Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Jobs and Character Building

It’s August. Already summer is winding down. The Back-to-School sales are in full force. Pretty soon we’ll be packing up all our daughter’s worldly possessions and taking them and her to UNC Greensboro for her sophomore year of college.

LIke a good many college students, she had a summer job. She worked at a beach resort hotel, cleaning rooms. It was a lot of hard work for not much money, providing the experience that builds character and motivates a lackluster student into hitting the books. Because no one ever wants to do a job like that again. Ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about summer jobs lately, especially since I’ve just finished Joyland by Stephen King. It’s the story of a young man taking a job at a small amusement park in a beach town in North Carolina. The fun house is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered there four years earlier.

“We sell fun,” the proprietor of the Joyland likes to say. 

It reminded me of the job I held for the last few weeks of the season at Kings Island in 1976. It was a bit more upscale than Joyland, with fancy roller coasters, fountains and a replica of the Eiffel Tower one third the size of the one in Paris. And it’s still going strong, though changes have been made.

But it was hard work. I was assigned to “Les Taxis,” a ride in which patrons drove cars with lawn mower motors around a track. If you were as tall as the Yogi Bear sign at the entrance to the ride, you could drive, a cool thing for a ten year old who was itching to get behind the wheel of a real car.

Along with putting people in the cars and hopping on the running board to guide each car to a stop, part of my job was telling kids they weren’t tall enough to drive. We had a piece of red tape on a post to make sure. 

There was a reason for that. Below a certain height it was possible for a kid’s teeth to get knocked out if they were hit from behind.

I remember my uniform was a checked blue dress with a ruffle at the bottom and puffy sleeves. Employees were not allowed to walk down the main drag of the park during their work day. (International Street). Instead we used an “Employees Only” passageway behind the stores on International Street to get to the canteen for our breaks. 

There was a hierarchy among the workers. The Litter Gitters were on the bottom, then food service then the rides workers. And among the rides group, the ones at the top of the heap worked on the roller coaster--at the time it was the Twin Racer. 

Performers in the park's live shows would come to the canteen too, but we did not consider them as true employees. They sat apart from us, wearing their costumes, which were form fitting suits of red, white and blue satin. It was the country’s Bicentennial and the show had a patriotic theme. They were not sun burnt and sweaty like we were. They had a future in show biz, or at least that’s what they thought. We were just trying to make a few bucks before going back to school. Our future had nothing to do with what we were doing at Kings Island.

Reading Joyland brought back memories of that summer. The hard work, the camaraderie among the employees, the annoying patrons. We were supposed to refer to them as guests, but a lot of them I wouldn’t invite into my home. Or park as it were.

Here’s a link showing the retired rides at Kings Island. Sad to say, Les Taxis is one of them. 
Summer jobs like that build character. And I suppose a bit of mine was built that summer.
When I sold fun.

Judy Nichols is the author of several mysteries available on Amazon.

Friday, April 18, 2014

No Computer In The Computer Room

We have a room in our house we call the Computer Room, When we moved into this house 13 years ago, it was the age of stationary personal computers and dial up internet. The family computer had its own room and that’s where everyone went to do their business online and off. 

Lately I’ve been referring to it as the spare room. With laptops we can go anywhere in the house and it seems silly to call it the computer room when there’s no computer in it.

Right now it’s a junk room. It’s a way station for all the stuff that isn’t being used now, but could be useful some day. If not to us, then to the poor and needy.

It’s my intention to turn that room into a proper office, with a desk and a laptop that only lives there. And a printer. And files. And everything neatly put away.

But first I have to wade through all that stuff.

So far I’ve found lots of framed photos, including several I had taken of my daughter when she was three months old. She’s a freshman in college now, and while I like having photos of her around to remind me of when she was little, the one with her toothless little mouth wide open and her eyes closed, wearing the blue dress my Aunt Lorraine got for her when she was born is not something I want to look at every day.

But it’s hard to throw away photos, especially of your own sweet baby.

And then there are the computer disks. Remember those little squares of plastic you put in a slot in the hard drive? There are stacks of them in the spare room. I’m pretty sure the information they contain is not all that important, but on the off chance that there’s vital personal data on there that some identity thief is willing to dig through our trash and run through the old PC he happens to have on hand, we have to come up with some other way to dispose of them.

What a world we live in. The ever changing technological march forward prevents us from reading the things we recorded just five years ago. And we can’t even throw them out. Gotta think of the environment, you know.

