She will be missed. For more information, her biography can be found here: http://www.biography.com/#!/people/maya-angelou-9185388

It is worth looking at as she provided a wonderfully positive example for so many.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Confusing World of Undergarments



Women - Try as I might, I don't think I'll ever fully understand them. Why? because I'm a man and I've discovered that, while men are simple, women are complicated.

I'm not talking what wine to drink with chicken or beef complicated. No, not how to match sock color with the rest of your outfit complicated. I'm not even talking Rubik's Cube complicated.

I'm talking about calculating the vastness of the universe complicated; pondering the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and God complicated.

In comparison, men must appear like simpletons to women. We basically see and name about twelve colors, while color selections are endless to them. Our underwear come in two basic styles: boxers and briefs. Yes, I know that there are other styles but men will still classify them into one of the two aforementioned categories.

In keeping with this complication of all things woman, I made a grand discovery this last week while shopping with my wife. We were at that really big low-priced  retail chain because we needed some groceries, windshield wiper blades, and possibly some clothing. My wife found some clothes she liked and asked me to watch the shopping cart (called a "buggy" in Alabama) while she tried them on.

"Sure," I said before wheeling the cart to the men's clothing department for some socks. I quickly found some socks I liked and *BONUS* they came in a two-pack. I put three of these in the cart, you know, to cover all my bases. Yep, I consider myself reasonably fashionable, and purchase socks in the three basic colors to match any outfit: black, blue, and brown.

Within minutes, I was back to waiting, nestled within the four rows of bras outside the dressing rooms. I couldn't help but notice the vastness of the bra section and, before long, I began to give closer inspection to the bountiful shelves in some weird quest to bring understanding to this seemingly infinite array of women's support garments.

My mind was soon reeling and I felt a cold sweat building at the back of my neck like back when I was learning algebra for the first time. Here's a very limited and partial list of the different styles I found available in alphabetical order (yes, it's that long) not including specialty and medical styles:

Adhesive -Yes, it's like a sticky-note, but it's a bra.
Backless
Balcony - I have no idea.
Bralette
Convertible - What?
Demicup
Front closure
Full coverage - Aren't they all full coverage?
Longline - As apposed to the shortline, which is next to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Minimizer - Why would anyone want this?
Molded cup - You know, like a jello mold.
Nursing
Petite - Do short women also have short breasts?
Plunge
Pushup - Not like the ice cream.
Racerback - Not like the snake, you know, red racer?
Sleep - I must admit, I have special sleeping underwear too. There called "Boxers."
Soft cup - Aren't they all?
Strapless
Stretch cup - Seems to me, men would need something like this more than women.
T-shirt - Is it a bra, or a T-shirt? I don't know.
Torpedo - Imagine the looks I would get if I wore torpedo underwear!

Of course, each one of these styles come in an endless band (or waist) size and cup sizes from AA to N.

Hey, wouldn't it be great if men's underwear came in different cup sizes? I, for one, would certainly appreciate it, but then again, I'd probably just become confused by all the choices and just buy boxers.

One thing is clear to me, while bras and underwear were likely first worn out of necessity , these garments - bras and underwear alike - must've been further developed by women.

How can I say this? Blasphemy you say? Sexist pig you say? Lemme' 'splain.

Bras obviously have developed over the years to meet the individual needs of women. Men's underwear, on the other hand, have not improved much (except for the 'Y' closure for briefs) since the use of the fig leaf, or the simple loin cloth. And, wasn't the loin cloth and fig leaf unisex?

Now, the person credited for patenting the first bra in america is Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914. She was a socialite, which explains how she basically got credit for 'inventing' the bra when, in fact, it had been around as long as recorded history.

Archaeological digs have uncovered bras in Greek settlements. At first women would tie a rope of braided wool around their chest for support. Nothing like the warmth of itchy wool rubbing across one's nipples. In later settlements scientists found ancient bras made from woven linen. Oh, the comfort of cotton has got to be better than wool.

