Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Only a Number

Recently friends were discussing age differences in dating and marriage. One thought the same age to three years’ difference was ideal. Another said she thought less than five. Both of them had a difference they considered too great—one was ten years, the other twelve.
I learned a lesson on this subject from my mother’s experience.
When she was eighteen, she was engaged to a friend’s brother who was thirty. Her parents felt he was much too old for her.
“When you’re fifty, you’ll still be young and want to go out and have fun. He’ll be sixty-two, retired, and want to stay home. The age difference is just too great,” her father told her.
She finally decided he was right and broke off the engagement.
She married my dad in October of 1942 when she was twenty-four. He was twenty-five.
Dad was home on leave before being deployed in WWII at the time of their wedding. They were apart for the next three years. Dad finally arrived back in the US in 1945.
He died of arteriosclerosis in 1954 at the age of thirty-seven.
In 1970, she married again, this time to a man who was sixteen years younger than she. The difference didn’t show in their appearances, however. The marriage lasted for eight years before they were divorced, but their ages had nothing at all to do their issues.
I’ve always believed one reason she married this particular man was so he could outlive her. She didn’t want to be widowed again.
After their divorce, they saw each other regularly and even traveled and vacationed together. They were each other’s best friends.
Twenty years after their divorce, he died at the age of sixty-three. Mom was seventy-nine, walked at least a mile and a half every day, and stayed active.
Through the years, she kept track of her friend’s brother. He married, and he and his wife went dancing once or twice a week. He continued dancing well into his eighties. My grandparents’ concern simply wasn’t justified in the long run.
When she died at age ninety-three, Mom had outlived both of her husbands.
So what is the ideal age difference?
Larry is two years older than I. That was pretty normal for the time we were dating. It works for us. But is it ideal? Is there an ideal?

I’m inclined to believe age is just a number, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a person’s energy or enthusiasm for life. What do you think?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

When did you discover Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet? I found it early in high school, and its wisdom continues to speak to me. Just this week, ideas from this profound work came up in conversation with friends.
At breakfast the other day, “the girls” were discussing a friend who had recently died. She was loving and giving, always ready to help where needed. But even when help was offered to her, she refused to take it. She saw herself as a giver, not a taker.
I was reminded of the end of the essay “On Giving”:
“And you receivers—and you are all receivers—assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives. Rather, rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings. For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.”
We had a long discussion about the very real truth that we are all growing older, and may each require help at some time. Those of us who are givers (and all those at the table fit into that category) must remember not to steal the joy of giving from those who offer it. We love the feeling of being able to help someone else. Why do we deny that same sense of purpose to others? (I’m preaching to myself, here.)
Just yesterday, I was speaking to a younger woman whose husband died on Thursday. She felt guilty because she was crying so much. Another friend and I spent some time with her assuring her that she was entitled to feel her grief—for as long as needed. We also gave her permission to be angry with him for leaving.
Although his death was not unexpected, the actual moment she realized he was gone took her by surprise.
Once again, Gibran’s powerful words came to me. Several essays address death and the feelings which surround it:
From “On Joy and Sorrow”:
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
From “On Death”:
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?... And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
In this case, the last was totally appropriate. The husband was a hiker and loved the outdoors. He left instructions that he was to be cremated and his hiking friends were to scatter his ashes along the trail where they had shared such wonderful memories. Since he was a scientist and very concerned with the environment, the phrase “ashes to ashes; dust to dust” was very real to him.
The imagery in “The Coming of the Ship” and “The Farewell” speak metaphorically of death. One passage I especially love is from “The Coming of the Ship:
Let not the waves of the sea separate us now, and the years you have spent in our midst become a memory. You have walked among us a spirit, and your shadow has been a light upon our faces. Much have we loved you. But speechless was our love, and with veils has it been veiled. Yet now it cries aloud unto you, and would stand revealed before you. And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

If you have not read this lovely book before, I suggest you might want to try it now. It is an allegory, but it contains much profundity. If you read it years ago, you might want to take another look. (I pick it up every few years and read it again.) If you have read it, what are your feelings about it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Marketing and Promotion

Promotion and marketing are key to any enterprise. They are especially critical in the highly competitive world of publishing.

