Living the Dash


Today I want to discuss another insight I gleamed from the leadership development program I attended a couple weeks ago.  One morning we had a speaker talk to us about the concept of leaving a legacy, and although what he had to say was relevant for a good many aspects of my life, it spoke to me most when I thought about my writing.

He told us that each of us has no control over the beginning point of our lives, and limited control of the end, but it’s that period in between…the dash that represents what happens during your lifetime…that ultimately determines how you will be remembered.  I was asked that morning what I wanted to be most remembered for.  I thought for a moment, then chuckled before answering, “Honestly, I’d be thrilled to be remembered at all.”

My playful, but honest reply aside, I started seriously considering the question more and more until I became aware of something.  But first I need to share a quote I’m fond of so you might understand my realization better.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-        Maya Angelou    

There’s not a single author, playwright or poet who hasn’t been asked at one time or another…why did you become a writer?   What I had suddenly grasped was that I started writing again in order to leave a mark.  That through my words, my stories and the feelings they elicited, I could do what my introverted personality would never allow me to do, affect people.   I would bet my bottom dollar that a great many of you feel the same way.  It’s not about the money, or the notoriety, or even scratching an itch.  I write and put my thoughts out there, whether it be via this blog or ultimately a published book, because I’ve learned they can touch emotions.  Evoking smiles or drawing out a tear, all the while telling an engaging story, is my goal and what I’d like to be remembered for.

For certain, this isn’t the only legacy I hope to leave behind.  A family with sound roots and a promising future, friends with nothing but positive memories of me, and maybe even an empty Netflix queue, are just a few.  But the possibility that long after I’m dust a book (or two…or three…or…) might be pulled down off a shelf, or downloaded into a e-reader, just waiting to suck that person into my world for a short time, is a powerful motivator.

So, with this post and everything else I’m doing with my writing, I’m living part of my dash.  And guess what…now you’re part of that.

Are you living your dash?

Lessons from DFW


I’ve mentioned previously that I attended the DFW Writers Conference earlier this month and today I wanted to pass along some of my insights during that weekend.  I learned some things about the publishing industry, my family, and myself over the span of those two and a half days.  And as we all do out here in the blogosphere, it’s time to share.

DFW was my first MAJOR conference.  I’ve attended a couple local conferences here in my home state, but none of them could compare to the size and scope of DFW.  After playing with the big boys, I’m not sure I could ever go back to our small events.  DFW hosted fourteen literary agents, two editors, and countless other industry professionals all there to both teach classes and receive pitches.  I found value in every single session I attended.  Unlike genre specific conferences (i.e. romance writers, thriller writers, children writers, etc.), this one was a mixture of everyone, which I found appealing.

Once I figured out the layout of the facility (there wasn’t a map), it was easy to get around and I liked how there were plenty of spots to sit down and just chat with fellow attendees.  I did miss the opening remarks and most of the information about the door prizes and contests being held throughout the weekend because the printed schedule they provided left certain things out, but I believe that’s a result of growing pains due to the conferences recent expansion.  There were also a couple of logistical things that could have been improved (i.e. panel presentations didn’t have microphones for all the agents and those in the back of the room couldn’t hear), and I included those on my feedback form they had us fill out.  I’m sure they’ll see my name and get right on those!

One of my takeaways was the general impression that the stigma surrounding self-publishing seemed to be eroding fast.  Sure, there were some agents that issued warnings about how a less than successful (<10,000 books) self-published book would ruin any hope of a traditional contract, but there were just as many who now saw it as a viable alternative to get around the stringent gatekeepers and the slow to market book machine.

Some of the other things I gleamed: 
·       Publishers are really looking for stories involving strong female protagonist. 
·       Although blogging is the number one way to build brand recognition, Twitter is second most effective ahead of Facebook. 
·       I also learned that having your books sold in mass marketers like Walmart or Costco could actually hurt your royalties, unless you have a savvy agent who understands the fine print in some contracts

Part of the conference, during the late afternoons, involved a Query Letter and First Page Gong Show.  The way it worked was those who wished participate would turn in their anonymous query letter or first page, and then it would be read aloud until it was gonged by three agents.  There was a panel of six agents all together, but only it took only three of them chiming in to end the reading.  Query letters were done on Saturday afternoon and first pages on Sunday afternoon.  Yes, I submitted to both.  I have to say that these agents were brutal!  Most query letters made it just a couple of sentences.  I understood most of the reasons for gongs, but there were some where I felt the agents were being REALLY picky! I had re-written my query letter specifically for this contest, keeping how the contest works in mind.  I found that it was a great exercise for thinking how you wanted to structure a letter.  Ultimately, I was gonged before the end of the first paragraph, but there was a bright spot.  An agent who was not on the panel, but rather listening with the rest of the audience, came forward just after I was gonged and expressed an interest in the concept and recommended the author send her pages.  YAY!!!  (I've  already sent them off)  They didn’t read my first page, but at that point I didn’t care!

