Sleeping with the Enemy

A very personal and political piece posted this week on WritersResist.com, a little out of the ordinary for me, but the times are anything but:

I have been sleeping with the enemy for more than two years. Rob is a Republican. But on the morning after the election, he held me close as I sobbed and promised, “It will be okay.”

He promised. But he doesn’t know. And nothing that has happened since that morning has made either of us feel better....(continue reading)

Rise up. Speak. Resist.

Photo by mheim3011/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by mheim3011/iStock / Getty Images

A good friend of mine fled Nazi-occupied Hungary with her family during World War II. Her parents had gone into hiding and she was placed in a Christian boarding school in Budapest in an effort to shield her. She was forced to wear the yellow star on her clothing, and by sheer luck and her own chutzpah ultimately escaped a death camp sentence.

On the phone the other day, I said: “Well, perhaps this will all work out. Perhaps the president-elect won’t actually turn out to be the despot he appears to be. Maybe he won’t actually go through with all his ill-conceived promises.”

She said: “I have lived through this. Don’t think it isn’t what it seems.”

I am reminded of the adage: When someone shows you who he is, believe him.

As each extreme Cabinet pick is revealed, I grow more anxious. His pick for Health and Human Services is an Obamacare foe and ardent anti-abortionist. The president-elect has chosen the nation’s most vocal climate change denier to head the EPA. This week, he announced an anti-minimum wage, anti-labor fast-food mogul to lead the Department of Labor. Ben Carson—a neurosurgeon, not to mention nutcase—has been tapped for Housing and Urban Development. His Education secretary choice is a staunch anti-public education, pro-voucher advocate who would dismantle much of our educational system.

Trump, who attended—and thrived in—a rigid and harsh military boarding school as a teen, is packing the Cabinet with former generals and other military chest-beaters bent on advancing a pro-conflict stance globally.

These extremists have the potential not only to undo many of the Obama administration’s hard-won policies—policies that have provided rights previously denied to the LGBTQ community and other minorities—but may do lasting damage to our country’s foreign relations and economic policies.

As for “draining the swamp,” he’s nominated people who are anything but outside the establishment, and most are millionaires and billionaires.

They want to return to an America that hasn’t existed in decades: a paternalistic, authoritarian society dominated by white and male dinosaurs. Never mind Trump’s inability to control his emotions, his thin skin pricked by the smallest slight. He has opened the door to a Republican Party whose influence and policies have been roundly rejected by a majority of Americans (2.7 million more than voted for him, and counting).

I am afraid for the homeless, the mentally ill, the arts and education, women, children and all those who are the least among us. The whole country is in danger of losing its soul if we turn our backs on the poor. To counter a popular Republican trope, there is no such thing as the “welfare state.” Since the 1960s, welfare (once known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children) has increasingly been replaced with welfare-to-work programs intended to get welfare recipients into jobs. In 1996, Congress and then-President Clinton approved the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). For the first time states were required to meet minimum work participation rates to receive federal funding.

Today, virtually no one receives welfare without proving they are working or actively seeking work. Food stamps, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides a stipend for food each month (in debit cards) to the poorest of the poor. The allotment is based on the family’s income. The maximum monthly benefit for one person is $194; a family of four would qualify for up to $649 (again, depending on income). Could you buy groceries for a month on that? It’s a travesty.

Earlier this year, Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference, repeated what turned out to be a false story about the reduced and free lunch program offered at schools across the country. He told about a little boy who didn’t want a free lunch; he wanted to be able to bring a brown bag lunch to school because that would mean his parents cared about him. It was hogwash, as is the myth that those who receive government assistance are lazy. The fact is most of those kids’ parents do work, often two or three jobs. It’s just that minimum-wage jobs and part-time work often don’t add up to a livable income, especially in the more expensive regions of the country.

Don’t even get me started on Ryan’s dream to privatize Medicare and Social Security.

I am appalled at the fact that most of Trump’s Cabinet picks are driven more by ideology than by facts and knowledge. And his willingness to attack (by Twitter, no less) individuals and corporations, and engage in uninformed conversations with foreign leaders without regard for the consequences, is alarming.

I know there are several efforts at recounts and Electoral College vote switching to try to change the outcome of the presidential election. I applaud them. But I think it is more incumbent upon us—citizens, artists, writers, thought-leaders and educators—to stand up, speak out, and resist these disastrous choices and their beliefs at every turn.

If you can attend one of the many Million Woman Marches being planned around the nation, go, speak, let your voices be heard. Writers Resist is organizing events in January all across the country for writers to express our concern.