When our first book came out in 2005, we had no idea how much of our time would be spent promoting it. The time crunch got worse with every additional book—especially since they are in so many different genres!
We were fortunate to have heard marketing expert, Penny Sansevieri  (http://www.amarketingexpert.com), speak at one of the first conferences we attended. She outlined the basic marketing requirements if you are an author:
Website—This establishes you as a professional, so it must look professional. Our son-in-law is a pro and volunteered to design and update ours. We think it’s AWESOME!
Facebook—You need both a personal profile and an author page. Larry and I each have separate profiles. Some people create pages for each of their titles. This is probably overkill, but, in addition to our author page, we have one for our book 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, so we can target our Japanese friends and coworkers, and another for our Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies. I share this one with my co-writers, and it targets readers of romance fiction.
LinkedIn—This is a business site. When we were working at other jobs, we both had accounts here. As we began writing, we added writing, our books, and other associated activities to those profiles.
Twitter—I admit to being a complete twit when it comes to this. I have an account, but I never quite got the hang of using it. Nevertheless, I have linked my LinkedIn feed to post to Twitter at the same time. That way, I am continuing to post even without going directly to Twitter.
Blog—This also increases your visibility. I try to post at least weekly to mine. I write about the writing business as well as other things of interest to me—and hopefully to others as well.
Goodreads—This is a site for both readers and writers. Larry and I each have profiles.
Book Trailers—I have made video trailers for each of our books. We post them to Facebook, our website, and Goodreads. They can also be found on YouTube. Click the link to see my latest for Larry’s new book, The McGregor Chronicles.

Pinterestthis is the latest hot site. I post things I like as well as the covers of our books and links to the trailers to my page.

We do other things for promotion as well.
  1. Several years ago I ordered 500 nice pens from National Pen very inexpensively. Promo codes are available on the web for great discounts. These are great as handouts or extras when people buy your books. They’re great advertising because people keep them.
  2. You MUST have business cards if you are to be taken seriously as writers! We include, at minimum, our website and contact email address on ours. The theme reflects us as writers. (Since we are our brand, we want to hint at who we are.) We get free ones for each new book from VistaPrint to hand out pre-publication and to give away with the book afterward. You only pay for the shipping, and the quality is very good. With so many people going to ebooks, a card is a great memory-jogger for when they're ready to upload it. We also write “Thank you” on one and leave it with the tip whenever we dine out. It’s a small gesture and inexpensive as well.
  3. We’ve also purchased brochures, postcards, signs, etc. from VistaPrint. They always have free stuff like business cards, t-shirts, etc. You only pay for the shipping, and the quality has been excellent. Get on their mailing list for notice of their extra special offers.
  4. For other SWAG for giveaways, Oriental Trading Company is the place. This is where we get the chopsticks we give away when anyone buys a copy of our book 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We also bought mini-compasses to glue on the business cards for out book Directions of Love. They really worked, and people loved them!
  5.  For personal appearances, you might consider custom M&Ms. We had some made in aqua with “31 Months in Japan" on them. Get on their mailing list for notice of extras & Specials.
  6. For Local Author and Autographed stickers, try Earthly Charms or print your own on sticky paper.


Being noticed is all about promotion and marketing. What ideas have you seen or used?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Fond Farewell



On Thursday, March 5, we marked the end of an era. On that day, we celebrated the life of our dear friend Edith Banning-Josef, who’d died two days earlier.

People are often called unique, but I have never known anyone else quite like her. She certainly marched to the beat of her own drummer.

We first met her over forty years ago when she brought her two boys to church. From that point on, no one who attended our contemporary service could miss her. She sat in the back row on the aisle and ‘managed’ the service.