I also had a pitch session scheduled during the conference, and that’s where I discovered something about my family.  I drove to the conference with my wife and daughter, and no sooner were we on the road that I admitted I had no pitch.  Nada.  I had put it off and put it off for so long, that here I was on the eve of the conference with zip.  What did we do?  My family spent the next 7 hours while we drove piecing together my pitch, and when I presented it to the agent the next day…I was rewarded with a request for pages!  My family rocks!  And they really…really believe in my book!

So what did I learn about myself at DFW?  That I belong.  I felt at home amongst my peers and found it easier to open up to perfect strangers there because we shared the same interests.  There were so many others in the same boat I was, and I didn’t have to communicate with them through a blog.  In fact, the only thing I found disappointing was that I didn’t run into more of my blogging buddies, which would have been totally awesome.  I was recognized by one blogger who visited me during the A to Z Challenge, and that was kind of cool. 

Will I be going back next year?  If I haven’t been grabbed up by an agent before then (and maybe even if I am), most likely!  It was well worth the $ investment, and if I can entice a few of my blogging buddies to show up, it will be perfect!

So if you're looking for a good size conference to attend next year, might I suggest you put DFW on your radar.

The Upside Down Mirror


A couple weeks ago the company where I work sent me to a week-long leadership development program located in an isolated spot in Northwest Arkansas.  I was told before I went that it would be an experience to help clarify personal and professional values, improve self-awareness, and identify blind spots.  To say that I was apprehensive going into the week would be a colossal understatement.  I envisioned a lot of sitting round camp fires, holding hands singing Kumbaya, and group sessions where we candidly shared our inner-most feelings.  The introvert in me was shitting mental bricks!  But continuing with my 2012 theme of making it uncomfortable in my comfort zone and recognizing this could be an excellent warm-up for my agent pitch a week later, I opened myself up for the adventure.

I’m happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the week and even learned a couple things about myself!  One of the exercises we were encouraged to do was take a hard look in the mirror, look past the awkward smile and other physicality, and take inventory of what our core values might be.  I started out by listing between 20-30 of them, then slowly and meticulously narrowed the list to seven that I really felt passionate about.  An important part of this whole process was remembering that true core values remain intact regardless of what else is going on around you, or to you.  Imagine the mirror you’ve been staring into being flipped upside down, what happens to your reflection?  It remains unchanged.  Whatever is going on in the world around you that might change the orientation of that mirror, your image…your values, remain constant.

A lot is made sometimes about situational ethics, where the guidelines are flexible and the end can justify the means. But can our principles, our morals, afford the same latitude?  Through our writing we often have the luxury of experiencing a different set of values with the characters we create, and we work hard to maintain believability by ensuring their actions stay true when their mirror flips.  Is it right that we struggle to get those details just right, but then we waffle in our own lives?

I know I’m making this all sound super simple, when it’s really not.  Values are easy to maintain in a vacuum, but life is rarely like that.  We will be tested, and sometimes we’ll come up short.  I know I certainly have.  But the trap is allowing yourself to blame it on circumstances.  Whether lying flat, on its side, or upside down, the person in that mirror is still you.  Embrace that person!

Expectations


It’s time to get going with my blog again.  I’ve caught up with my critiquing duties and I’ve had my agent pitch session (future post), so that means I’ll be dropping by everybody else’s blog real soon to say HI.  I thought I’d start off by posting the letter I gave my daughter when she graduated from college a couple weeks ago.  Hope you enjoy it! :)

This is the fourth letter I’ve written for you.  I was half way through the first one when I deleted everything.  It wasn’t saying what I wanted to say.  The second time I finished it completely before digitally ripping it up.  That one said the right things, but still didn’t feel right emotionally.  I was quite proud of the 3rd one when I gave it to your mother to proof-read, until she handed it back, informing me “you can do better.”  It seems that since I started calling myself a writer…expectations, my own as well as others, are on the rise.

