Public Speaking: 4 Circles of Fear

Speaking at a Christmas time author eventOne of the scariest things for many authors is public speaking and public reading of their work, but it is a necessary skill for the author toolbox. I am no exception to this fear—I hate being out in front of people. Since my book came out almost 2 years ago, however, I have had to deal with this issue, and I have learned quite a bit about myself and being center stage.

For me, there are 4 circles of fear when it comes to public speaking/reading:

  1. Reading
  2. Panels
  3. Speaking
  4. School Visits

Speaking at my book launch in 2015I’m not too bad with the reading. As the mom of a 7-year-old who loves books, I have had many years experience reading aloud, and my daughter assures me that I am “the best reader ever.” When reading my own words, I get excited because I can read them as I meant them to be read, rather than how the reader might interpret them in their own heads. Reading has the added advantage that I am, well, reading, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting what I’m supposed to be saying.

The idea of panels made me very nervous at first. After all, they weren’t scripted, and often you don’t know the questions ahead of time. As an anxiety-ridden individual, the idea of not coming in fully prepared shook me deeply. My very first panel ever was at my high school alma mater, where I sat onstage with 4 other alumnae authors and faced some 500 girls and their teachers. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Being up there with other authors meant I was not the sole focus of attention—I could “relax” while others were talking. And I didn’t have to carry the entire weight of the conversation—I could bounce off what another panelist said, not always be the original thinker. I am a writer who enjoys collaboration, and in many ways a panel is a synergistic collaborative effort.

Public speaking solo is another story. Now we are moving past trepidation into panic attack areas. However, thanks to a mandatory semester of Speech class in high school, I can give a good speech. When I have time to prepare and practice, I can not only get through a speech without a meltdown, but give the audience an enjoyable presentation. An extemporaneous solo speech, on the other hand…

Speaking at a writing workshopFinally, we have school visits, which are awkward for me because they land somewhere between a speech and a performance. While I can give a speech, I am not much of a performer. My skill set is in being invisible, not in keeping people riveted to what I am saying. My single experience in teaching a workshop was rewarding but did not do much to bolster my confidence.  I have not yet done a school visit, and frankly, the thought of doing one terrifies me. My greatest fear is that the kids will get bored. After all, I do not consider myself all that interesting—imposter syndrome rearing its head. When I finally break that last barrier, I will tell you how it goes!

I have found that the more casual the encounter, the more at ease I am. I enjoy chatting with the kids, because the kids that come up to speak to me are already interested and engaged. Perhaps the key is to make even the more formal occasions seem casual.

What I’ve learned so far is that usually my intense fear is unfounded. So go through those circles of fear confident that you will emerge stronger and with a new skill in your author toolbox.

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5 Ways Writing is Like Physical Therapy

I’ve been getting physical therapy for frozen shoulder since summer, and I’ve come to realize that physical therapy and writing have some commonalities.

1. No pain, no gain

Physical therapy is rarely painless. In my case, therapy involves a great deal of aggressive stretching to break up the joint encapsulation. The pain at the beginning was intense, shooting down to my fingers and taking my breath away. Now it is more of an ache or a tightness.

Writing is similar. In order to continue to improve, we must stretch beyond our comfort zone. Such stretching can be painful both emotionally and mentally. But improvement depends on pushing through the discomfort.

2. Get help from experts

Now, many times frozen shoulder will resolve over time on its own. But that can take years, and the condition is painful to live with. In addition to the pain, the inability to use your shoulder makes many daily tasks very difficult. So I sought out doctors and then therapists who could hasten my healing.

Seeking out expert guidance in writing can also speed up your writing skills. Having a mentor or group of fellow writers who can help you correct your mistakes—or even better, keep you from making them in the first place—can lead to faster improvement in your craft.

3. Structured process sees results

In physical therapy,  I could do random shoulder exercises and probably make some progress. However, having a well-thought-out, structured process ensures the pieces all build upon each other with no wasted effort, and makes my work more productive.

Having a structured writing process can help make your writing more productive. If you have a process that flows, your word count will increase, and your revisions will take less time. Every writer’s process will be different, but if all the pieces build upon each other, the writing will come easier.