She was hard to miss. A tiny bird-like woman, she nearly always wore leggings and a sweatshirt. She particularly favored a hot pink one with three small fuzzy teddy bears and pink hearts. I made it over twenty years ago for a church sale. Edith bought it, and every time she wore it, she pointed it out to me to make sure I remembered.

When the church was on a schedule with Sunday school between services, the kids remained for the entire first service. Edith decided they should take the collection, and each week, she chose the kids for this job. They were delighted when she picked them. If one of our kids brought a friend, Edith often asked the friend to participate. What a marvelous way to let a child know they were welcome!

1982
She truly had a heart for kids. She assisted in a classroom at the local elementary school for years, helped in Sunday school, and taught vacation Bible school. She had a particularly close relationship with my daughter, Kim, since she was the same age as Edith’s younger son. Edith’s nickname for Kim was ‘Snookie Cookie.’ (Where it came from, we never knew.) Before long, Kim called her the same thing. Even last Christmas when Kim visited church, they greeted each other that way.

After Kim moved to Texas, the first question Edith always asked us was, “How is Kim doing?” When talking with friends at the reception following Edith’s memorial service, I discovered she did the same with most of the kids who had grown up in the church.

All her involvement with our church was ironic because she never joined. I periodically invited her to become a member, but she always told me she had joined the church as a girl and didn’t feel the need to belong to ours, even though she attended regularly. She finally said she would join when David did. (He’d also been attending for years without becoming a member.) I suspect she said it to shut me up. When David finally joined the church about three years ago, I reminded her of her promise. Of course, she still declined.

Edith had the heart of a Deacon and performed lots of Deacon-like activities—even though we could never give her the official title. Whenever we held an event, Edith was there to help. She cared deeply about people, and always enjoyed our fellowship events. She was a guest in our home for several of these and had a great time.
1999
For many years, she and my mother spent Friday afternoons at the church folding the bulletins for Sunday morning. They became good friends. When Mom’s senility incapacitated her, we moved her to an assisted living facility. Edith made a point to visit her at least once a week. As Mom deteriorated, we had to relocate her to a nursing home. Edith continued to visit each Saturday. We always knew she’d been there because we’d sometimes find a cookie on a paper towel with a note written on it: Vera’s. Do not eat. She often left a bunch of wild flowers in a little bottle from which she’d soaked off the label.

On the day Mom died, we took her onyx ring to Edith since we wanted her to have it. We didn’t think she should hear the news from someone else or over the phone. We told her she could wear the ring, keep it, sell it, or give it away. She said she wanted one of her granddaughters to have it.

Fortunately, we have our old church directories since very few photos exist of Edith. Her niece confirmed that Edith didn’t like to have her picture taken. She said many of the family photos show Edith with her hands over her face.

This is ironic because she always had a camera in her hand. Over the years, she must have taken thousands of pictures of events at the church—but we never saw any of them. When asked about them, she said they were all on slides and she didn’t have a projector. We offered to let her use ours, but then she couldn’t find the slides. (No surprise.)

We speculated that she might not have had film in the camera, but after she died, her boys found several rolls of undeveloped film with her cameras.

Between services, we have coffee hour on the patio in front of the entrance. One of her ‘jobs’ at the church was to ring a school bell to let everyone know it was time for the second service to begin. I guess we’ll have to find someone else to do that job now.
2006
We will miss our friend Edith very much, but we consider ourselves so very blessed to have had her in our lives for so many years.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The McGregor Chronicles

My husband, Larry's first attempt at science fiction is now a reality. The McGregor Chronicles: Book 1 – Saving Mike is now available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.
Science fiction has always been his favorite genre for reading, but he’s never tried writing it until now. He might not have attempted it at this time except a member of our writing group decided on the genre. He was able to give her some tips for her book, and an idea of his own came to him.

As the story progressed, a romantic element appeared. Keep in mind, Larry is a plotter. Well, he used to be. He always planned his stories out from first chapter to last ahead of writing. But since we have been collaborating, he has learned to trust his characters. Unfortunately, they sometimes have minds of their own!

