Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Write Book Reviews?

It seems I’m always begging people who like our books to post reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads. Yet most don’t. Why not?

THEY THINK IT’S HARD
Actually, all it requires is a couple of minutes and a couple of sentences. The star rating counts the most.
.

5-stars = Excellent read
4-stars = Good read, but not outstanding
3-stars = Just okay (On Amazon, it’s considered a negative review. On Goodreads, it’s neutral)
2-stars = Not great, but may have a quality or two worth reading
1-star = Should never have been published

I almost never write anything less than a 4-star review. I recognize tastes vary, and what may not appeal to me may appeal to someone else. I’ve only posted two 1-star reviews. One was so badly written I couldn’t get through the first page. (Amazon subsequently removed this one because of all the negative reviews and comments. I was far from alone.)

The other was by one of my favorite writers, but this book was dreadful. Quite a few others also hated it. I had previously written many positive reviews for this writer. This book had many reviews, and I felt obligated to warn others away from this title.

The vast majority of my reviews are 5-star.

THEY SAY THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE
You don’t have to write a treatise. One or two sentences will do. You can always start with: I liked this book because… Then list a couple of reasons you enjoyed it.

THEY ARE FRIENDS
Amazon.com (and now Goodreads since they are now owned by Amazon) will not allow friends of the author to post reviews. How Amazon is aware of our friendships is beyond me. But it's worth writing one, even if Amazon removes it. You and the author will know in the future. (And Amazon may not realize you have a relationship.)


So why should you—and I—post reviews on books?

REVIEWS AFFECT PLACEMENT
It may seem strange, but the number of reviews a book receives affects how it shows up in Amazon listings. The algorithms by which Amazon makes these placements is arcane and confusing to nearly everyone, but the more reviews, the better the placement. A well-reviewed book will show up on the suggested books list for other books and may be suggested as a bundle with other books.

PUBLISHERS LOVE GOOD REVIEWS
Publishers will feature their well-reviewed books more often in their publicity. Since they do little of it anymore, good reviews give the author a boost.

THEY AFECT LISTING ON OTHER SITES
Some other sites which feature authors and books require a minimum number of Amazon reviews before they can be listed. These sites have large followings and can give a listed book greater visibility. But if there aren’t enough good reviews on Amazon, they won’t be considered.

READERS USE REVIEWS TO BUY BOOKS
Readers looking at books to read on Amazon or Goodreads often use reviews to decide whether or not to purchase the book. Good reviews generate sales—always a positive for authors.

So, if you enjoy books, please follow up with a positive review.

And if you’d like to post a review on one of our books, here are the links:

We would appreciate your reviews, especially if you have enjoyed them!


Do you write book reviews? Why or why not?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Roses

The other day I looked at our roses. We have five bushes in the rose garden out front.
One is for Larry. He wanted a Sterling Silver, a pale lavender. Those weren’t available at the time, so we have a Stainless Steel—another light lavender.
One is Kim’s. It’s a JFK because she has been fascinated by the president since she was a little girl. It’s creamy white, but occasionally a streak of red appears on the petal. These streaks look like blood.
I don’t have one of my own. I let John, our landscaper, pick one out. He chose a Marilyn Monroe, since he is obsessed with her. (He has photos of her all over his house.) Marilyn is creamy pale rose to peach in color.
We planted a Double Delight for Larry’s mother. It was her favorite, and Dad always planted them for her. Looking at the blooms on her bush the other day, I realized how like her it was.

Letha was tiny and cute. She wore lots of prints and ruffles, jewelry and scarves. She never wore one bracelet when three would do. Her accessories—including shoes and bag—always matched her outfit. Oh, and her earrings did, too.

She resembled Betty White. Whenever she entered a room with her ever-present smile, the whole place lit up. She wasn’t a comedienne, but she always smiled and made anyone in the vicinity feel better. I was blessed to have had her in my life.

The Double Delight bloom is large and showy with a strong, sweet fragrance. The color varies. Just like Mother, it seems to be bored if it stays in the same outfit for too long. (She used to change clothes from head-to-foot at least five times a day.) The rose blooms early and continues to flower late into the season. The color can vary from nearly white, through rose, to deep red and varies from center to tip. The deeper color appears on the edges. We planted one in the church rose garden in memory of Mother and Dad. The first time we went to see it, the large, showy open bloom had a double center. Completely appropriate since it was in memory of both of them.
My mother’s rose is a Mr. Lincoln. It is a long-stemmed single blossom with a slightly tart fragrance I love. When I looked the other day, a single bloom stood tall and straight and proud, just like my mom. And like Mom, the rose is stubborn. While the Double Delight sends out dozens of blossoms all season long, Mr. Lincoln shows only one or two at a time, and usually when few of the other bushes are in bloom.

