Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Positivity in politics: Is there such a thing?

It's been hard for me to come out of the funk that's shadowed me for the last few weeks and as I go through one of the most pivotal changes of my life, I'm sure that shadow will periodically cloud me over the next several months. For the most part, my journey from this point out is clear and I continue to learn and grow as a person. But just because things are clear, doesn't mean it's easy.

This political campaign season, both nationally and locally, has been especially heated; I don't remember any such time before where it has been so bad. It's no wonder that people become apathetic or are afraid to voice their opinions.  Over the last several months, I have found myself withdrawn from posting my own opinions, simply because I just don't want to deal with the negativity that usually follows. I have enough drama and stress in my personal life that I don't need to scramble to defend myself online. So much for strong, vocal me, huh? It's hard not to let this stuff get to you. It's hard to stay positive when you read and hear so much negativity. One of my pitfalls is that I tend to focus on the bad things people say and dismiss the good. Negativity seems to have so much more power than positivity and I guess that's why people have to work harder to be at peace with themselves and the world around them. One of my Facebook friends, Bronson Lee, wrote, "Individuals who are able to maintain a positive outlook on life no matter the situation are an inspiration to me. I wholeheartedly desire to obtain this type of emotional balance in my life. I am often put to the test, and I frequently fail!" I feel the same way. While I'm not quite to that point where I don't let others get to me, I feel that I'm continuing to learn and will soon be able to say, "You know what? I really don't care what you think of me. I'm happy and my kids are happy and that's all that matters."

Politics in of itself has such a negative connotation that during my campaign for council, anytime someone called me a politician, I vehemently denied that title. And each time I hear or see someone post or say something that is blatantly false, or an opinion that isn't backed by information so abundantly out there for them to read, something inside me starts to boil and that's something that I need to learn to let pass. Though I'm currently involved in a political group, it has taken some time for me to acclimate to that role. I'm gradually learning how to navigate the negativity without letting it impact the very details of my life.  I had to ask myself if I felt strongly enough about this cause to pursue it without doubts, to work at it without letting the aura around it affect my life in a negative manner, and if I was really pursuing it for the right reasons. I don't know that I've fully reached a decision yet but the decision-making process has been an educational experience for me.  To guide me, I take a look at what a dear friend of mine has accomplished. I watched him go from one of the worst turns of his life to reshaping it into something toward the better good. It's inspiring and helps me focus more on what I need to do for myself.

In the meantime, I will try to be as positive as I can be. It's hard to see how dismal the world has gotten while maintaining a sense of sunshine. It's difficult to see what new ways people are coming up with to hurt each other while trying to stay optimistic.

Enthusiasm and positivity, though, is what is needed to further oneself in life and that's exactly what I strive to do. Here's hoping your goals are the same no matter where you are in life.

Peace, love, and optimism,


The Path Alone

There's a leaf, you see
And it has detatched from the tree
It hangs out just a little while longer
To see who can offer comfort
But after a while it realizes
That it's alone
Just the wind is all He has to offer

The other leaves are sympathetic but afraid
Letting go of the branch is sadness
Not without bravery
But they can't give the leaf what it needs
The reassurance, the encouragement
There is none
To disrupt their bubble is beyond their ability

So the leaf moves on
Trying to find a way to live outside the haze
In the end, maybe there is something better

Friday, September 14, 2012

The riddles of kids.

My niece, Anna, and sons, Zachary and Zeke, at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

 I've said before that when you go from being a mom of under-school-age children to suddenly having one in school, the world takes on another color. You don't expect things to change so much. There's both fear and elation at play.

A particularly sound piece of advice I received last year from a fellow writer was, "If you don't believe everything that your child comes home to tell you, then the teachers won't believe everything they tell them."

It's hard to understand that if you don't have a child that blurts out the weirdest things at the weirdest times. A kid's mind fires so differently from our own that it's fascinating to see the connections they make. It doesn't mean they are intentionally lying, they just view things differently.

That first week of school last year, Zachary came home and said, "Momma, they left me." He preceded to tell me this horrifying story about how he'd missed getting in line for lunch and his class walked to the lunchroom without him, leaving him lost, wandering the halls alone because he hadn't gotten used to where everything was yet. That was alarming and terrifying for me. I tried hard not to come to any sudden conclusions but I was frantic and the only thing that ran through my head was that the kindergarten building was on the edge of the campus, close to the street. If he'd been left alone, he could've simply wandered off into the streets, to a stranger's house... anything. So I called his teacher and she calmly explained that nothing of the sort happened.