This book is light action/adventure featuring members of a spacefaring dynasty. Future books in the series will focus on other family members. Book 2 – Escape From Eden is completed and awaiting edit. He has begun Book 3 – Alien Invasion.

His latest project in conjunction with this first book has been to build a model of his spaceship. (All of the technical information in the book is based on real science. Once a space geek, always a space geek.)
His model making began after he saw the movie version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He came home and built the sets out of old scraps he founding the garage. Then he lined the bathtub with these ‘sets’ and spent hours playing out the movie.

When he first began in engineering, a scale model was built for every new project. He loved wandering through the model shop checking out all of them.

CADD removed the need for models except in one industry: theme parks. While he worked on Universal Studios Japan in Hollywood, he often stopped by to see the scale model of the park.

It was moved to our offices in the World Trade Center in Osaka where everyone could see it. The model became a sales tool to interest vendors, who wished to sell their goods in the park, and for investors.

In our book 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, the chapter called “From Model to Scene…” tells about how he and I and his boss rebuilt the model for the Jurassic Park waterfall when it arrived in Japan. The rockwork expert liked the model so well he had the center part shipped back to the US after the project was completed, so I guess we did a good job reconstructing it. All of Larry’s childhood model making finally paid off.

I must admit, I’m not a great sci-fi reader. I enjoyed the Star Wars movies and the Star Trek TV show. In fact, we had dinner every Wednesday night with friends so we could watch the new episodes together. And this week, when ‘Mr. Spock’ died, I must admit, I cried.


Do you like sci-fi? If so, you might enjoy The McGregor Chronicles. Not a big fan of the genre? You might want to try this one. It could make you a believer—at least in the author, Larry K. Collins.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blurbs

For several years, we’ve done a presentation at conferences about how to write an ‘elevator pitch.’
What’s an elevator pitch? Imagine you are at a conference or convention or even in a random hotel or restaurant and you spot someone who might be interested in your latest work. This can apply to authors, but also musicians, artists, or anyone else who has work to sell.

You enter the elevator with that person, and you have about thirty seconds to interest them in your work. What do you say?

We teach a whole class on creating the perfect ‘hook’ in twenty-five words or fewer. The idea isn’t to tell the person the whole story, just to get their attention. For instance, the elevator pitch for our book, The Memory Keeper, is this:

Near the end of his sixty-ninth year, Acjachemen Indian, Tomás Romero, born in 1820 in San Juan Capistrano, recalls the events of his life.

It doesn’t begin to encompass the whole story, but it does include the name of the protagonist, his ethnic origin—which, in this case, is important—the setting, and the date. It also leaves the other person the opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation.

The one for my book, Ghost Writer, is this:

Nan Burton loses everything: job, boyfriend, apartment, car. Then she inherits a cottage with resident ghost. In time, they each learn what really matters.

Again, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It gives the set-up (losing her job, etc.), the setting, and introduces the ghost. It even tells the outcome. Hopefully it leads the hearer to ask, “How?” This question can open dialogue. But be sure to have a business card handy so they can contact you at a later date.

We’ve written elevator pitches for all our books. We use them on the backs of the bookmarks we create as well as other marketing materials, including the business cards for each book.

Right now we’re working on the back cover blurb for Larry’s latest book, The McGregor Chronicles: Book 1 – Saving Mike.
Larry took a stab at it, but was having a problem. We finally worked together and came up with this:

Wake up, Matt, wake up,” an insistent voice repeats in my head.

From that moment, Matt McGregor’s life will never be the same. Upon awaking from cold sleep, Matt, co-captain of the space freighter, HC7 McGregor-15, discovers the ship abandoned and life support failing. Once he gets the systems started, he finds out his brother and co-captain, Mike, has been captured by space pirates. Matt immediately sets out to rescue Mike, aided by the disembodied voices. He is reluctantly paired with Federation Lieutenant Tracy Warren. How will they find Mike and save him? Can they work together, despite their differences? Will they survive the rescue attempt? And who are those voices in Matt’s head?