Which gives me an immense appreciation of the written word. Also in that room, stashed away on a closet shelf, are 44 years of my journals, going all the way back to 1970. And while the paper may have yellowed and the ink may have faded a bit, I can still read every word. Well most of them--my handwriting was not always legible.

Sometimes I pick one up at random, looking for an entry on or close to the current date to see what I was doing twenty years or so ago.

And I don’t have to dig up a twenty year old electronic device to do it.

Some day soon I hope to have all the junk cleared from that room. But my journals will remain, a method of recordkeeping that will never be obsolete.  

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Want How Much To Publish My Book???

Got a book on New Age philosophy that you want to publish but don’t know where to start? Or perhaps a metaphysical novel? Or a memoir of a profound spiritual journey?

If so, Turning Stone Press is looking for you.

Here’s their mission statement:

“Specializing in nonfiction and fiction titles with spiritual, metaphysical, or self-help themes, Turning Stone Press curates every book published, carefully selecting only those titles that fit within specific parameters.

“Our objective is to offer an exclusive opportunity for authors within these genres to reach their intended readers by providing them with the tools and support needed to give their work the best possible chance for success.

“If you’re looking for a publisher that thinks outside the traditional publishing box, Turning Stone Press is for you.”
And then you click on the “Download Services” PDF. Once you get to the second page you discover that all that outside the traditional publishing box thinking will cost you a coll $7500.
Somehow, I doubt if Turning Stone Press is all that selective when every author they sign up brings in another $7500 in the coffers.
Technically, publishing your own book is free, but face it, coming up with a cohesive, well written, error free manuscript all on your own is next to impossible. You will make more than a million separate key strokes in the course of writing your book. Even with spell check to alert you of your errors, you will still miss lots and lots of them.
And having written it yourself, you become too close to the story. You don’t notice the holes in the plot or the fact that the character you think is hilarious comes off as a crude stereotype. That’s what editors do. They get rid of the superfluous adverbs, the inconsistencies and eliminate the boring parts that readers tend to skip over.
Unless you happen to be married to one (lucky you), you have to pay them.
But a good editor will not cost you anywhere near $7500.  I did a little checking online. Amazon’s Create Space comprehensive editing package is $470 per 10,000 words, so a 70,000 word novel will cost you $3290. Other editors will charge less, but it’s generally between $1000 to $3000 for a full length novel.
Covers cost money, too. You can get a custom designed cover for around $500 to $800. Or if you want to buy “off the rack,” there are pre-made covers that cost around $20. Fill in the title of your book and your name and you’re done.
Even if you go all out and get the full Create Space package plus a custom designed cover, your total cost would be around $4000, about half the price of publishing with Turning Stone.
So what else do you get? Turning Stone’s website says that marketing help is included. Every author receives a press release, a marketing plan and social media tips.
Those are all things you can do yourself for free. If you google “Write a press release,” hundreds of sites pop up with the titles “How To Write A Press Release.”  Or if you don’t feel like writing it yourself, there’s a site called Send2Press  that will do it for $200.  The Forbes site offers a template for a marketing plan.
And there are no end to tips on how to use social media. Just go to Twitter and use this hashtag (for the uninitiated, a hashtag is a word with the “#” sign in front used to look for a topic other people are tweeting about ) #bookmarketing. You’ll find a host of links to everything you’d ever want to know about book marketing online, and then some.
I’m sure Turning Stone is not the only press offering publishing services for a fee. They may do wonderful work. But before you hand over your life savings to them, you should be aware that the primary source of income for this outfit comes from selling its publishing services, not from book sales.  
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There’s plenty of help on the web.
Here are are a few links:
With a little help, you can do this yourself and keep about five grand in your savings account.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Song For You

"My gift is my song and this one’s for you.”

"Your Song." Elton John sang it, but Bernie Taupin wrote the words. I’ve often wondered who it was for. We’ll never know. Taupin said he wrote it when he was 17 and that it’s not about anyone in particular. I think he’s just being discreet.

Perhaps the ultimate act of love is to write a song for someone, something so heart breakingly beautiful that it makes everyone who hears it cry softly, feeling the song’s emotion to the depths of their souls.

A song like “Fix You.”

Chris Martin wrote it for Gwyneth Paltrow when her father died. It’s a song that captures the feelings of loss and grief and helplessness in the face of death like lightning in a bottle.