Do not remain silent or allow yourself to be lulled into the delusion that this president-elect will not be who he has showed us to be.

In 1963, the white ministers in Alabama urged Martin Luther King Jr. to moderate his rhetoric and tone down his call for peaceful resistance in the civil rights cause. In his thoughtful and stirring letter from the Birmingham jail to those who had criticized him, he wrote:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

King was talking about the fact that rights denied to black Americans were rights indirectly denied to all, and white Americans didn’t have the right to tell blacks to simply wait for the laws to be changed in due course.

We, all of us, are responsible for standing up for those Americans whose lives may be terribly affected by the changes anticipated from a Trump presidency. None of us has the luxury to wait and see what will happen. That’s what good people in Germany did when the Nazis came to power, and Hitler promised to make Germany great again.

Rise up. Write. Speak. Take action. Resist.

At Avila once again. And thoughts on writing.

Avila beach late afternoon.jpg
Crab closeup.jpg

It's hard to believe, but my writing buddies and I have been coming to Avila Beach to write every six months for nearly seven years. We are back this week, and it is a time I relish for the quiet, the serenity, the opportunity to get away from my office and client work for a few days and focus on my own writing projects.

It's beautiful up here, as usual. We always come up in April and October. Sometimes it's chilly and foggy; often it's sunny and warm. Today it has been both: chill fog this morning dissipating to warmth and sun this afternoon.

The hotel we stay in is on the ocean, so anytime a walk on the beach beckons, you can have your toes in the sand within minutes.

This is a time to breathe deeply, to ponder, to journal, to figure out a writing problem. I'm working on two book proposals, and also planning to write two book reviews and several blog posts. 

I've been reading Jon Katz's Bedlam Farm Journal recently. He posts several times a day, and even after only a few weeks I feel I know him and his artist wife, Maria. And I feel I am on a first-name basis with his dogs, Frieda, Red and Lenore, the three donkeys, the sheep, and the barn cats Flo and Minnie.

These past few weeks, Jon has shared the drama of Minnie's run-in with a wild animal of some kind.  Her leg was severely injured, broken and mutilated, and Jon and Maria had to decide whether to have Minnie euthanized or have her leg amputated. I've followed the story each day, from their decision to amputate the leg through the surgery and, now, Minnie's recovery back at home.

For the first time in her life, Minnie's in the house, and getting used to the luxuries there. They plan to return her to her life as a barn cat, once she's healed, but I'm wondering if Minnie will choose otherwise. 

Meanwhile, Jon writes about the dogs and the sheep, the donkeys and the vagaries of small-farm life, all the while documenting his posts with his photographs. 

Over the weekend he blogged about his visit to the University of Tulsa, where he taught a workshop on memoir. (He's the author of 12 books, most of them memoirs and most involving dogs.) 

The literary crowd didn't take much to his assertion that he is writing memoir now essentially through his blog. Agents and traditional publishing are things of the past, he told them. 

I can't say I disagree with him. I enjoy writing in my journal every day. From now on, I will share more of my thoughts in this space as well. If you're a writer, you have to write, even if the old formats fall away and a new world of online publishing takes its place. 

The old system of unfettered gatekeepers has crumbled in all genres, which may turn out to be a very good thing. I know it is for readers, who now have unlimited access to writing that previously might not have made the cut. Some of it may be awful, yes, but there will always also be those singular treasures that no one in traditional publishing was willing to take a risk on. I trust this will be as good for writers as it is for readers. I believe it will be. Time will be the judge. Meanwhile, I'm willing to take a chance on the new world order.  

Social Media Matters

In January, I wrote a blog post offering twelve steps toward building a platform in 2012, and promised to write a specific blog about each step throughout the year. Today, I want to focus on why writers should embrace social media. There are two important reasons : first, it builds a fan (or customer) base and, second, it allows you to interact with readers, which also strengthens your customer base.

Engaging in social media need not take a lot of time. If you plan carefully, you can execute a strong social media strategy in less than 90 minutes a day. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn might seem the most obvious social networks to begin with, but there are a number of writing and book sites that could provide as much or more exposure if you plan accordingly.

If you write fiction or nonfiction books, I recommend you have both Facebook and Twitter accounts, and use them to provide “news you can use” type updates and tweets. The rule is everything you post should provide some kind of value, so endless postings asking people to buy your book is a no-no. In fact, it’s likely to lose you more followers than you gain.