Mom herself always stood tall. Although she was only 5’4” everyone thought she was much taller. She always wore high heels and dressed in simple business attire—suits and dresses. She preferred a nice brooch to necklaces and rarely wore bracelets. She favored simple, conservative earrings, and her shoes and bag matched.

As I look on their roses, I am always reminded of the two most influential women in my life. Even though I miss them very much, their roses are a reminder of these special ladies.


Have you ever noticed how flowers reflect the people who love them?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lessons Learned

One of the great benefits of getting older is you actually learn stuff. Here are a few suggestions I made to a younger friend when she was frustrated in her job. I think they hold up pretty well.

GRATITUDE
Start every day by listing the things you’re thankful for. No matter how bad your situation, it always contains blessings. Find and acknowledge them. (Try the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge. Each day, list something you are grateful for. It’s a good way to start the day.)

Start your conversations with everyone at work by thanking them for something—verbally if possible, mentally if not. Don’t be fake about it, but each time you see someone, try to think of one thing you like about them, one thing they have done for you, one thing they’ve helped you with. Then say it—or at least think it. Take the time to do this before rushing into other conversation. It will change your perception as well as theirs.

Continue to pursue doing what you love—whether where you are now or not. What is your real passion? If this is the most important thing to you, you shouldn't have to hunt for time to do it. You’d make the time, and the work itself would renew and refresh you.
NO JOB IS PERFECT
Let me repeat: NO job is perfect. You’ll enjoy some more than others, but EVERY job has its issues. No boss is perfect either.

I vividly remember wanting to be a Department Head or VP early in my career. By the time I reached my early thirties, however, spending my days doing something I enjoyed made far more sense.

Everyone needs balance in their lives. Even if you have to put it on your calendar, start setting aside time to spend with friends. What is play for you? DO IT.

At least twice during my performance reviews I was told to lighten up. I was so intense and driven I made the people around me uncomfortable. I never expected as much from anyone else as I did from myself, but I didn’t suffer fools lightly—and it sometimes included the boss. I didn’t think I was conveying this, but I had to have been. Work became much more enjoyable when I really got to know the others around me as people. I recommend it.
NO ONE OWES YOU ANYTHING
Work is a bargain between you and your employer. No one in the organization is obligated to help you in any way. If some do, consider it a bonus. But don’t carry any false expectations about how far or how much they can or will do. They are each fighting for their own positions. Particularly in a failing department or division, those from the top down are fearful for their own spots. And they probably know quite a bit more about what’s going on behind the scenes than they can or will tell you.

Get your expectations in check. Do the best job you can, given the resources and authority you are allowed. YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. Others are. And they make the decisions. Work as well as you can within those parameters.

Do what you are asked to do, and do it well. But don’t take on responsibility or expect to receive kudos for stepping on toes to take on more. Always try to make your boss look better, even if she is a real jerk. It will pay off in the long run.

BE STILL
Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God” has haunted me for years. I am woefully short on patience. I want to act and get things done NOW. The truth is control is an illusion. We can only do what is in our sphere to do. But we can’t control the outcome.

It’s a hard lesson and one I don’t always totally embrace. (I’m getting better about waiting, but I still don’t like it.)

Maybe your next position isn’t even available yet. Maybe you have to be at the nadir in order to accept the next offer. And it won’t be perfect either.

I can promise you this. Ten or twenty years from now, you will look back at your current place and say, “Oh, now I get it. This was what I needed to learn.” Or “I can see now I was being prepared for something better.”



What life lessons have you learned? Can they be helpful to others?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dreaded Dialogue Tags

As an editor, one of my biggest annoyances is the use of unnecessary dialogue tags. What I mean is the obsessive use of “he said” and “she said.”
A friend insists on tagging every instance of dialogue with one of these. For me, this habit is like fingernails on the blackboard. His excuse is he took a writing class years ago where the instructor insisted the word “said” is invisible. I told him I found it annoying, so obviously it wasn’t invisible. He continues to write tagging every instance with “said,” and I refuse to read his books.