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home.
And ignite your bones.
And I will try to fix you.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last month, you probably know that Martin and Paltrow have “consciously uncoupled,” or as we in the real world say, have decided to get a divorce.

If my husband had written a song like that for me, I’d stay with him to the end of time and then some. But I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow and my husband is not Chris Martin.

Even though we had the album, I don’t remember hearing it until I saw the 2007 documentary “Young@Heart,” about a choir of senior citizens who sing alternative rock songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones and “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads. 

It was supposed to be a duet sung by two of the men, but one of them died before the performance, so the remaining one sang it as a solo, sitting on a chair, with the tubes from his oxygen tank in his nose, with the rest of the choir singing background. I guarantee, you won’t be able to get through it dry eyed.

And there is the beauty of this song. Everyone who hears it makes it their own. When I hear it, I don’t think of Gwyneth Paltrow at all, I think of my mother, who passed away last summer. Coldplay performed the song at the memorial service for Steve Jobs, so I’m sure his family think of him when they hear it.

Obviously, no one knows what happens in a marriage. It is the business of the two people in it and no one else. But in exchange for such a beautiful song, wouldn’t you think twice about leaving?

Here is the song performed by Young@Heart Fred Knittle, who died at the age of 83 in 2009.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bad Writing Is Better Than Not Writing At All

Once I had an idea for a short story that consumed me. I even wrote bits of it on scrap paper while I was at work. From beginning to end, the whole thing took a couple of days. I tweaked it a bit when I was done, but how I first wrote it was how it appeared in the finished version. It was a quick and easy process, like taking dictation.

Unfortunately, that never happened again. Some days my writing flows better than others. Some days I feel more inspired than others. But it always takes months, even years for a story to go from the germ of an idea to a completed work that’s ready for publication.

Writer’s block is something I deal with on a daily basis.

I always think of it as a logistics problem, because that’s usually how it works for me. My characters are in one place and I need to get them someplace else. For example, Mary and Bob are washing dishes together in the kitchen. (OK, so no one washes dishes anymore--let’s say this is a period piece). They don’t know it, but there’s a dead body in the living room. To move the story along, either Bob or Mary needs a reason to go to the living room.

I want to get them out of the kitchen with style and grace and a bit of pizazz. It’s got to be exciting, razor sharp prose. I’m a writer, dammit! I should be able to come up with something besides “Bob went into the living room.” 

So I sit and stare at the screen. I type “asdfasdfasdfasdfasdff” with my left hand and hit the delete button a couple of times. I might even pull up the Solitaire program and fool around with that for a while. I’d go on the internet to check my email but I use an old laptop with no wifi connection, so that’s not an option. 

Then I take a look at my special inspiration file. It says “It’s OK to write bad. Just write.”

So I write “Bob went into the living room,” and go on.

Because you have to write bad to write good. (Please forgive my grammatical lapses. I do know I’m supposed to use “badly” and “well” when modifying a verb like “write”). Bad writing can be fixed. It’s been my experience that once you start writing, no matter how crappy you think it is, rest assured that you will come up with something better than “Bob went into the living room.”

Give yourself permission to write boring, dull prose. You can always fix it later. What you can’t do is edit a blank page.

Don’t leave Bob and Mary in the kitchen.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Einbinder Flypaper and Book Marketing

Okay, I’m going to show my age here and reminisce a bit about old time radio. Back in the 1980s, our local public radio station would broadcast classic radio shows in the afternoon. One of my favorites was The Bob and Ray Show, featuring comedy skits by veteran broadcast personalities Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.

Lately, a slogan from one of their “sponsors” has stuck in my head. 

“Einbinder Flypaper--the brand you gradually grow to trust over the course of three generations.”

Yes, anyone who has an inkling of how marketing works would know that’s a terrible way to sell anything. You don’t make a dime waiting through the course of three generations for people to grow to trust your brand. You want them to buy your flypaper (or in our case, books) right now. 

And yet, as I think about it, I find myself admiring the Einbinder Flypaper Company. They’re in it for the long haul. They’re patient and steadfast. They are willing to stay the course to gain your trust. And that of your children and grandchildren.

I believe all authors should keep that concept of gradually building trust in mind when they market themselves through social media. Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest--they’re not platforms for promotion, they’re communities. Instead of logging on and posting endless links to five star reviews for your books, you need to become a contributing member of the community.