Imagine Mary Phelps Jacob kind of like the Paris Hilton of today. Now, I know what your thinking. Mary, at least, had to create something, while Paris is mostly famous for her sex tape. Well, had you ever heard the phrase "That's hot" before Paris? No matter how long it had been said in one form or the other since humanoids mastered speech, she still managed to copyright the phrase.

Of course, there was this brief time in history when men wore a codpiece. The codpiece was a sort of outer covering, usually made of some hard material (for protection, I suppose) that gave the man an appearance of wearing a protective cup outside his clothes.

This gives a whole new meaning to the term "little man in a boat."

These codpieces did serve a purpose. they allowed for protection from whatever and easy access for... uh, relieving oneself. But, like everything else in that era, the codpiece turned into another form of artistic expression until it became almost comical in appearance.

Despite all this, the codpiece did have a short resurgence in popularity in the 1980's and 1990's for hair-metal bands like Kiss, Poison, David Lee Roth, and countless others. Thank goodness that fad ended quicker than a Hollywood marriage. I sure wish the whole 'baggy pants' thing would have done the same.


Oh, and don't forget all those movies of late featuring superheroes like Batman, and sadly, even Star Wars. I find it strange that Batgirl didn't get a codpiece, although I think the costumers more than made up for it with her quasi-torpedo bra top.

After everything I've learned about bras lately, I'm grateful that my choices for underwear are limited and simple.  I mean hey, If I get the urge to wear fancy underpants, I simply pull on a pair in some color other than white.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Succeed as a New Author

photo credit: bioedge.org


First off, I'd like to start with a disclaimer that I'm about to espouse all kinds of advice I probably have no business espousing. Well, that's not completely true. I do have my own experience, and the experiences of friends,  for my benefit--and yours.

Many new authors, whether going it alone or using an agent and/or publisher, are completely unprepared to succeed when they publish their first story.

Let me emphasize this:  It does not matter whether you decide to publish independently or rely on a publisher, you must prepare if you want to succeed. This means that you have much work to do besides just sitting back to watch your book sell like hotcakes... because it usually won't.

Please, learn from my experience. I published my first novel in December of 2010. I did it independently and breathed a big sigh of relief when I was finished. What I didn't realize is that I was not finished. In fact, publishing the book and getting it out to all those places that sell books online like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords, was just the beginning. I had no idea how any of this publishing stuff worked. I thought all I had to do was keep writing while my efforts were rewarded with instant success, lots of money, and millions of admiring fans clamoring for just a moment of my time. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Now, I will admit, I thought, at the time, I did a pretty good job of getting my stuff out there. I published this story under a pen name because of its 'adult' nature. I started a blog before publication and posted nifty little ditties about my characters and their awesome plight. I made announcements to prepare potential buyers about the availability of my book. It was an exciting time, and I was in a hurry to get my masterpiece out there. That was a mistake too, as the poor thing had to go through many edits after publication.

Okay, so you haven't kept reading this far to listen to me whine about how stupid I was in publishing my first novel, so let me put what I've learned into a list of things you can do to prepare should you decide to publish your masterpiece.

Five things to remember for writerly success:

1. Slow down.

I know, I know. You've given birth to your baby and you want to tell the world, for the world will surely rejoice and there will be peace on Earth because of your story. Yeah, not so much. Your baby is not born just because you've written it. This is just the beginning. After you've struggled through fourteen drafts, realize that your baby has merely been conceived. What you've accomplished is equivalent to sex. Yes, you've gently coaxed and conjured these words onto paper. You've writhed with passion and anticipation of your accomplishment and, with luck, you've reached that pinnacle of pleasure, that little death, in the process. Hold on to the memory of that pleasure because you'll need it to carry you along the rough road ahead. Now you must demonstrate patience and perseverance as your story gestates inside you, becoming a more complete thing. Now is the time to let the story rest and begin preparations.