So, if you don’t use these tags, how do you let the reader know who is speaking?

First, write distinctive voices for your characters. If you have two characters and each of them has a distinctive speech pattern, rhythm, and POV, it may not be necessary to tag their words at all. Your reader should be able to identify the speaker simply from the word choice and position advocated by each.

If the conversation is between a man and a woman, the words may also be quite obvious.

But in cases where the scene features several characters, it may be necessary to indicate the speaker. One of the easiest ways to accomplish identification is by using actions. People aren’t just talking heads. They move, make gestures, and interact in nonverbal ways.

It helps for the writer to determine what each character does when under stress. Do they bite their nails, twist their hair, tense their jaw or clench a fist? When quizzical, does the character raise an eyebrow or frown or do a double take? Each of these reactions will not only help identify the speaker but also give depth to the character.

Are the characters drinking coffee? They can pick up their cups, take a sip, slam the cup down, etc. These actions can show the emotions involved as well as identify the speaker. If they are walking down the street, they can stop, turn, face another character, wave at a friend, etc.

What about body language? If a character leans forward, they are interested in what the other person is saying. If they lean back, they may either be resistant or they may relax. If characters are comfortable (and young), they may pull their feet up on the chair. If they are resistant, they may fold their arms. These gestures can add a level of subconscious information to the scene.

If characters are angry, they can slam drawers or doors, stomp out, thrust out their chins, etc.

The next time you are tempted to write “he said” or “she said,” try to find a more creative and interesting way to convey the identity of the speaker. Your readers will thank you.


Do you have other ways of identifying speakers? If so, what are they?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why Write Medical Mysteries?

Today I welcome friend and fellow author J.L.Greger. I enjoy her mysteries because I always learn something from them. She uses real cutting-edge medical discoveries as the basis of her books. I’ve asked her to tell us about her latest book, Murder…A New Way to Lose Weight. Lorna


Birth of a Medical Mystery
Have you noticed? Many Americans have schizophrenic attitudes about food. If you doubt me, flip on your TV and watch the ads. First there’s one for a restaurant with pictures of smiling people and sizzling steaks or pizzas dripping with gooey cheese. Next comes a commercial for a diet regime or exercise product. The presenter is smiling as she effortlessly performs twenty abdominal crunches with some sort of “torture” contraption. Most of us would pant after moving the device twice. After a small break for the program, the ads are back.

Funny? Sad and pathetic? Annoying, especially to me, a former professor of nutrition. Maybe, that’s why I wrote Murder…A New Way to Lose Weight.

Let me tell you a little about my new medical mystery.

Dieting is hard. So is fitting into a new job where you aren’t wanted. Linda Almquist is trying to do both as the new interim associate dean of a medical school. Linda steps into a battle among the cliques of the school when she checks out allegations that two diet doctors are recklessly endangering the lives of their obese patients. Then she discovers one of the diet doctors—dead. She and the police suspect the other diet doctor of the murder. Maybe they’re wrong. The murders might be related to something in the past―something involving her boss, the Dean. While Linda fears for her job, the police fear for her life.

Another reason for setting my mystery in a medical school reflects my professional experiences. I was an associate dean in a medical school. Several of the scenes in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight recreate actual events. Associate deans are the recipients of responsibility for all the messes, which the head dean doesn’t want to touch.

Hundreds of clever, creative people (grouped in cliques based on disciplines, intellectual differences, and perceived past slights) work in a typical university health center. Occasionally, a few become bored with medical challenges and unleash their skills on each other. Thankfully, they generally seek revenge verbally, not physically. However, the comments of the medical examiner (Omar Otega) to the investigating police (Hitchings) in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight ring true.

“Motive?” Hitchings scanned the crowd and motioned Omar back to him. “Omar, do we even have a murder? Looks like natural causes.”

“Can’t tell,” replied Omar.

“But no bullet or stab wounds? So natural causes are likely.”

“You’re in a medical school.” Omar walked closer to Hitchings and spoke more softly. “Everyone in this building probably knows how to kill someone without using a gun or knife. A complete tox screen will take weeks. And this woman was only in her thirties, pretty young to die suddenly.”