It occurred to me later that he had been so worried about getting lost in his new school, and that he'd played that scenario in his mind to the point it had become somewhat real for him. That was an interesting year with many interesting and confusing conversations with my son. Sometimes I think a person has to be an expert in riddles to understand the meanings behind what young children say.
Zachary helping with dishes; I believe it took him ten minutes to wash this one cup!

Now I have a first-grader and, while his thinking is a little more concrete, I still have to listen with a filter.

I'd called the school earlier this week because Zachary had come off the bus with a very red and sore arm. He told me that a kid three years older than him had called him names and "Indian burned" his arm. There's so much focus on bullies these days and the impact they have on kids that, as a mom, you want to go into defense mode with your kid. But I also didn't want to jump to any conclusions because my mom instinct was telling me there was something else.

The principal assured me that she would get to the bottom of it and later she called me back. As it turned out, Zachary had just as much role in the situation as the older kid. They were both bickering, name calling, and had resorted to physical contact. She'd lectured the other kid about being "bigger" (meaning maturity), to which he rose and started measuring the difference between them. Since he was only a forehead taller than Zachary, this confused him. In turn, she'd lectured Zachary about not doing things to purposely annoy others. "Why didn't you stop turning your head?" she asked and he replied that it (his head) just wouldn't stop turning. You know, as if his head were a separate entity from the rest of him. The boys learned their lesson and won't be sitting on the bus together anymore and the principal got a nice chuckle out of their answers and reactions.

It's a nice reminder of how hard teachers' jobs really are and how intelligent and patient one has to be in order to succeed in that position. It's a reminder, too, not to make assumptions about another kid. I wanted to; after all, my son was hurt. It would've been easy to slip into Momma Bear mode.

In the meantime, I'm glad that my son was able to give the principal a nice laugh and was happy that the situation wasn't anything worse. I'm both curious and nervous about what the rest of the school year holds for him.

Peace, love, and entertaining parenting,


My sons painting a watercolor "Welcome Home" sign for their older brother.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What's it like publishing a book?

Please allow me to talk a little about The Influence, a work that was recently my debut published novel. 

I first wrote The Influence about eight years ago. Over the years, it has gone through numerous revisions and edits. After it came in as a finalist in two different writing contests, and after a big publisher held it for two years for consideration, I thought it was finally time to put this work out there.

My Experience with KDP Select

I put it first on Amazon's Kindle Select (KDP Select). All in all, there have been almost a thousand Kindle downloads, most of them having taken place during my first free promotion. I guess for the most part, I just wanted to try the Select program to see what it was like. I can honestly say that I wasn't that impressed. The biggest issue was that there were some number problems after my term ended. My sales report was still showing free promo copies being given away when it wasn't on promotion. 

Sure, I got a good number of downloads and even broke the top 30 in the Science Fiction category but it didn't do much more than that. I don't know that I'll ever go that route again. Not sure I see the point if not for just a little more exposure.

The Major Catastrophe

And, since this was my first published novel-length book, by definition there should've been a major disaster with it, and boy, was there ever! I discovered after that first promotion, when I read a particularly disturbing report that I had some big grammatical errors in my book, that it was the wrong file that had been uploaded to KDP. When my last editor sent it back to me, I didn't notice that she'd changed the file name. I immediately uploaded the correct version and hoped that the backlash wouldn't be too bad. It is horrifying to think that I let that one slip by but I've learned my lesson and can guarantee that it won't happen again.

General Feedback

But overall, despite my faux pas, I've gotten some good feedback. Not great, but good. Most of the feedback indicated that the book was slow to start but once they got to Part II (The Pedeck Murders) or when they got to the scene where Bella Mae was beaten by the Sunday school teacher, they said then is where it really picked up and they had a hard time putting it down after that. So I'm pretty much pleased with that.

So what was it like?