2. Preparation begins long before publication.

The world of books and publishing has changed. Gone are the days when the Hemmingways and Faulkners and Kings of the world suddenly appeared out of nowhere every year or so with a new novel to bestow upon the public. Gone are the days when authors spent years in solitude, sitting in cold rooms tapping away at typewriters, prostituting themselves for a week's supply of heating oil (okay, I have no proof of that last one) until suddenly made famous through one Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

We live in a digital world and one cannot expect to become famous and pay the bills because a publisher offered to give their manuscript a shot. Got news for you, publishing is a big business and, unless a publisher thinks they can make millions from you, they are not going to invest in you the same as they might invest in established authors like King, Child, Patterson. Your chances of becoming an overnight success would be better if you played the lottery. Yes, I know you are about to quote a bunch of exceptions like Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James but you must remember that you are not them. Stephanie Meyers had movie-makers convinced (through friends) that they would make money so her first book was published almost by default, and almost after the movie was released. E. L. James started her first story as Twilight fan fiction. She distributed her story to hundreds of thousands free before changing the title and gaining almost immediate downloads of her book from many of her friends who'd already read the story. Oh, and she was also a movie and television executive with proper connections. Not convinced? here's another example. I'm sure you've heard of Robert Galbraith. You know, the author of The Cuckoo's Calling? This book sat lonely in the archives of booksellers for nearly a year until it was 'leaked' that this was simply a pen name for J. K. Rowling. The book suddenly found itself at the top of the charts.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that as a new author, whether going traditional or independent, will need to sell and promote their work mostly by their little ole' lonesome. This begins long before your first publication. You must consider things like blogs and websites, peer critique groups, writer's groups and the likes to get it out there that you are an author honing your craft. Basically, now is the time to build a following and prepare your followers for your future greatness.

3. Build a platform, build an army.

Say you need to buy a car. A car is a large expense for most folks and, if you are smart, you will do some homework before making a decision or walking into that dealership. Well, let me ask, when getting information about that car, do you ask friends that bought the car or do you simply take the salesperson's word for it at the dealership. If you answered the in the affirmative to last option instead of the first, you deserve whatever you get. It is true. There is absolutely no substitute for word of mouth advertising. But how do you advertise for something that is not even available yet. Here's how. Introduce people to your work and writing style before asking them to purchase your novel. This means, before your novel is published, maybe even a year before, you start to recruit your army. How do you do this? The same way armies have been recruited for centuries--one soldier at a time. You must have something to offer your possible recruit. This might be a free sample of your writing, or informative articles on subjects relating to your stories. What you are doing now is saying. "Come with me on my journey and share in the rewards." Remember, it is more important, at this stage to attain a dedicated few rather than a passing many.

Consider this blog for instance. I haven't published a damn thing under the name JL Stratton. I'd like to though, and have some things in the works. You can bet that the few followers I've established on this blog are going to get advanced reader copies of anything I might consider publishing. I'm going to ask these dedicated few to be beta readers and take part in the final development of that future story/series. I will ask these few to post reviews and offer them free copies of the finished product.

I know what you're thinking. If I give all my stuff away fre to this small following, who's going to buy my book? Simple, my small group will show their free stuff to their friends and give a glowing review saying, "I know this author he wrote this great/good story. You should buy this and check it out."  Of course, If I'm lucky, my book will be available at Amazon just as those friends start looking for it, which leads to the next item on the list.

4. Build anticipation for upcoming work.

Remember that great sex (an analogy for writing your story) you had a year or more ago that became the conception of your story? I know, it's hard to remember all the little details as the edges tend to wear smooth over time. Well, your about to give birth to the results of your work. What do people do when they are just about to give birth? They send out the announcements, that's what. They ask a trusted friend to plan a baby shower. Excited friends show up and bestow gifts upon the as-of-yet unborn child. So, now is the time, your book has been published and will be available everywhere soon. Remember, you've recruited your army and they are all excited about this arrival. Now is the time to call upon your troops. This is your time of need. It is okay to ask them to consider purchasing a copy of your book as soon as it is available. It is okay to ask them to post a review, and it is okay to ask them to recruit their friends into your growing army. Maybe create a mailing list and send out occasional newsletters.