It’s okay to promote your book or some other service occasionally, but you’re better off providing useful information and a link that drives readers back to your own website where you offer your books for sale. The softer sell is always preferred. A good rule of thumb is 10 percent promotion/90 percent information.

But I also like to post helpful writing and publishing information on sites like www.shewrites.com, www.redroom.com, www.fictionaut.com, www.goodreads.com and www.waenetwork.com (Writers, Agents & Editors) to help drive traffic back to my website. Comment on others’ posts and comments, and always provide a link back to your own site.

I usually spend about 30 minutes in the morning looking through Twitter posts and re-tweeting those I think will be helpful to writers. I also look through all my e-newsletters to see if there is industry news or information I can post to my Writing & Publishing group on Facebook (you can join here). I do the same at mid-day and again in the late afternoon or evening. I don’t always have time to do this, but I make it an intention every day.

Whenever I post a new blog entry, I post it to Twitter, which automatically posts it to Facebook and LinkedIn (this is a simple linking process on Facebook and LinkedIn; just do a search for “linking to (whatever site you want to link to).” If you use a software program like www.Hootsuite.com, which has a nominal monthly fee, you can schedule a day’s worth of Twitter posts (some experts suggest 15-20 tweets a day; I probably manage five or six) all at once and forget about it the rest of the day. I also like using www.Tweetdeck.com, which is free, because you have more flexibility in commenting on and retweeting other people’s posts.

Join writing groups on LinkedIn, and follow agents and editors on Twitter. If you blog, make sure you post a link to it on all the writing and book sites I mentioned above (keeping in mind the 10-90 rule).

Remember, in today’s publishing world, it’s all about exposure: how many “followers,” how many “connections” and how many “friends” you have. That is especially true if you are self-publishing. Yes, I know, it’s annoying and so high school. It’s also one of the best ways to build a platform and get noticed. So get cracking. And let me know how it goes.

Why Should Writers Blog?

As I said in my recent blog 12 Ways to Build Your Platform in 2012, blogging is one of the most effective and efficient ways to build your platform, or brand, as a writer. And when you go out with your shiny new novel or nonfiction book proposal to find an agent, the first question the agent is going to ask is: What is your platform?

So, a word about platform. Essentially, it’s what you’re known for.

Do you have expertise in a particular subject, say, quantum physics, or training pug dogs? You can use that experience to create a platform. Blog; speak in your community, or, if possible, at state and national conventions; offer to lecture at the local public library; write op-ed pieces for your community newspaper. All of these things build your brand, fill out your resume and establish you as an expert in your field. Then if you write a book, you can point to that exposure as evidence of your “saleability.” Publishers today rarely take a chance on an unknown author. The more you can do to build a fan base, the better off you’ll be when you approach an agent or a publisher with a book proposal.

Today, blogging is the most expedient way to build a fan base.

The key, though, is to develop a theme or purpose so that you can offer your readers something valuable. Nonfiction writers – especially those who have a following already – will find it easier to establish a blog. Whatever it is you write about – be it antique clocks or the hip-hop music industry – it will likely lend itself to a blog that can be updated two or three times a week, if not daily.

For fiction writers, developing a theme can be tricky. I suggest writing a blog as one of the characters in your book. It doesn’t necessarily have to follow the storyline in your novel. You know the character; create some new scenarios for him/her to respond to, and let that voice populate your blog. You could even write it from several different characters’ voices, essentially creating a new online story.

To be effective, a blog needs to be written every day, or, if that’s not possible, at least every other day. In cyberspace, people expect something new every time they return to your site, so to be relevant and effective, you have to blog regularly. And you have to have something useful to say every time you blog.

In addition to being timely, the very best blogs have great writing, contain content that can’t be found anywhere else, provide something no one else does (information, a service or a product), are relevant, and provide links to other sources.

“Build your audience on the Internet (or otherwise) before you approach an editor or agent,” literary agent Doris Booth advises. “If you can say 25,000 or 50,000 people visit your blog every month, and they are all talking about and sharing what you’re writing on the subject of, say, Yo-Yos, then you are a much more attractive candidate to become published. Build your audience as a speaker or a journalist with a huge following, in any way you can. Celebrities get published because they have vast, already-established audiences. It is harder to build an audience if you’re a novelist, but not impossible. Visit the sites of successful authors such as Gayle Lynds, Heather Graham, and James Patterson and see how they draw attention to their work.”

(Some information in this blog appeared in my 2010 book Navigating the Rough Waters of Today’s Publishing World, Critical Advice for Writers (Quill Driver Press), available on Amazon.)