The excitement I'd imagined of getting that proof in the mail and finally seeing my hard work in print was actually a bit of an anticlimax. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I really don't. But I'd built up the experience in my mind so much that when it got here, it was like I'd already lived it. I was thrilled, yes, and pleased with my work, but it wasn't "that moment" that clarified the world for me. I think that maybe published writers may understand where I'm coming from on that. But it makes things a little easier now. One you pass that threshold, the race is over and you can take your time and really work on the rest; you can make sure that the subsequent books just keep getting better and better without that feeling of doom upon your chest.

For the most part, I'm pleased with how this debut went. What's even better is that I'm not stopping there. My Barrier short fiction series is picking up a little with the announcement that Book 2, The Purpose of Pain, will be out toward the end of this year. And two and a half years after I first began penning the fantasy, Future Past, I'm still working on rewrites. I'm undecided whether I want to resubmit to a previously interested publisher in November or if I'm going to continue on the independent route. I'm leaning more toward resubmitting, despite the cut in pay. I think it could be an education for me, if I've managed to get this rewrite right. Possibilities are out there for the grabbing.

In the meantime, if you're interested in The Influence, click here to see where you can purchase it. You can also read some excerpts while you're making up your mind.

Peace, love, and keep writing,


Sunday, September 2, 2012

"The Paranoid's Guide to Using the Internet" by Pamela Gifford - Excerpt

Available in ebook (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Amazon) and print. Check for it on your favorite site!

From Chapter 3 of The Paranoid's Guide to Using the Internet
How social networks stay free

Social networks are not out to steal your information to sell to the highest bidder. There have been privacy issues on some social networks, yes, but for the most part, they aren’t as sinister as the media makes them out to be.
The majority of their money comes from ad revenue. They take keywords from your interests and what you post and they show you ads they think you might like. But that’s the simplest thing to explain.
While many social networks do allow third party sites and companies to partner with them (which means the third party can view your information) for a fee, they only do so when the user (you) allows them to. Of course there’s more techno babble where that came from but that’s just a basic sense of what can happen when you’re part of a social network.
For example, chances are, you might have heard someone who has used a social network freaking out about another site displaying their pictures and their information, open to all the world. Most of the time, when something like that happens, it’s not the social network’s fault. It’s the user who hasn’t utilized adequate privacy settings. Which brings me to the next subtopic.

About privacy settings

Every social network has privacy settings. Many range from super cautious to open for all. The problem is that many people aren’t aware of what their default privacy settings are.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found that people I don’t know have everything open for the entire world to see. I’ve even found that kids have no clue that they have their entire profiles visible to everyone. I remember at one point I was curious to see just how many kids on my teen family member’s friend list had their profiles closed. I was astounded at how many teenagers and preteens had their accounts completely open. By simply clicking on their names, I could find pictures of them and their friends, their family’s names, their pets names, their birthday, their favorite foods, where they were going on any given night, and so on. It was terribly frightening that so many children were so openly exposed. Beyond the parenting aspect of it, all of this was because of inadequate use of privacy settings.
How you change privacy settings depends on which social network you are on. It will either be listed as simple as “Settings”. You might also find those options under “Privacy Settings” or “Account Settings”. Then you can easily choose what you want to share with the world or what you want to keep private.
If you’re unsure how to do it, enlist the help of a trusted loved one. With billions of people on social networks around the world, chances are, someone in your family knows exactly how to make your profile as private as you’d like it to be.

Watching what you say

I’m not talking about limiting your opinion in any way. I’m talking about the indulgence of listing every little thing that you do. If you have people on your friends lists that you don’t know all that well, like long lost friends and extended family, be careful about tracking your movements.
For example, if you and your spouse are going to head to the movies, don’t mention it on your updates until after you’ve returned. There have been reports of people who have stated when they weren’t going to be home and then they come back to find they’ve been robbed.
But you said that it was unlikely someone would rob me from being online!”
I did say that and it is true. I don’t want to add to the fear or be the reason you stay away from the computer but I don’t want to BS you either. Things like that do happen. But if you’ll notice, YOU have the power to prevent such things from happening. Be smart about what you post. You don’t have to give away what you’re doing every second of every day just to be on a social network, even if it seems like that’s what your friends do. Before you post an update, ask yourself if revealing that information would leave you vulnerable. Would it tip off someone to know where you are or if you’re alone?
You’re in control of the social network, not the other way around.

Available in ebook (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Amazon) and print. Check for it on your favorite site!