The fate of many books by both well-known and completely unknown authors is set at places like Amazon within the first few days and weeks of its publication. At this time, it is all about placement. Were talking about placement on the bestseller list for your book's category. Yes, your book may be completely obscure on the New York Times bestseller list but it could be number nine at Amazon's list. If your book is listed properly, you might find yourself in this position (for a time, anyway) with as little as ten to twenty sales in one day. This is important because, at number nine, your book is on the first page for someone looking for your category of book. This increased visibility makes your book more accessible by many more buyers, which increases sales. It becomes a kind of self-perpetuating sales loop. It is also important to take advantage of publishng options such as advance notification of publishing so that buyers can purchase a book that is not yet officially published.

Now, the key is momentum. At this point, there is little you can do to affect the trajectory of sales for your new book. That does not mean you should stop because, what you do now, will have an effect tomorrow, or next week, or next month. No, it is what you've done for the last month, or year, that gets you here. If you've done nothing, chances are, unless your story is so great that it gains the attention of someone with influence, your book will falter and begin its slow descent down the bestseller list. But, there is hope for even the quickly fading stars among the universe, which leads us to number five.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now is not the time to just sit back and wait for sales to pour in. No, now is the time to keep writing and preparing to offer something new and exciting to your faithful army of dedicated readers or rabid fans. In fact the time to keep writing was probably a year ago when you started the editing process of your first work. In fact, I've found that many authors offering a series (a big thing right now) have at least two books ready to go. They offer the first one for free, or at a greatly reduced price, and offer the second and consecutive stories in rapid succession after the first. Of course, now we're talking series, and that's a whole different ball of wax. for now, let's assume that each one of your works is a stand alone effort. Being able to set your own price for your work is a great advantage of publishing independently, for me, anyway.

In any case, the longer you make readers wait for your next work, the more your first work sinks into obscurity. You must now develop your next baby while your first one is just learning to walk. I know it seems like this is a very difficult proposition but just like with real children, you'll find that things get easier in some ways after your first. By your second or third child, the first will be able to venture out on their own and even help with the younger children.

This list is in no way complete, and I could go on forever explaining the little I've learned in my few years in this business, and I haven't quit my day job yet. I think the key to remember is that your creative works should be looked at as living things that are conceived, born, and grow just like other living things. The upside is that these works are not like living things but employees that never take a break or ask for a day off, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is never a good thing to go out there and put the hard-sell on people. I can give limitless examples of people using facebook and other social media to do that right now. It doesn't work. you must do the soft-sell. You must give something to readers even before you have something to sell to them.

On a personal note I will say that I'm just now learning to follow my own advice. After writing my first novel and gearing it almost exclusively to the genre I thought it would best fit (paranormal erotic suspense?) I realized the story was greater than its first writing. I had limited success with the first and wrote a second under more of a paranormal romantic suspense category. This second novel was an utter failure in comparison to the first and it stunted my writing (for this series) for some time. I think I've finally grown as a writer to a point where I can attempt a re-write along a paranormal romantic suspense for the entire series. I suppose what I'm trying to convey is that there is always hope for your work. I rushed to publish my first novel but now have the more adult ability to hold off on something until I think it is ready for prime time.

If you found this article informative, or would like to add anything, please comment below or send me a message.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dig to the Devil



Funny how memories work. I sometimes find myself reminiscing about some event that happened in my early childhood, and yet, I cannot remember what I had for dinner last night.

So, for today, I will post about the former, having absolutely no recollection of the latter.

I'm pretty sure that, when I was very young, both my parents worked. This is because many of my memories of these times involve a babysitter. This particular memory starts with the antics of my brother and I while watched by a babysitter. Funny though, I only remember certain things like the fact that this babysitter lived in a trailer park. Maybe she was a neighbor as I remember, we also lived in a trailer park at this time.

Anyway, my brother and I were prone to activities that usually were brought to an end with a belt or switch. I would not say that we were mean-spirited or little demon boys, rather, we were considered "all boy." I think that today the term has been renamed. It's now called ADHD. Of course, behavior modification back then was usually conducted using a leather belt or tree branch. Otherwise known as a "whoopin'."

