Sunday, February 27, 2011

Embrace change

Here's my newspaper column for this week. I thought my writer friends might enjoy it.

Embrace change

I did something I'd never thought I do - I read an e-book on my iPad.

You know how I love new media, but somehow reading a digital book felt dirty, like I was sneaking or cheating or taking a shortcut. And worse, I enjoyed it. Oh the horror! (Sorry, Joseph Conrad.)

I love books. I love reading them and, most of all, I love writing them. My idea of a good time is cozying up on the couch with a tome or two.

I love the entire experience - feeling the book in my hands, turning the pages, flipping back to reread a passage or sneaking ahead to peek at what's coming. (Yeah, sometimes I just can't resist.)

But what I've come to understand is that there's room for both. It doesn't have to be one or the other. They aren't mutually exclusive.

Some people like physical books.

Some like digital books.

And others, like me, enjoy both.

It's the same way with newspapers. There's nothing better than sipping a hot cup of joe while reading the morning newspaper. But, I also read a number of newspapers on my iPad, including The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post.

I admit that reading a book or newspaper on an e-reader is a different experience than reading their physical counterparts, but that doesn't mean it's a bad experience.

In some ways, the interactivity an e-reader provides is a definite plus. Come across a word you don't know, look it up in an instant. Want to highlight a passage that you like? Easy enough to do with a quick finger grab.

With any change, however, come naysayers. "That's not the way we've always done it," they lament. "I liked the old way better."

To them I say: Embrace change. Change is good.

Whenever I say this I'm reminded of the Eastman Kodak Company. Would this company have survived if it refused to embrace change - if it had resisted developing a digital strategy because, well, darn it, it liked producing film and photographic chemicals?

Kodak was smart enough to know that those who succeed and indeed flourish in this digital age will be those who embrace change.

It recognized that the market for traditional photography was declining and repositioned itself to continue to compete globally.

For this photographic powerhouse, that meant an extensive footprint reduction program that included imploding obsolete buildings at its Rochester, N.Y., manufacturing facility.

I can't imagine what it must have felt like for the employees and area residents to watch the transformation of Kodak Park. While the new skyline might have been a bit jarring, I'm sure they understood that the retooling was necessary as imaging transitioned from analog to digital.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, I'm from York County. Born and raised here. I know that we don't like change. We like things just the way they are. But there's positive in change, if we're open to it.

As our news organization, like Kodak, positions itself to survive in this dog-eat-dog digital world, it will continue to find ways to connect with readers. A day doesn't pass when one of us isn't thinking digitally about how we can continue to bring you the news and information you want in whatever way you want it.

I'm not a fool. I know that change is hard. Just ask anyone who works with me. They'll tell you I like my desk organized a certain way and can tell if something has been moved, even an inch.

But I've also found that when I embrace change, instead of fight it, I discover a world full of hope and a little something about myself.

Recently, 7-year-old Emma Vrabel (YAY! Emma) was reading one of my middle-grade books on her iPad. Each night after she read a chapter or two, she'd e-mail me her thoughts. What she liked or didn't like. Her frustration with the bully in the book or her love for the protagonist.

Each night, I looked forward to receiving her e-mail. It didn't matter to me how Emma was reading my book. What mattered was that she was enjoying it.

As a writer, I want people to read my work in whatever way suits them. Some people will read this column in the newspaper. Others will read it on one of my blogs and still others will read it on our website. I'm OK with that. As long as you read me, that's cool. (Now, if you hate what I write, well, that's another matter.)

I hope that as we continue our social media journey together, you'll be open to exploring new technologies or at least recognize that while they might not be for you, they might work for someone else.

I know that Hubs, just like an overwhelming majority of York countains, would never give up the physical newspaper. And I would never try to convince him - or you - to do so. That's where he's parked and, believe me, there's no moving him.

But, he also recognizes that many people get their news via a website or on their smartphone or iPad or, heck, even their Facebook page or Twitter feed.

And that recognition is change I can live with.

Why it's important to marry a good speller

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A case of Buffyitis

I was working on my middle-grade novel and laughing my ass off. I mean, there was some funny crap flying onto that computer screen. So I'm laughing and laughing and I’m thinking I’ve got to share this with Hubs. He’ll think it’s funny, too.

So, I track him down (in front of TV watching some kind of game that involves a brown ball shaped like an egg) and read him a passage. There’s no laugh.

"Now wait. Now wait. Here's another."

I read him another passage. Still no laugh. Meanwhile, I’m crackin’ up just trying to get through the passages because I think they’re hilarious.

Finally, I said to him, "You don’t think this is funny, do you?”

“Obviously not as funny as you do."

“What’s not funny about pimples and farts?"