The purpose of a back cover blurb is to engage a potential reader. It must tell a bit more of the story so the person who is considering the book wants to read the rest. The blurb can also be used as the book description when listed online.


What do you think? Would you want to read this book based on the blurb? We’d like your input.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Valentine's Day and Romance



Next week is Valentine’s Day. This is the occasion when lovers demonstrate the depth of their affection for each other. For some people, this is easy and truly enjoyable. For others it’s never easy.



Larry has never been romantic. Period. Several years ago, I wrote his ‘non-proposal’ into “Finding Love in Paradise,” my novella for our anthology Directions of Love. When I took the chapter to our critique group, everyone said, “That’s not romantic.”



I turned to Larry and said, “See.”


Actually, this should have prepared me.



However, while we were dating, he bought me lovely gifts for every occasion. I wore one bracelet until the finish wore off it. I still have the watch he gave me for high school graduation, and I’d still wear it except the band is fragile.



The first rude awakening came on my birthday following our wedding. He didn’t ignore it. He gave me a card. An anniversary card. So for our first anniversary a week later, he gave me nothing.



When I asked about all the great gifts I’d received before we married, I discovered that his mother had reminded him of the date well ahead of schedule and took him to the store. Then she suggested items I might like. My mother-in-love was a GREAT shopper and really understood my taste. Larry? Not so much.



For at least the first ten years of our marriage, I can count the number of actual gifts I received from him on one hand—and that includes the smoke alarm I got one year for Christmas…



I tried to explain to him how much it hurt when he ignored important occasions like my birthday and Christmas, but he couldn’t seem to understand.



I grew up very poor, and these special occasions were the only times when I actually received anything selected especially for me—like clothing that wasn’t hand-me-down. I never got much, and it certainly wasn’t expensive, but I felt loved.



After many years—and even more tears—I finally got through to him that gifts for special occasions really mattered.



One year on my birthday, he really went over the top. He picked me up from work at noon with a bouquet of roses. Then he drove me to the local airport for a flying lesson. Since I’d always wanted to learn to fly, this was a real E-ticket! He said I had a choice: I could either complete the lessons and get my license, or we could take a trip to Hawaii. Since the airport we would have flown into the year before had closed, I opted for Hawaii. But that one lesson was spectacular!



For many years, I became very blue right after Valentine’s Day. The lack of any acknowledgement from the most important person in my life made the depression even worse. It took me a long while to realize the reason this time of year was difficult harkened back to my childhood. My father died on February 16th, two days after Valentine’s Day. Once I realized the connection, I was better prepared, and now it’s no longer such a hard time of year.



Here’s the good news: if you’re lucky, even the unromantic can change. Over the years, Larry has gotten better about his gift giving and thoughtful gestures.



One little—and very special—tradition he has begun is making sure I have at least one small gift in my Christmas stocking. Sometimes they are silly things, other times, pretty things, still other times, they are special things. This last year, he gave me two gift certificates for pedicures. I never had my fingernails or toenails done until a few years ago. I discovered I LOVE a pedicure. I don’t go very often, but it feels so indulgent when I do. When I opened the envelope, I cried. He nailed it (no pun intended—although he’ll like it).



In recent years, we have begun to think about downsizing. We really don’t need more stuff. So we’ve begun giving ourselves gifts of things and events we can enjoy together. Our Christmas gifts this year were our annual passes to Disneyland. We both enjoy going with visiting friends, but also just hanging out there together. For us, it is the perfect gift.



One lovely and appreciated gesture began after Larry retired. He began leaving ahead of me to go surfing. I was still working, so I’d get up after he left for the beach. Before he left the house each morning, he began to bring me a cup of coffee and kiss me good-bye. Even after I retired, he continued doing this, and he still does it every day.



Some people might not consider this romantic, but I certainly do.



Larry isn’t inherently romantic, but he has figured out what to do so I feel cherished and loved. Because it doesn’t come easily to him, it’s all the more special.



What makes you feel loved? Is the special other in your life romantic? How do they express it.