My third reason to write a medical suspense novel was I found a series of scientific articles on a hot area of research—gut bacteria. Scientists have found the microflora (bacteria) in the gut change with weight loss. Scientists hypothesize they may be able to help patients increase weight loss and keep weight off by altering their gut bacteria. The science educator in me wanted to share that information.


Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (paperback & Kindle) is available from Amazon (http://amzn.com/1610092392).

J. L. Greger likes to include tidbits of science and foreign locations in her thriller novels—I Saw You in Beirut (set partially in the Middle East), Ignore the Pain (set partially in Bolivia) and Malignancy (set partially in Cuba & winner of 2015 Public Safety Writers Association annual competition). Yes, she’s traveled to all those spots. Learn more about her at her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or blog: http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com.



Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day. At least this is the day we celebrate our independence from Britain. John Adams insisted we should celebrate on July 2, however, because that was the day the vote on Richard Henry Lee’s motion on independence was finally approved.
With all the attention the musical Hamilton has garnered, the American public is once again focused on our founding fathers.

I took an interest in the story of the struggle to get a resolution passed after we saw the movie 1776 for the first time. We immediately bought the cast recording and were surprised to find one of our favorite songs was missing from the movie. We saw the play onstage several times—with the missing song intact.

Several years later we learned that the film had been previewed at the White House, and then-President Richard Nixon objected so strongly to the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,’ that producer, Jack L. Warner, a close friend of the president, ordered it to be removed before the picture was released. In fact, all film of the song was supposed to have been destroyed.

However, for the 2002 release of the DVD version, the studio scoured old files and located all the film cut from the original theatrical and video releases. The current DVD version is the complete play.
The writers of the original play took much of the dialogue from the writings of actual participants as well as minutes of the Continental Congress. The cast brings each of the historical figures to life. They become real people.

While not 100% accurate, this drama provides a sense of the individuals who struggled with the concept of revolution—or treason, depending on which side they were on.

After seeing this production, I have never been able to take the process or the actual men involved for granted. If you haven’t seen this film, I strongly recommend it. Viewing it has become an annual event in our house.

Perhaps, in honor of John Adams, we should have watched it on July 2nd.

Of course, the final irony is that John Adams died on July 4, 1826, the same day as his friend and adversary Thomas Jefferson. The two men, who arguably made the greatest contribution to American independence, suffered a rift in their friendship for many years. However, Adams began to write to Jefferson, and they corresponded until the end of their lives.

As Adams died, he said, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” However, he was wrong. Jefferson had passed away five hours earlier.

So today we not only celebrate our freedom from Britain, but also the extraordinary lives of two exceptional patriots.


How will you celebrate today? Do you have any family rituals for the holiday?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Senior Year Electives

With the recent graduation season over, I was reminded of my own senior year in high school. I could have graduated a year ahead if I’d taken US Government in summer school after my junior year. It was the only required class I hadn’t taken. My friend, Susie, did just that and graduated early.

However, I didn’t want to miss all the special events of senior year, and after working so hard on academic subjects for three years, I wanted the opportunity to take a few electives. I also wanted to qualify for the National Honor Society, since any chance of college scholarships might depend on it.

At the time, we had six classes. US Government was my first class in the morning, and my advanced dance class was the last of the day. I had four periods to fill with classes I’d enjoy. What bliss!

First, I chose senior English since I planned to be an English major. I don’t remember much about it except we wrote a lot. I also took the one-semester World Lit. class with my favorite teacher, Mr. Ward. We studied the differences in the way different cultures approached the written word. I especially remember contrasting Oman Khayyam’s poetry with that of Yates and Dylan Thomas.

I then chose my only class in the Homemaking Department: Home and Family. This class was easy for me since I was already doing lots of the things it taught, like making the bed properly (bottom sheet right-side up, top sheet right-side down, and hospital corners), making and using a household budget, meal planning and shopping effectively, balancing a checkbook, repairing a lamp, etc. One of the most valuable lessons was how to repair a toilet. For many years, I replaced all the ball cocks and flush chains in our home.

Another one-semester class was Senior Problems. This was actually Psychology 101. We studied what makes us act the way we do. We had a long discussion on deceptive advertising. (Remember, this was the Mad Men era.) I’ve never looked at an ad the same way since.

I also took a semester of Beginning Spanish. We had a student teacher, and I confess, we drove him crazy. Once, I turned in my homework written backwards (right-to-left). I had taught myself to do it, and I can still read and write backwards. He returned my paper and told me to redo it. He said if I ever did it again, he’d give me an F.

