Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Change of Seasons

On evenings this time of year when the buzz of the cicadas in the trees is at an almost deafening pitch, I always get a sense of longing for the warm afternoons on the lake and the rays of sunlight that are shortening with each passing day.
This year, the longing is coupled with the sadness we still feel over the loss of our Hershey dog, the devastation on our property from a ‘micro-burst’ and for the afternoons we didn’t spend on the lake for various reasons this summer.
But then I’m assigned a story that reminds me that longing and sadness is a state of mind that we can choose not to accept.
This week, I did a story on Matt, a 31-year-old father of three who, in the past five years, has had a shunt placed in his head; underwent a bone marrow transplant, which caused him to be in a wheelchair on oxygen for a time and fought leukemia into remission. (I’ll just use his first name here since the story has yet to run in the publication).
Matt’s family has been told so many times to get his affairs in order and take a last vacation that he’s added, “ain’t dead yet,” as part of his name when he introduces himself to anyone. Still, this past week, he and many others rode their motorcycles to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
I talked with Matt’s bone marrow donor, the two already shared a life saving bond and they now share a friendship. Matt’s donor told me he was intrigued the first time he spoke with Matt, because Matt was so upbeat and never had an ounce of pity for himself. He never asked “Why me?”
Although Matt’s family broke down when they were told he had leukemia, Matt said it really never did hit him and he’s glad, he said, because he probably wouldn’t be here if it had.
And then, we see the devastation and human suffering brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Who cannot watch the now famous CNN clip of the man who said his wife was swept out of his arms in floodwaters while she uttered what were probably her last words, “Take care of the kids and grandkids,” and not get emotional? Even the reporter interviewing the man was wiping tears away.
On Labor Day, its been a tradition of ours, one that started the year we were married 18 years ago, to load up the car and take our final vacation of the season. This year, we do have cause to celebrate. Steffi, our German daughter who lived with us for a year 15 years ago will be coming with us. Before this week, I only hoped her presence would temper the sadness we would feel loading that car for the first time in 9 years without Hershey.
But this week has really given me cause to not dwell on what we’ve lost.
No doctor has told us this will be our last vacation together. While the winds may have damaged our property and our aunt’s so that it will never look the same, none of us had to look each other in the eyes as we were being swept away.
My hope has turned to resolve. As we load up the car next week, I will look at that big smile on our daughter’s face that we have waited so long to see again, and just feel thankful we’ve been given another season of memories.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Save the Date

Now I know what people who write books are talking about. That moment when it feels as if the weight of the world is lifted off of your back…the moment your book is finally finished, edited and off to the publisher, only to be seen again when the proofs come out!
I did it, despite my procrastination demons, the summer from hell: which included a tornado hitting our Arkansas property, caring for a dying dog and loosing her and a never-ending workload (note to editors I am NOT complaining) – I finished my book!
Now I know why that fictional writer in the book “Misery” had to have a glass of wine upon completion of his final draft. I feel like having a whole bottle! With that weight off of me now comes the really tough part for introverted writers: the marketing. Never mind that I have a business degree, like most writers, I don’t like marketing myself. However, marketing is a very big part of any writing business.
No matter if it is getting queries out to editors to sell ideas, building relationships during networking or marketing a book, it all has to be done if we are to succeed in this business.
I actually started my marketing campaign upon completing a draft of the book. I located people who I thought might help in my marketing efforts by providing back cover testimonials and a forward. I contacted veteran’s organizations and started positioning myself to go to talk to them. In the process, I got myself invited to talk to 10,000 Vietnam veterans next summer at a Kansas rally. I also started telling everyone I know about the book, hoping to build interest and generate traffic to my website when the book is released.
However, all of that is not enough. The people behind the Guerrilla Marketing for Writers book gives a lot more suggestions and I would recommend that book to anyone who is marketing a manuscript, no matter if you are self publishing or not.
Tomorrow will be about the marketing. Today, however, is about the celebration, or maybe just some sleep (yawn).
But November 5 will definitely be for celebrating. If you’re reading this, you’re invited to my book launch party, where we can all party like its well, 2005!

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Waste of Time

It seems I haven’t been able to get away from the topic of time!
Without seeming to rant (ok, it is a rant), I want to know whatever happened to good service. It seems the goal for every business I have visited this week has been to waste my time.
First, I took my laptop into a computer place to have some additional RAM installed and to order a new battery. I get a call about a week later saying it is ready. After I picked it up last Friday, I didn’t try to use it until Saturday morning, at which time I discovered the back plate missing off of it, exposing its innards. They had also left a programming disk I the machine. I tried calling, but of course, they weren’t open on Saturday. On Monday, when I took the laptop back, one of the co-owners completely ignored us when we walked in the door and continued talking to a co-worker for at least five minutes before getting up to help us. When I told her about the plate, she searched high and low, finding it right on the front counter. She made a comment about being “flaky,” re-attached the back and handed the computer back to me without another word. You would think an extra trip in for me would have rated at least, “I’m sorry.”
Yesterday, my mother needed some prescriptions and as always, we decided to use the “convenience” of the drive up window. There was one car ahead of us and it didn’t look like there would be too much of a wait. After sitting there for 20 minutes (no, I’m not exaggerating), and watching the guy behind me leave the line, I gave up and went in. “What is the problem in the drive thru?” I asked the clerk. “She’s having trouble with her insurance.” I took a deep breath and said, “Well, don’t you think people with insurance problems should be told they have to come in instead of making your other customers burn their gas for 20 minutes?” She just gave me a blank expression, handed me the bag and told me to have a good evening.
This morning, I loaded Emma, our 72-pound Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix for a visit to the groomer that I scheduled one week ago. When I made the appointment, I told the woman I would be taking her to update her shots this week (which we did yesterday). “I’m sorry,” the perky groomer told me when we arrived and I handed her Emma’s vaccination papers. “We can’t take a dog until 48 hours after they’ve had their shots.” You would think the appointment lady would have mentioned this when I told her Emma was visiting the vet on the day before her appointment.
Whatever happened to good service and more importantly, what ever happened to doling out freebies if you put your customers out?
As a writer, I don’t often think of myself as being in the service industry, but weeks like this one makes me think of my customers. My main customers are my editors, who like me, don’t seem to like to have their time wasted. So, I will resolve today to try not to waste their time with missing deadlines and turning in stories that need heavy editing. I will make sure they get their source lists on time and try to put myself in their place.
And I will always try to keep in mind a quote I received by email on Monday: “In life you can never be too kind or too fair; everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load. When you go through your day expressing kindness and courtesy to all you meet, you leave behind a feeling of warmth and good cheer, and you help alleviate the burdens everyone is struggling with.” -- Brian Tracy
The world would be a much better place if we always tried to think about the other guy.