That means in Goodreads you post reviews and write comments and take part in group discussions. If you just set up an author page and go trolling members for reviews, you’ll end up alienating the people you want as readers.

In Twitter, you have to offer your followers something besides “Buy My Book” tweets. It may seem counterintuitive, but sending out an endless stream of tweets promoting your book will get you nowhere. Give your followers something interesting. 

(And while I’m talking about Twitter, I have to say I’ve grown really tired of the X Meets Y promo. “James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes” for example. My twitter feed is full of them. If you’re doing those, stop. Just stop. I mean it.)

I send out a quotes that I find interesting, like this one from Jay Leno “You’re not famous until my mother has heard of you.” I expect there are apps that generate quotes on a daily basis, but I prefer ones I’ve chosen myself. I go to Brainyquote, but there are plenty of others. I also tweet about things going on in the world and my observations. And I do manage to sneak in a few links to buy my books on Amazon, but I try to be subtle about it.

Like Grandma always said, to have a friend, you have to be a friend. So tweet a thank you to people who follow you. Retweet anything you find interesting. Get into discussions. Yes, distilling everything you want to say into 140 characters or less can be a pain, but after a while you’ll look on it as a challenge. Even kind of fun.

These days Facebook is more for interacting with friends than marketing books, although I do use it for that purpose now and again. It’s one of those places where thanks to my friend J.D. Rhoades, I get into cyber arguments with people I've never met. Even so, I love a good political discussion and I confine my rants to Facebook.

I’ve just begun to use Pinterest, so I can’t really comment on that. Except to say I’ll be participating there too, once I get the hang of it. They all have a learning curve.

Keep in mind you only have so much time and you can’t maintain an online presence everywhere. Sure belonging to lots of reader sites like LibraryThing and Booklikes gives your more exposure to readers. But in the end, it’s easier to become very familiar with a few venues and stick with those.

So when you’re trying to build up your online reputation, think of Einbinder Flypaper. And here’s hoping you don’t have to wait three generations before customers grow to trust your brand.

If you'd like to listen to the Einbinder Flypaper ad, click  here.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Good Penmanship Necessary In The 21st Century?

When you read a book by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, or any other 19th Century author, do you ever consider that every single word in that book was written by hand? 

Probably not. I know I don't. 

But if you do stop and think about sitting at your desk with just a pen and paper, and look at the volumes of work those authors produced with their own one hand, it will make your wrist and fingers ache with writer's cramp.

In Dickens's time, good handwriting was a necessity. Letters were the only way to communicate. Businesses records were all hand written. From the bills to the ledgers to the files, somebody's job was writing all that stuff down. That person had to have neat, legible handwriting, so other people could read it.

I'm sure we're all very happy that we can do our bookkeeping on computers with software that not only lets us enter the numbers, but runs the figures for us too. Likewise for sending messages via devices with keyboards. Quick, easy and you knew it was readable.

Here in North Carolina, a law was recently passed requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting. To me that shows how out of touch our state house is. My 18 year old daughter can go for days or even weeks without writing a single word on paper.

She uses her laptop for taking notes in class, (although some professors frown on this practice), doing assignments which are uploaded online, and sending messages home to her mom. No pen or paper needed.

I really believe that teaching cursive handwriting is a waste of valuable class time.

In 2014, when does anyone need to write something by hand? 

There's writing checks, but with online banking and payments, that's something that only your grandmother does.

You need to sign your name to birthday cards and Christmas cards. Still, Facebook has eliminated the need to send a card. To wish someone a happy birthday you just post on their wall.

Love letters come to mind, along with images of those precious missives tied with a ribbon and tucked away so that the recipient can read them and re-read the words her beloved has penned.

Yeah, right. These days, words of love so soft and tender come in the form of a text message.

There's writing letters home to your mother, but those come in the form of a text message as well.

I scribble out To-Do lists on scraps of paper. Aside from writing in my journal (something else that can be done with a keyboard), that's about the only time I use my handwriting skills.

For kids my daughters' age, there's an app for that. They do it all on their phones.

As someone who made straight Cs in handwriting, I'd just as soon spare other children the ordeal of trying to form the loops of each letter line upon line in workbooks, striving for perfection that few (like my older sister) ever achieve.