On this particular occasion, I remember we were outside on some dirt road. We were digging a hole, as, strangely enough, was an activity enjoyed by many boys of our age. Having somehow come into possession of a shovel, we were determined to "dig to the devil."

Yes, we honestly believed that, if we dug deep enough, we would breach the doorway to the home of the devil himself. We were also aware, of course, that if we missed our mark, we might just keep pushing through the dark earth all the way to China.

I'm pretty sure we dug with a frenzy for at least ten minutes (an absolute stretch of our attention) before stopping and feeling the ground. Looking back at this memory now, through the prism of age, wisdom, and cynicism, we likely only dug to a depth of about three feet. But, to young boys, I'm sure it seemed like we'd moved a mountain of dirt.

Well, sure enough, when we crawled inside the hole to check, we found that we, in fact, were well on our way to confront the devil himself. How did we know? Although the memory is sketchy, the emotion remains, and I remember clearly the elation we felt when we put our palms to the ground and found that it was warmer than the surrounding air. Yep, sure enough, we were closer to the devil than anyone could have ever been.

With this realization, we became scared. Just what would we do if we actually reached our destination? Suppose we ventured another foot into the fertile abyss and then, suddenly, out pops the devil? What would we do? We were just small boys of probably six or seven years old; armed only with a shovel and the backing of Jesus. How would we defend ourselves. The shovel, we could barely lift, Jesus was powerful and loved us. We knew this because the Bible, and those songs we sang in Sunday school, told us so. But how would Jesus help us when confronted with the devil. We weren't sure of this, but we had learned that Jesus and the devil were not friends.

I'm not quite sure how, exactly, it happened, but we came to a sudden consensus that we'd dug deep enough, and that we had no business with the devil. Plus, it was nearly lunch time.

Now, you might think there is some lesson in all this. In retrospect, I believe the true lesson came after lunch, and had little to do with the gaping hole we'd left in the roadway.

After lunch was nap time, so we were sent to some dark back room of the trailer with a cup of water and a stern warning to keep quiet. As young boys often do, we were soon quietly spitting water at each other through the gaps in our front teeth, and trying desperately to keep our giggles to a level undetectable beyond the thin wooden door to the room.

I was the first to run out of water, so I snuck out of the room and quietly turned the knob on the bathroom door. When I came through the door and my eyes registered on the object in the bathtub at the far end of the room, my mind went blank. I mean, totally blank. I'm not even sure if my heart and lungs were still functioning at the time.

My babysitter stared back at me, equally stunned but infinitely more naked. This is where the story gets real interesting. We both stared at each other like two deer in some kind of weird headlight standoff. After what seemed hours, I finally pried my eyes from the sight and backed out of the bathroom like like a poor comedian booed off  a vaudeville stage. The image, or rather, the thought of the image of this incident left a permanent mark on my psyche.

Hmm, this might explain a few things.

Anyway, nothing was said about the incident and my brother did not even ask questions as I returned to the room and lay down on the bed. I can only imagine that the look on my face told him something had happened that he best not ask about.

Nonetheless, my brother and I both received an excessively harsh whoopin' that night. The reason given, of course, was because of the large hole and shovel we'd left in the dirt roadway.

Fast forward about five or six years, and our nearly forgotten shovelling skills were put to the test. We were in the midst of remodeling our home and my dad had plans of raising the house up and turning the crawlspace under the house into a full-sized basement. But first, given the rains on the Western side of Washington state, there had to be proper drainage around the foundation of our home. After comparing the cost of having the drainage line professionally dug or having it dug manually using his own family construction crew, he decided on the latter.

For an entire Summer my brother and I had the ongoing chore of digging a three-foot wide path around our entire house at a depth of at least six feet. Through this, we got really good at operating a shovel but, you know, we never did reach the devil. Although there were times when I think he was coming to meet us. And, we had no babysitter to break up the monotony.