Finally, I took an art class—the first I’d ever taken. And I LOVED it. I recently posted a photo of a tree I drew early in the class.
On a hot afternoon, we walked across to the cool garden behind the library to sketch. I’d always loved this tree, so I decided to choose it as my subject. I’ve always liked this quick study in ink on paper. Over the years, it became discolored, so I tried to clean up the background to restore the original effect.

I did a portrait of my favorite subject. Not great, but close enough to recognize.
This was a quick study using colored pencils.

In college, I took another art class. I loathed the instructor. In his opinion, anything that resembled real life wasn’t art. I disagreed. My grade reflected our disagreement.

I did a dual study in charcoal of Larry. Later on, I cut out the portrait and discarded the profile. (It wasn't accurate, and the whole dual study was too large.) It hung on the wall for a time until it fell and the glass broke, damaging the paper. But I still like it.
On one project, my college instructor and I agreed. Each student was to make a stabile. I took a small wooden block and attached interlocking quasi-circles of wire to the center. I painted the whole thing flat black, and added a red Christmas ornament in the middle. For some reason, the instructor liked it and asked to keep it as a demonstration to future classes. He did, and I got an A for the project, thus saving my GPA.

During my freshman year in college, the pressure was on again. I had a California State Scholarship and had to remain on the Dean’s List to maintain it. (I did.) I liked my classes, but not the school. And I never enjoyed another year as glorious as my senior year in high school.


What was your favorite year in school? What was your favorite class? What class do you wish you had taken?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Here Comes Summer

After a week of graduations and celebrations of the end of the school year, I’m taken back to my own school days.
When June arrived, I couldn’t wait to be free for the summer. Although I loved school, I looked forward to spending three months with my friends.

I remember waking to the scent of lilacs drifting into my bedroom with the warm summer breeze. They weren’t supposed to grow in our area, but my dad was an amazing gardener, and he planted the bush. It bloomed every year, long after he died. So did the sweet peas he planted. Each year, he saved the seeds at the end of the season to plant the following year. Several years after he died, Mom pulled up all the volunteer plants and threw them over the back fence. But those stubborn flowers didn’t die. Instead, they came up on the other side every year for as long as I can remember. Both sweet peas and lilacs are among my favorite flowers. They remind me of Dad.

We had lots of kids our age on our block, so we had no problem finding someone to play with. When we were small, we roller skated up and down the sidewalks. One year, we used chalk on Diane’s driveway and garage to create a roller rink.

When we got a little older, we rode our bikes to the park where we did crafts, played tennis, and swam in the swimming pool. We often took picnic lunches and ate at the covered tables. We sat beneath the trees on the hill and rested or read.

I spent many hours in the shade of the willow tree in our front yard reading. When the other kids ran around in the heat of the day, I searched for a cool spot. I have never been able to spend much time in the sun. My fair skin has always burned and peeled or burned and blistered. But books were my escape. Through them, I could travel to other locations and meet new people.

One summer, a Sharon’s grandmother taught us to play canasta. We played every day that summer at one house or another. The tournament continued the next summer. I wish I still remembered how to play, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten.

One time, we had a snack stand. We sold hot dogs and other food from our kitchen window. My mother was painting the bathroom that day, and I still can’t believe she allowed us to do this. I’m sure the supplies probably cost more than we made.

As the afternoons cooled, we took to the streets. We played Red Rover and other team games. At dusk, we played ‘Ditch,’ a variation on tag. We could hide anywhere in the front yards on our side of the street. ‘It’ stayed near a streetlight and counted to 100. We each waited, hardly breathing until ‘It’ left the streetlight. Then we ran to the streetlight and tagged home.

We stayed out until a parent called their children home for dinner. Several adults had distinctive whistles. As soon as the first of the kids went home, our game broke up.

We often had sleep-overs with our friends. Sometimes we slept outdoors under the stars.

Our parents didn’t have to worry about where we were because we congregated at one house or another. Most mothers stayed home, so an adult was always present. They were friends, so everyone knew where we were and what we were doing.

Looking back, we had an ideal Norman Rockwell-type childhood. Our lives at home may not have been perfect, but our neighborhood was a safe place with families who cared about us.

By the time September rolled around, I was ready to return to school, although lots of my friends were not.


How did you spend your summers? What are your favorite memories?