I say start teaching them the QWERTY keyboard. That's something they should use for years to come.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gaming The System--Jeopardy! And Champion Arthur Chu

Okay, as a former Jeopardy! contestant, and a two-day champion, I figure I’m as much of an expert on playing the game as anyone out there. 

So I’m going to throw in my two cents (I still have some of my winnings left, so I can afford it) on Jeopardy! dynamo Arthur Chu. He’s winning games left and right--nine so far and it’s possible he may have surpassed nice guy Ken Jennings’s record of 74 wins. 

As you all know, the games are filmed in advance. When Alex Trebek wished my husband and me a happy anniversary on April 13, 2012, it was actually the middle of December, 2011. So whatever happens when regular Jeopardy! returns after the Decades Tournament, actually took place months ago. Quite possibly the person who bested Chu is waiting patiently to see his or her own victory against this behemoth.

Chu employs Game Theory when he plays. He racks up the wins by starting at the bottom of the board with the higher value questions. He’s quick with the buzzer and takes the big money early. When the others get a chance to ring in, they’re getting the $200 and $400 questions, not nearly enough to beat Chu’s lead.

What he’s doing is not against the rules. In fact, it’s not even new. Although most contestants like to start at the first clue and work down, a fair number (usually determined, humorless geeky guys) will do what is known as the Forest Bounce. It’s named for Chuck Forrest who went hunting for the Daily Double during his games in 1985 and won a five day total of $72,800. 

That was back when the show had a five win limit. You took the money, left undefeated and returned later for the Tournament of Champions.

Personally, I wish they’d never gotten rid of that rule. I think five wins in a row is enough for anyone.

In my first game, at the break, the returning champion had $6000 compared to my $600 and the other challenger’s $400. I remember thinking “Hey, I’m in second place. I may be able to pull this one out after all.” And I did, because of a rally in Double Jeopardy! and the returning champion not knowing his Shakespeare in Final Jeopardy!.

And that’s why I like watching Jeopardy!. The underdog can pull it out. You can have a negative score at the break but hear Alex declare you the champion at the end. In most games all three contestants have a pretty good chance of winning.

As Chu has made abundantly clear, strategy plays a part in successful play. Quick reflexes help too. The buzzer is the hardest thing about the game. You have to time it just right--too soon and you cut yourself out. Too late and the other guy rings in. We’re talking hundredths of a second. 

But you have to know the answers. And no one, not even Arthur Chu, can know the answer to every Jeopardy! clue. Sooner or later, there will be a Daily Double where he bets too much on a question that stumps him, followed by a Final Jeopardy! clue that he doesn't know, but the challenger does.

Unless his strategy works so well and he proves unbeatable. I’m not sure how that situation will be handled. Can you imagine tuning into Jeopardy! to hear Johnny Gilbert say, “And here’s our returning champion, Arthur Chu whose 471 day winnings now total the gross national product of New Zealand?”

Would people stop watching? Maybe. Like me, I believe most Jeopardy! fans prefer evenly matched games where anyone can win. On the other hand, we all might start watching every night just to see the game where Chu loses.

That fateful day when Arthur Chu cries all the way to the bank.

Then again, there is no crying in Jeopardy!

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Heartbreakingly Beautiful Writing and One Star Reviews

As a genre writer specializing in mystery and suspense, I have to admit the tiniest bit of contempt for literary authors--the ones who spent years in higher education, only to stumble into the Real World with an MFA in Creative Writing and a six figure student loan debt.

They come out having learned how to write for each other and especially their instructors. A librarian friend once told me she’s received many books from recent MFA recipients where she can almost see the praise the authors were seeking from their professors written in the margins.

Okay, maybe my contempt is not all that tiny.

But that attitude changed dramatically after reading This Is Not an Accident: Stories. It’s a collection of short stories and a novella. The stories all deal with dysfunctional people doing the best they can to function. These stories are quirky, sad, funny and darkly humorous. And the writing is often heartbreakingly beautiful. I gave the book five stars in my review, a rating I rarely give out.

Full disclosure, I received a free copy from the publisher.

When I finished the book, I found myself wanting to forget about writing books that entertain people with puzzles to solve, and devote myself to writing stories that are just as heartbreakingly beautiful. I want to put together words in such a way they would touch your soul, make you feel and make you think, possibly change your life.

I even thought about taking the last of my Jeopardy! winnings and enrolling in a creative writing program. (Not going to happen. That bit of cash is earmarked to give my husband a fantasy racing weekend at the Virginia International Raceway).