(Very pregnant pause here)

“OK, don’t answer that."

That’s when I realized there was something wrong with me. Something terribly, terribly wrong with me. And being the hypochondriac that I am, I've looked it up in medical journals and websites and I can’t seem to find this ailment anywhere. So, I came up with my own name: Buffyitis.

Symptoms: Acts like a kid. Thinks like a kid. Basically, lacks the ability to grow up and think like a sane adult.
Cure: There's no cure for Buffyitis. Doctors are still working on it, but they see little hope.

Guess I'm just stuck with this. You, too! (Smiles)

Friday, February 25, 2011

From my WIP: Crap I Could Never Make Up

Scanner: Witness describes his mother-in-law as cold but not stiff and he doesn't want to do CPR.

Scanner: Subject advises that he has been drinking alcohol for a week and is shaky.

Overheard in pod: I've been randomly worried that some day you're going to set fire to my office.

Overheard in pod: It sucks to be you.

Overheard in pod: In a room full of men I just got nailed.

Scanner: Intoxicated driver moving 10 mph under speed limit. (Police find driver learning to drive.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's the most stupid thing you've ever done?

What’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever done? And do you ever use this “stupid” material in your writing?

My stupid thing

I wanted vanilla ice cream but the only thing we had in the house was a box of ice-cream sandwiches. So, what did I do? I get an ice-cream sandwich and decide to cut off the cookie part. Seems like a logical thing to do, right?


I'm holding the ice-cream sandwich in my left hand and a knife in the other, working the knife between the cookie part and the ice-cream part. When suddenly the freakin' knife slips and slices my thumb. Blood squirts everywhere. The kids are yelling and the dog is barking and I’m about to faint because I so can’t take blood. I mean it’s red, right? Bright red.

So, I grab a tea-towel, wrap it around my bloody thumb and yell to Hubs, who is upstairs doing God knows what, that I cut myself and I’m driving to the emergency room. Of course, driving with a thumb wrapped in a tea-towel is a bit of a challenge but I make it.

I get into the emergency room, they whisk me into an exam bay and the doctor comes in. Well, you can just imagine his face when I told him what happened.

"You do know that the cookie part is the best part," he said. “I mean, most people like the cookie.”

“I know, I know,” I said. “But I really only wanted vanilla ice cream.”

I ended up with eight stitches. And I bet they are still telling that story today.

Pretty dumb, huh? Now your turn.

P.S. Maybe my next project should be a book about my quirky self. The World According to Me

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Quote of the day

"Lots of people limit their possibilities by giving up easily. Never tell yourself this is too much for me. It's no use. I can't go on. If you do you're licked, and by your own thinking too. Keep believing and keep on keeping on." --Norman Vincent Peale

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting into your characters' minds

I've written a few middle grade and YA novels, each with its own set of characters. It's not always easy keeping them straight. So, when I revise a particular book, I really need to be able to connect with the characters in that book and not let characters from other books interrupt the party. Obviously, I don't want all of the characters to sound the same or act the same. They are unique individuals with their own quirks or demons or whatever. So, how do I get in the right mindset?

For me, I go into a quiet room and get familiar with the characters. This is especially important if I haven't been around them in a while. I need to hear their voices -- the cadence of their speech, the vocabulary they use, the way they trail off at the end of their sentences, etc. I need to see them -- the way, perhaps, her eyelids quiver when she talks or she habitually tucks her hair behind her right ear or bites her cuticles until they bleed.

I also keep a list of their traits so I can refer to them. For example, if Mags cracks her knuckles when she's nervous, I don't want to make a mistake and have A.J. doing that later in the book. The sheets help me keep things straight.

What works for you? If you are dealing with multiple characters in multiple books, how do you get in the right mindset when you go to work on that particular book? How do you keep them all straight. I'm always looking for great ways to improve the process.

Have a super writing week gang.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing: An act of discovery

Robert Frost said, "I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering."

I agree with Frost that writing is an act of discovery. I usually know how I'm going to start a book and sort of how it will end. And maybe some plot points in between. But the fun and exciting part about writing is seeing where my characters take me. Sometimes, I'm surprised. Things happen that I didn't expect or a twist of events leads me in a different direction or a decision turns out opposite of what I had hoped. I never try to force a piece to go in a certain direction. I've found that when I try to force it, it doesn't work.

When I sit down to write, I'm excited to see what will happen next. It's a thrill like no other. Honestly, sometimes I feel a bit weird. Is it normal to be so excited? I hope so.

What about you? Is writing an act of discovery? Do you ever feel weird or maybe a bit odd by how excited you are about your work?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quote of the day

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” --Stephen King

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't be afraid to show your love

In honor of Valentine's Day:

If you had 60 seconds, one moment, to say something to a loved one, what would it be?

“I love you.”
“I’m glad you’re a part of my life.”
“You make me happy.”
“I’m proud of the person you’ve become.”
“You make life fun.”
“Sometimes I say things I don’t mean.”
“It’s crazy, I know, but I just had to call and say hello.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Thank you for helping me.”
“You can do it.”
“I believe in you.”
“Just yesterday I was telling my friends how much you mean to me, and I realized I should be telling you.”
“Being your mom is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“I know I sometimes fail you as a parent, but I’m doing the best I can.”
“Like you, I have a lot to learn. Isn’t it great we’re growing and learning together?”
“Life’s not always happy, but I’m here to help you when it’s not.”
“We can get through this — together.”
“Learn from your failures. They are the building blocks of success.”
“Be the best you can be.”
“When I learned I was going to be a dad, I was scared. But then you came and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ And I am doing it. And I’m glad.”
“Your smile makes me smile.”
“I won’t always be able to prevent you from falling, but I’ll be there to help you get up.”
“My life is better because you are in it.”
“I really do love you.”
To say all these things takes 60 seconds. How many seconds do you spend each day saying even one of them?

These, folks, are moments that matter, little things that mean a lot.

The moment we tell our children they are wanted and loved.

The moment we admit our shortcomings.

The moment we say I’m sorry or I messed up or forgive me.

Each night, I share several seconds with my teenage sons that make up one of the most important moments of my day. Before I head to bed, I go into their rooms and tell each of them how much I love them. They put up with my hugs and kisses mostly because they know it makes me feel good. They understand that if I die in my sleep, the last words I want to have spoken to them is “I love you.”

I doubt if this nightly moment means as much to them as it does to me. But I also know if a night passed and I didn’t do this, they would probably wonder what was wrong.

My hope is that as they grow older and have families of their own, they’ll feel comfortable sharing similar moments with their children. I want them to love and not to be afraid of showing their love. To feel and not to be afraid of expressing their feelings. To be the kind of husbands and fathers I know they can be.

And I hope that this nightly moment is leading the way, that it matters not just for the present but for a lifetime.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grammy Awards minute list

In honor of the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, here's a minute list challenge. You know the rules. Copy and paste the list into comments and describe each item using only one word. Mine are in ( )'s. You get no more than one minute.

Voice (sultry)
Bling (gaudy)
Dress (revealing)
Mic (broken)
Tux (black)
Champagne (pink)
Limo (dark)
Set (colorful)
Evening bag (sequin)
Shoes (shiny)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine's Day minute list

We haven't done a minute list in some time. So, here goes. You peeps know the rules. You copy and paste the list into comments and describe each item using only one word. Mine are in ( )'s. Shouldn't take more than a minute. Have fun.

Heart (Broken)
Valentine (sweet)
Chocolate (bitter)
Cupid (determined)
Love (puppy)
Diamond (cloudy)
Dinner (cheap)
Candy (homemade)
Lipstick (red)
Strawberries (chocolate-covered)
Roses (fragrant)
Kiss (sloppy)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Quote of the day

"The only thing that I have done that is not mitigated by luck, diminished by good fortune, is that I persisted. And other people gave up." - Harrison Ford

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Post to check out

My writer friends might be interested in checking out this post on my social media blog. And if you aren't following that blog, I'd love to have you along for the ride. Have a super writing-editing-revising-dreaming-up-new-things-kind-of-day!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quote of the day

"Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Claus. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you don't, who will?" -- Jon Bon Jovi
I so agree. You?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Good news for debutant writers

Did you see this story about debutant writers? It's good news for the first novelist.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quote of the day

"There were days when I wondered if I was a glutton for punishment or simply delusional. However, my writing must have been improving because one day I found myself with three agents interested in my latest manuscript." --Lois Winston

Do you relate to her feelings of "glutton for punishment" or "delusional" when it comes to your writing?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Describe something you see NOW

In southcentral Pennsylvania, we got hit with an icy mess. When I took the dog out this morning I noticed:

Naked trees dressed in ice.

A world encased in an icy cocoon.

Icy fingers dripping from the berry bush.

Describe in one sentence what your saw outside your door today wherever you live.

Happy Groundhog Day

What if you were stuck in a time loop? In "Groundhog Day," arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is forced to repeat Feb. 2, the day of his much-hated, annual assignment covering the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney. Every morning, the same song plays on Phil's alarm, and Groundhog Day happens again -- with no one realizing it except for Phil. What day would you like to repeat?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quote of the day

“A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.” --P. L. Travers
Do you agree with this quote?