As far as you are concerned, my expectations have always been high.  Regardless of how lofty your mother and I set the bar, you never disappointed.  As parents, the goal is to raise our children to become strong and independent, with values and morals we can be proud of.  For that, we will gladly accept a 4.0 in parenting, because you and your brother are what parent’s dream of when they contemplate the future.  One after another you’ve taken our outlook and made it yours, with your own special flair.  That includes my very first expectation…the one I feared the most…that a time would come when you would ravage my heart.   

One day I’m chasing after this little blonde hair cuddle bunny who just snatched the hat from my head and was running through the house as fast as her tiny legs would carry her, screaming the whole time from an equal mix of fear from being caught and excitement of being chased.  And when she suddenly plops to the carpet, hoping beyond hope she’ll magically become invisible, I have to avoid trampling her by rolling head first into the couch and wrenching my shoulder.  Then in a blink of an eye, I’m signing a college graduation card for this beautiful young woman…unable to shake the feeling I’ve been cheated.  How could it have all flown by so quickly? 

I realize this isn’t goodbye and there will be plenty of special moments ahead of us, but that knowledge does little to help the ache in my chest.  They really should do a better job of informing prospective parents that when the expected arrives, there’s a sacrifice that goes hand-in hand, and it’s one with a heavy toll.  For when you gain a self-confident adult, you lose the child whose life revolves around you. 

My baby girl has been replaced by a college graduate with a future almost as bright as her smile.  The expectations going forward from here on out…will be all yours.  All of us will be here to help you achieve your goals, or give you a smile when you fall short, but the path to possibility will be yours to choose.

Someday, in the not-to-distant future, when you hear me complaining about old age or this mysterious ache in my shoulder, I hope you’ll still snatch the hat off my head and start running.  Because I will always be chasing after you in my heart!

Forever Love,

Dad

We Have a New Novelist - Glynis Smy!

Today writer/poet, Glynis Smy adds author/novelist to her name. Her debut novel; Ripper, My Love, is launched in ebook format and paperback. The genre for this love story falls into the one of Historical Romance Suspense.


Growing up in late nineteenth century East London, Kitty Harper’s life is filled with danger and death – from her mother, her beloved neighbour and the working women of the streets.

With her ever-watchful father and living surrogate family though, Kitty feels protected from harm. In fact, she feels so safe that while Whitechapel cowers under the cloud of a fearsome murderer, she strikes out on her own, moving into new premises to accommodate her sewing business.

But danger is closer than she thinks. In truth, it has burrowed itself right into her heart in the form of a handsome yet troubled bachelor, threatening everything she holds dear. Will Kitty fall prey to lust – and death – herself, or can she find the strength inside to fight for her business, sanity and her future? And who is the man terrifying the streets of East London?


Who is Glynis Smy?

Glynis was born and raised in England, in the coastal town of Dovercourt, near the port of Harwich (where the captain of the Mayflower lived). After qualifying as a nurse, she married her school friend, and they produced three children. During her rare quiet moments, she wrote poetry and articles for magazines. In 2005 she and her husband emigrated to Cyprus for a new life in the sun. It was here that Glynis lay down her cross stitch and started making writing friends on the Internet. With their support and encouragement she shared her poetry, and was successful in a few contests. She shared a short story with a friend, who wrote back telling her it was worthy of becoming a novel, and not to waste the premise upon a brief plot. The story is the one being launched today. Glynis found her love of writing 19th Century, historical romances and her second novel, Maggie's Child, will be published at the end of 2012.

Aside from writing and Cross stitch, Glynis enjoys creating greetings cards, and sells them to raise funds for a small hospice in Cyprus. One of her pleasures is to sit on the back porch with a glass of wine, and reflect upon her good life. She can often be heard chatting to new characters urging her forward.

Her desire to pay back those who had supported her is realised in a blog designed specifically to promote the books of others: New Book Bloggerhttp://newbookblogger.blogspot.com/. You can find her personal writing blog at www.glynissmy.com. Glynis finds the community spirit of writers on Facebook a valuable one.

Want to purchase a copy?  Launch day price for the Kindle is 99c/77p!





 

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