Imagine my dismay when I read the reviews on Goodreads for This Is Not An Accident. Out of the 15 reviews posted, the book received a pair of two-star reviews and five one star reviews. It has an average rating of 3.48, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Even more disturbing for me was the fact that the five of the seven negative reviewers disclosed that they had received a free copy through Goodreads Giveaways. And for all I know, the other two had received free copies as well and just forgot to mention it. 

As an author I know that when you offer your book as a Goodreads Giveaway, an honest review means an honest review. The possibility that the winners may not like your book is always there. I’m of the “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All” school of reviewing for everyone except established authors--I figure E.L. James can handle my trashing Fifty Shades of Grey but a new author should be encouraged. Of course, not everyone feels that way.

I don’t fault the reviewers for saying they didn’t like the book. That’s what Goodreads is all about. Readers share their opinions on books with other readers.

But I do feel bad for the author. Her publisher went to the expense of sending out books to readers in an attempt to promote the book and through whatever mysterious algorithm Goodreads uses, the books were put in the hands of people who did not like them and said as much online, making the book appear below average in ratings.

I hope that potential readers consider the positive reviews for this book as well as the negative ones. I don’t want this writer judged by the opinions of a few random book winners who found the book wasn't their cup of tea.

I also hope that Ms. Wilder is not affected by the poor response for her book on Goodreads and that she’ll continue writing.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t need to worry about that. I would bet that April Wilder couldn’t stop writing even if her life depended on it. It’s the sort of thing no amount of coaxing, or prodding, or one star reviews on Goodreads can change.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gone With The Wind--Racist Or Just Telling It The Way It Was?

My most popular review on Goodreads  by far with 42 likes is for Gone With The Wind by Margaret MItchell, a book published 78 years ago. And yet it endures.

I gave it two stars. 

Here's the text of my review:

"Having a hard time slogging through the blatant racism in this book. Times sure have changed. And thank God for that.

"Okay, nearly forty years since I first read it, the epic love story against the brutality of the Civil War still manages to sweep me up.

"But the racism still rankles, especially the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan--southern gentlemen had no other choice. They weren't bullies terrorizing people because of the color of their skin, they were protecting their women from the rapacious appetites of the newly freed slaves.

"Mitchell says more than once that the blacks were like children and couldn't manage without whites taking care of them. There's a part in the book where she describes how Scarlett's mother Ellen would evaluate the Negro children, selecting the best and the brightest to be house servants. The others would be taught a trade and if they failed at that, they become field hands. As the best and the brightest of the race, the house servants were the ones who stayed with their masters, apparently aware of their own limitations.

"And yet, this is a book about a strong woman who actively defies the strictures for women of her time. Scarlett runs Tara, she becomes successful at business, she bosses grown men around, even though she was taught that a lady must hide her intelligence and always appear subservient and helpless around men. Since they had little if any rights, that was the only recourse for women at the time.

"I find it ironic that Ms. Mitchell never realized that just as the women were playing the role of fragile creatures subservient to the fathers and husbands, their black slaves were doing the same thing--hiding their abilities and intelligence because they had no other choice.

"Something else, my daughter is reading GWTW and commented 'Everybody dies.' I explained that during the Civil War, 800,000 men died and just like the Tarletons, families lost all their sons. A good  reason not to go to war."

The review was followed by 39 comments, many insisting that I missed the point of the book, that Mitchell was relating the way things were at the time, and I shouldn't get all bent out of shape by what I perceived as offensive stereotypes. Of course, some of those comments I made myself in response to posts I found particularly outrageous.

To me, the book is blatantly racist. There's no defending it or explaining it away. Even so, it's obvious that it has its diehard fans, for whom it's all sweeping romance and drama. And no one realizes the idyllic lives of Scarlett's fellow plantation owners were made possible by the enslavement of another race.

But it sure is one hell of a love story.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Eighties Called, They Want Their Movies Back

Watching the so-called "New At The Box Office" segment on our local news, three of the four films coming out this week are not all that new. They're remakes of of films from the eighties.

First was "About Last Night," which came out in 1986 and starred Brat Packers Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. It's a romantic comedy about a couple embarking on a new relationship, all the while dealing with personal problems and their disapproving friends.

In this incarnation, the cast is African American, starring Kevin Hart and Regina Hall.  Seeing as how the original film was based on a play that came out in 1974 called "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet, we're not covering any new ground here. I guess the takeaway is that even after 40 years, relationships are still complicated.