4. Details make a difference

Physical therapy is a science of nuances. Many of the exercises must be done exactly right, or they will not strengthen the muscles needed—and may cause additional damage. Exercises target specific muscles or joints, and the amount of weight or resistance used in the exercise must be carefully controlled to avoid strains and setbacks.

Attention to the details of a story is necessary, as well. Everything from proper punctuation to choosing the precise word makes a difference in the experience of the reader. The myriad craft  skills needed are also detailed, and you can carefully target skills you are weak in to increase your overall strength and flexibility.

5. Persistence pays off

Even with the most diligent exercise program, frozen shoulder takes a long time to thaw. Most people are 80% or better by 6 months, but it can take up to 2 years. So persistence is key.

Persistence is rewarded in writing as well. Continue honing your craft. Don’t give up when you try to publish and rejections piles up. Push through any problems or setbacks, and eventually you will reach your goal.

Keep exercising, trust the process, and your work will improve!

 

 

Fall Book Fair 2017: Roping In Young Readers

Book Fair Fall 2017Yee Haw! It’s my favorite time of year again—BOOK FAIR! This year’s theme for the Fall Book Fair is the Wild West. So here we are trying to rope in young readers.

The kids love the Book Fair. Even the older kids who pretend they are too cool to care will sneak their peeks and then come back later to buy books. The little kids are the best, though. They stare in awe at the shelves of books that must seem as tall as skyscrapers to them. Some kids will run around like crazy, grabbing armfuls of books to put on their wish lists. Others reverently and silently move from shelf to shelf, gently taking down one book at a time to add to their lists.

We had a good selection this year, with a lot of diversity in the titles. Something for everyone, really, from fantasy to gemstones. I worked mainly with the younger kids, and there’s always one title that catches fire. This year’s hot title was Thelma the Unicorn.

Book Fair Fall 2017Book Fair Fall 2017

 

 

 

 

Our fantastic volunteers make this possible, and we had a large bunch of dedicated parents this year. We helped the younger kids write wish lists, and then when they came back a few days later with money, we helped them buy their books. The little kids don’t fully understand the value of a dollar, so trying to explain why you can’t buy a $10 book with a $1 bill even though they both start with the number 1 can be hard. But our volunteers are great and all the kids went home happy.

As I say every time I write about the Book Fair, the proceeds from this constitute ALL of the budget for buying books and supplies for the library. Our school pays nothing toward curating the collection. So having success at the Book Fair is vital to our school. This may be the case at your school, too, so please support your Book Fair even if you can only afford one book.

Book Fair Fall 2017Book Fair Fall 2017But the Book Fair is not all about us. Last year we collected donations for a school in Louisiana that had lost their library in the Mississippi River floods, and this year we are collecting for a school in Houston, Texas. We turn it into a competition, with each grade getting a jar to put their money in. Much to our surprise last year, the older grades got very competitive last year, with the 5th grade coming out on top. Their prize? Our Principal sat in a dunk tank at the local fair and let the kids dunk him. He was an awesome sport, since he was sick and it was a chilly day. This year, whichever class wins gets to duct tape the Vice Principal to a wall. I wonder if the now-sixth graders will cough up enough dough to win 2 years in a row?

This Fall Book Fair was a success on many levels, but mostly because we roped in some young readers. Seeing their eyes light up as they hug their books is the biggest triumph of all.

Book Fair Fall 2017

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Trippin’: Where I’ll Be When

Summer seemed to last FOREVER this year, and now all of a sudden we are halfway through September and my life is frantically book-busy. My first event has snuck up on me!

This Saturday, September 16th (weather permitting), I will be at the New Providence Book Festival, from 9 AM to 3 PM. I will have a reading and Q&A at 10:30 AM.

Then I will have a whirlwind week helping out at the Book Fair at my daughter’s school, which isn’t at all related to my personal book business, but is still a book related event and a great deal of fun.

The next Saturday, September 23rd, will see me at Eastampton Day (unless the New Providence Festival gets rained out, then I’ll be at that rain date), from 12 to 4:30 PM.

I get a bit of a break until October, when I am booked into 2 events. The first is the Collingswood Book Festival on October 7th from 10 AM to 4 PM. Hopefully it will not rain this year, as I want to experience the festival in its full outdoor glory.

The second event is River Reads on October 15th from 10 AM to 4 PM. I was at the inaugural event last year, and it was a lot of fun! This year they have added a River Reads Workshop as well, so if you are a writer, check it out!

Another event for November is in the works, but nothing has been finalized yet.

So that’s my busy book schedule so far. All these events felt so far away, and now the first of them is right on my doorstep! I thought with my daughter back in school, things would get a little less crazy for me, but it seems things are simply going to be crazy in a different way.

Any of you going to be at cool events in the next few months?

When Surnames Die

Over this long weekend, I dove back into genealogy with a frenzy. I expanded my tree in several horizontal directions, I cleaned up some of my files (but many more to go!), and I sent emails to potential “cousins” to see if we could find our common ancestor. Much of my work this weekend has pushed the surnames Campbell and McFarlin, and has springboarded off of DNA results suggesting possible matches.

DNA can be amazing, when you figure out the connection. One of the reasons I have done the DNA is to try and connect with other family members who may have information on my “brick walls” where I am stuck. One of the DNA tests you can do (if you are male) is a Y-DNA test. This test looks at the Y chromosome, passed from father to son in a direct line, and therefore allows you to trace back your surname. While it is handy for confirming surnames, it is not always helpful if you don’t know what surname you are looking for (such as if you are an adoptee).

Obviously, to do this test, you have to be a male descendant of the surname in question. Which leaves me out, but I have done Y-DNA tests on Campbell, Gans, and Douglas surnames from relatives. If I wanted to trace any other family surnames, I would have to find living male descendants. This can prove problematic, as surnames died out more often than I would have thought. I have found this twice in my recent research, once in the McFarlin lineage, once in the Sutton lineage.

First, we have the McFarlins, who may not be totally gone, but are very rare if they still exist. Keep in mind that I am only speaking of my particular “line”—the McFarland Clan is still going strong. My McFarlins started with Edward and Jane. After Edward died in Ireland, ALL of the children and Jane came to America. I wanted to see if I could find a living McFarlin, so I traced down.

Edward of Ireland had 3 sons: Robert, Edward A., and John. A promising start. Robert had no children, Edward A. had 3 sons, and John had 2 sons. So now we’ve got 5 carriers of that Y. Edward A.’s 3 sons broke the chain—William had no children, Edward A. Jr. had 3 girls, and John H. had one daughter. So that leaves the elder John’s 2 boys to carry the torch: John Robert and Henry Francis. John Robert had no children. Henry Francis had 2 sons who are possibly still living, and at least 3 grandchildren of unknown gender. If there are any McFarlin males out there, they are a literal rare breed.

The Suttons are completely gone in my line. Once again, the entire family came over to America and from there lost the surname. James Sutton had 4 sons in Ireland, one dying as a child. The remaining 3—Nicholas, John, and Patrick—all came to America. Nicholas had 2 sons, but one died in infancy. John had no children, although he raised Nicholas’ children after Nicholas died. Patrick had 2 sons. So in that generation, we have 3 Y-carriers. Nicholas’ son Gilbert had no children. Of Patrick’s 2 sons, James had 1 girl, and Nicholas had no children. In my Sutton line, the name went extinct in my grandmother’s generation.

While this dying of surnames stinks for Y-DNA purposes, it got me thinking about how this could play out in fiction. There is some pathos in the idea of a character being the last of a name (not necessarily the last of a lineage, as the women’s lines may have continued). If this was the last of a royal name or a founding father lineage, it could be sad—the end of an era. Perhaps this character would fight to pass the name on. Or perhaps, in a twist, he wants the name to die with him, because of some curse or evil deed in the past. It’s an interesting concept to play with.

Do family names play a role in your story?

School Library Time! How books get from bought to shelved

My daughter starts school next week. I spent the day today in the school library, helping the librarian get everything ready.

Books towers swayed on the circulation desk. Books crammed onto carts. They lay in boxes, ready to be unpacked. And all around us a sea of books filled the shelves.

It was heaven.

For those who don’t know, stocking a library isn’t as easy as buying books and then sticking them on the shelf. Here are the steps that have to be taken:

  1. The librarian buys books, balancing the interests of the children and the needs of the teachers. Funds for these books come from various sources, but in our school the only funding for library books comes from our Book Fairs.
  1. Unpack all the books when they arrive.
  1. Enter each copy of each book into the system. This means also giving a unique barcode to each book, which is then written in the front of the book. It is often at this point where the librarian decides exactly where to shelve the book. This is not as much of an issue in an exclusively elementary or middle school, but in our K-8 school making sure material is placed in the proper area to avoid a too-young child from picking up a book they are not ready for is a vital part of the process.
  1. Print out both barcode labels and spine labels for each book.
  1. Put the labels on. Also, put our school name/address stamp in 3 places in the book, in case it gets lost.
  1. Cover them. Hard covers, dust jackets, and paperbacks each have a separate covering protocols.

Only when all those steps are completed, can put the book on the shelf.

I got about 20 books on the shelves today (considering my on-going war with contact paper covers, that’s pretty good). The librarian got some more. Many other books sit waiting only for the final step of covering. The librarian is planning a “covering party” after school starts to get us caught up.

I love working in the school library. It suits my skills and my interests,  and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing kids hugging their books, with glowing smiles on their faces.

I think I am more excited to go back to school than my daughter!

Goodbye to Sonja: A Cosmic Sendoff

Sometimes life doesn’t happen the way you expect.  A couple of weeks ago, my family went up to Long Island to visit family. On the way up, we had lunch with my aunt Sonja, spending several pleasant hours with her before heading farther out on the island.

We had several perfect days with my Aunt D on the island. She’ll be 89 this week, and has health issues, but she’s still a sharp, strong  lady in every way that counts. Naturally, though, we worry about how much longer she will be with us.

So when we got the call from New York the next week, we were shocked to hear that Sonja had passed away. We had known of several health concerns she’d had over the winter, as well as ongoing pain from knee and hip replacement surgery, but she had seemed okay when we saw her.

So this past Sunday and Monday, we gathered to say goodbye to my aunt Sonja. She loved car racing, traveling all over the circuit with my Uncle Edward and her daughter. My aunt was always fashionable and put-together, not a hair out of place. She filled her glass with Pinot Grigio and the room with her smile and laughter.  Her wanderlust was epic–she wanted to fly off to someplace new as soon as she came home.

But as far as she might roam, her heart was always with her family. When she lost her husband 30 years ago, she made it on her own. But lightning struck twice, and she found a second partner to adventure through life with, a man who stood steadfast to the end.

The treasure of Sonja’s heart was her daughter, who shared her mother’s roaming spirit. Although her own adventures kept her away often, she and Sonja remained close, and their love will never die.

Our unexpected goodbye to Sonja occurred on the date of the eclipse–a cosmic sendoff if ever there was one. As a cousin said, it seemed only fitting for a woman whose nickname was “Sunny”.

Godspeed, Sonja. We are so glad we got to see you one last time. We will miss you.

Charlottesville: Haunted by the Hate

I try not to get political online, but the events in Charlottesville are haunting me.

Honestly, racism should not be political. It’s not a political issue, but rather a moral one that goes to the very heart of what America stands for. Either all men are created equal, or they are not.

I cannot believe that in 2017, we are still fighting Nazis.

What haunts me about Charlottesville is not just the brazenness of the Nazis, but their age. These were not the literally “old” South hiding behind their hoods. These were young men in Polo shirts boldly showing their faces as they shouted for genocide.

There is strong implicit racial bias in pretty much everything in America. This is something that needs to change, but it is a different topic from this post. From this implicit bias, many people have ingrained prejudices, believing stereotypes and lies about others. For most of us, though, these prejudices don’t flare up into outright, genocidal hatred.

So what pushes these people over the edge? Where are they being taught this vile mindset? We blame certain mosques and religious leaders for radicalizing Muslim youth, but are there equivalents here in America? We already know the names of some of the white nationalist “imams” radicalizing our youth—David Duke, Richard Spencer. Who else is poisoning our American youth? Is it simply in the home, a proud “heritage” passed from father to son, or are they getting this dreck from a larger, more structured entity?

Perhaps the vast majority of these people have something in them that makes them feel deficient in some way–most of us do. Perhaps with these people, someone found them and twisted the knife in their wound, opening it wider, then told them their deficiency wasn’t their fault, that these OTHER people were at fault. And these wounded people were so desperate to believe that they weren’t deficient in the way they feared that they believed the rhetoric and instead became deficient on a whole other level.

Why do I feel certain that there was someone in their lives that taught them this vile ideology? Because it is absolutely clear that hate is LEARNED. My daughter has been in school for 5 years now, and I can tell you with certainty that these young kids DON’T CARE about skin color. It means nothing to them—they’re just friends.

Adults often claim to be “colorblind” when it comes to race. While this is not accurate—anyone raised in the USA has been acculturated to the racism here—what those adults mean is that they are aware of the implicit biases that pervade all of our thinking here and try not to let them influence their actions and judgments.

Young kids my daughter’s age truly are colorblind. Why? Because they haven’t learned that skin color is used as a criteria for judgment. They haven’t learned the prejudices, the stereotypes, and the lies. They judge each person as an individual, just take them as they come.

Hate is absolutely and unequivocally learned. So we need to find the education centers and shut them down. Equality and acceptance can be taught in its place. It is the easier mindset to teach, since it is the natural state of mind in early childhood.

The white supremacists marching in Charlottesville make me sick. The murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of Nazis on American soil brought me to tears. We Americans stand at a crossroads today. We need to decide who we are as a country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” ~ Declaration of Independence, 1776

 

The Nazis and KKK in Charlottesville and across the USA do not find these truths “self-evident”. If you do, then stand up, speak out, be counted—and teach equality in word and deed.

Hate has no place here.

Working Vacation

Writing for a living is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can do it anywhere. At swim practice, sitting in a waiting room, in a traffic jam. You can relocate anywhere and still write. But writing is a curse because you can do it anywhere. Even on vacation.

So while I am up here on the Long Island Sound, my blogs are still due and my book revisions still call and what minimal marketing I can do awaits. Still, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to write.

 

 

 

 

Like many writers, I rarely take a vacation from writing. My brain is always churning, the characters hovering at the edges of my mind. In truth, I often get MORE work done when I’m on vacation, because there are other people around to keep my daughter occupied. When it’s just us at home, she always wants my attention. But when she has grandparents, cousins, or Daddy, Mommy gets ignored. And that’s okay by me.

So I am soaking up the sun, sand, water, and serene scenery to recharge myself…even if it is a working vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

How about you? Do you ever have vacations where you put the writing completely aside?

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Summer Brain

It’s that time of year again. The time when I start suffering from the dreaded summer brain. An unproductive, fuzzy, and often lazy mindset that afflicts me about this time every year.

The first few weeks of summer are not bad. My daughter attends a day camp that mirrors school hours, so our schedules don’t change much and we tick along as usual.

But at the end of July, day camp ends and summer sets in full throttle. Days where we don’t have much on the calendar. Days where we can actually sleep in. Nights where bedtime is rather loosely enforced.

That’s when summer brain sets in. Some days I don’t remember what day of the week it is. Many days devolve into spur of the moment plans. As a person who thrives on schedules and does not do spontaneity well, this can cause anxiety, which can further fog the brain and scatter my focus.

My writing definitely suffers during summer brain. When I do find time to work, I find it difficult to focus. Because I am constantly awaiting an interruption, I am often reluctant to begin working during the day at all and end up wasting chunks of time. If I flip-flop between writer hat and mommy hat too much, it can make my head spin and make me irritable.

So how do I cure summer brain? I don’t. Only time cures it. Eventually school resumes and a work schedule emerges and I am able to think clearly again. Until then, I just ride with it and do what I can and try not to beat myself up for not getting more done. My daughter won’t be little forever. So maybe missing a few work days to go swimming, or out for ice cream, or browsing through the library, or hanging out at the park isn’t really time “lost.”

It’s memories gained.

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