Next up was the remake of 1981's "Endless Love."  Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt played teenagers caught up in an obsessive love affair. The movie was God-awful. It received Golden Raspberry Awards nominations for Worst Film, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actress. Worst New Star, and Worst Supporting Actress. To its credit, other films took all those dubious honors that year. It also featured a catchy little duet by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, "My Endless Love," which was a big hit for them.

I didn't see it, but according to Wikipedia, it was fairly successful, despite being panned by the critics. Leonard Maltin called it "a textbook example of how to do everything wrong in a literary adaptation." 

Now, I've always associated "Endless Love" with an info-tainment tidbit I heard about the filming. Brooke Shields, who was quite famous at the time for being a virgin, told the press that in order to portray her character's experience of an orgasm in the film's steamy sex scenes, director Franco Zefferelli pulled her big toe until he got the groaning and grimacing he wanted. 

Kind of takes some of the magic out of it, doesn't it?

The new film stars relative newcomers Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde. Wilde seems to be making a career out of starring in remakes. She's already done the 2013 version of "Carrie" and 2011's "The Three Musketeers," a film that's been remade so many times, the original was silent and starred Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. as D'Artagnan.

I saw the trailer last December when my daughter and I went to see "American Hustle." I suppose it's not giving anything away to say that Jade and David use cell phones, something that was not in the original. My reaction: Whose idea was it to bring this turkey back?

Finally, we have "Robocop," which came out in 1987 with Peter Weller as the Detroit cop who's terminally wounded then transformed into a powerful cyborg haunted by memories of his previous life. 

Of the three, it seems like the only one worth doing over. In a film heavy on special effects, imagine all the improvements over the techniques available in 1987.  Audiences can expect to be blown away by realistic robots, just as they were with "Pacific Rim."   Lots of action and violence in a dystopian future.  What's not to like?

I understand that making movies is a huge gamble and studios like to go with something they already know. And you could argue that after 30 years, all these films have a whole new audience of people who either weren't born or were too young to go see them when they came out. 

But with everyone and his brother writing original screenplays in LA, isn't there something that hasn't been done before? 

If you'd like to hear Lionel and Diana singing "My Endless Love" (and see the bits where Brooke Shields is likely having her big toe pulled), you can take a look here.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Monday, February 10, 2014

No One's Too Good To Be A Salesman

Rejection sucks. 

We all want to go through life believing the words of Stuart Smalley (otherwise known as Senator Al Franken) "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."

But when you're trying to find a job, or a publisher for your book, or an investor for your business, it doesn't take long before you believe you'll never be good enough or smart enough. And no one likes you.

Job seekers are told not to take rejection personally, but it's awfully hard not to. The whole process can be very demoralizing and for that reason, so many of the unemployed just give up.

In her new book “The Upside of Down, How Failing Well Is The Key To Success,” Megan McCardle addresses how to combat the fear of rejection by using the strategies of successful sales professionals.

From the lowly telemarketer to the senior sales manager, every day means dealing with rejection over and over and over again. It can take hundreds of calls to get to that one sale. It doesn’t get any easier, either. Making that first cold call of the morning is just as daunting for the seasoned pro as it is for the rookie. They all hate it.

How do they manage?

They have a system, McCardle says.

First, they concentrate on input rather than output. Get in there and make those thirty calls. Success is a completed call list, not a completed sale. That will come if you just keep making those calls.

They have a set routine--start calling at 9:00 A.M. sharp and get it out of the way.  They also follow a script so they know exactly what they’re going to say when they make contact with a lead.

Finally, they surround themselves with people going through the same thing.  Sales people make a point of getting together after a long day of hearing “Sorry, not interested.” They find support and encouragement from each other, gaining the strength to get up and do it all again the next morning.

It works for writers too. Books do not fly off the shelves or get downloaded en masse to Kindles on their own. They need to be marketed to readers and these days, that task falls to the author, much as we hate it. We see ourselves as creative souls not salesmen.

I will be incorporating these ideas into my marketing plan. Write the emails. Make the calls. Follow the script. Keep track of my output. And make a point of hanging out with independent authors doing the same thing.

A great place to start is The Alliance For Independent Authors, which offers advice, connections and forums for all of us who are trying to get our books noticed. 
Because it takes a lot of no’s before you get to yes.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon