This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Arlee Needs To Eat : A Hijacker who takes hijacking seriously--Anna Smith

Photo         At left you can see a recent photograph of Anna Smith who is hijacking this post of my blog.  She must have a strange camera in that the images produced are rather, shall we say, unusual.  You can see what I'm saying in the photograph of me that you see in this post.   It's a pretty accurate image, though the surroundings are perhaps a bit more colorful than I recall at the time when the photograph was taken.   When you are done with this post, make sure you go on over to Anna's blog Universal Gibberish for further instructions.


         Now, I know Arlee said he is away on holiday for a couple of weeks, but that's not completely true.  You see, in order for me to hijack his blog, I had to take him, and put him in my non-existent attic.  It's true, he is up there right now keeping my zombie and alien company.  I have proof...

See, it's obviously true!
        He seems to be keeping his distance from the zombie and alien, but he has nothing to fear, they are very friendly.  In fact they are two of my best friends, they keep me company all the time. They are also fixing my old rust bucket of a time machine for me!  How sweet.  I think they are under the impression I will take them with me when it's fixed.  Lets not tell them there's only room for one eh?

        I do have a slight problem though and I need your help.  Because I now have a third guest in my attic I need more food.  The zombie and alien are OK, but Arlee requires real food, and there is a lack of that around here.  Has nothing to do with me eating it all, I swear!

       Arlee is going to starve if he doesn't get fed.  Poor guy.  So I was thinking we could set up some sort of campaign to help him get the food he needs.  We could call it the Arlee Needs To Eat campaign, or ANTE for short.  All you have to do is pop over to my blog and donate some food.  He tells me he is quite partial to chocolate cake and ice-cream!  It's completely true; I haven't made it up to try and get peeps to give me free cake.  I would never do such a thing!

Now available on Amazon 

Here's what evolved from Anna's Blogging from A to Z entries--a book! Alphabet Wishes is now available on Kindle at the following links:

Amazon U.S. - Alphabet Wishes
Amazon U.K. - Alphabet Wishes

Book Description:
'I wish the world was filled with angels'. What do you wish for? Alphabet Wishes is a collection of twenty-six poems; one for each letter of the alphabet. From inspirational, to funny, to powerful; there is a poem here for everybody.

Please buy a copy of her book now. Anna's promised to release me from her imaginary attic once she sells a million copies of her book. I'm getting anxious to get out of here. The zombie is starting to have a look of brain lust in his eyes and the alien is threatening to permanently hijack my blog once he gets freed. Besides, I've got to go to the bathroom and there's no plumbing up here.

And don't forget to visit Universal Gibberish and bring some food.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

No Ruts: Guest Hijacker James Callan

      Where am I today?  Houston I suppose.  I can't say for sure since I'm composing this in advance.  But no fear.  James Callan is my guest hijacker today and he's got everything under control.

No Ruts

Can an author get in a rut?  Absolutely.  But, just a little thought and work can eliminate that possibility. 

I’ve had two books released in 2012.  But if you think they are a series, similar, or came about in a similar fashion, think again.  They were very different in production.  In looking at how these two went from nothing to published books, you can see the many sides of writing.

The Idea.

Two years ago, east Texas endured a rash of church burnings.  The police were baffled.  There seemed to be no motive, no connection between the victims, no significant robberies—although a few minor things were stolen from one of the churches. But eventually, two men were caught and because of the stolen items, the police were able to gain a conviction.  But throughout, the police were unable to determine the motive.  The men simple said, “We wanted to show we could get away with it.” And maybe that’s all there was to their motive.

As with many people, this seemed like a rather poor motive. I began to wonder, what could be the motive for burning several churches. I dismissed the obvious choices, for instance a religious hater.  And when I came up with a suitable motive, I had the plot for Cleansed by Fire.

The second book came about a bit differently.  Several years ago, our youngest daughter sang with a chorus of Sweet Adelines.  (Sweet Adlines is the female version of the men’s Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Singing in America. These are women who like to sing the four-part harmony of barbershop.  They sing a cappella. Sweet Adelines is an international organization and each year it holds a competition to crown the best chorus and the best quartet.

One year, Diane’s chorus made it to the finals, so naturally my wife and I went to hear her group compete.  The competition that year was in San Antonio, Texas. Her chorus came in fifth in the international competition.

Diane writes YA books, mostly non-fiction.  But after the competition was over, being writers, we naturally wondered how this might bring about some writing project. After awhile, we decided to write an adult murder mystery set in the glitz and excitement of an International singing competition.  The result was Murder a Cappella.

The Writing.

On Cleansed by Fire, I let the idea percolate in my brain for weeks. I decided against using a detective as the protagonist.  Like those in east Texas, I wanted no clues left at the crime scene. Finally, I decided to let the only clue come to a priest in the confessional.  Now, I had a real conflict for my new protagonist.  He couldn’t tell anybody, not even the police.  His information was that another church would be burned. He didn’t know which church, when, or by whom. What was he to do? Finally, he determines that nothing says he can’t look into the arsons himself.

I sketched out the principal characters, developed a bio for them.  Decided on alternate suspects and how they would be noticed by the protagonist. Added in something to counter the darker side. And then, it was sit down and start banging out a story.

For Murder a Cappella, a few ideas were bandied back and forth between my daughter and me.  I then took those and developed a plot and passed it back to Diane. She had many suggestions and we spent weeks revising, refining, tossing out, adding in, until we had a plot that we believed not only worked, but would not be obvious to the reader. We agreed that the reader had to be given a fair shot at determining the antagonist. But we also wanted enough twists that the avid mystery reader would not be able to get the right answer until our protagonist gave it to them.

We developed character bios for principal players and sat down together and banged out a few chapters.  Since we lived in different states, that approach wouldn’t do for the entire book. We decided she would take the first crack at chapters centered around the actual Sweet Adelines experience and competition. I would take the chapters centered more on the murder investigation.  When she finished chapters, she sent them to me and I went over them, added in my suggestions for handling, pacing, dialogue, etc.  When I finished a chapter, I sent it to her and she took the same steps on mine that I had on hers. 

Once we got to the end, we let it sit for a month. Then, separately, we each reviewed the entire manuscript and compiled a (long) list of areas for work.  For the last pass, we agreed it had to be done together and I visited her home to iron out the final version.  This was an important step so that the book would maintain a consistent voice.

The Publishers

As each was contracted for by different publishers, the editing process was also different.  For Cleansed by Fire, I simple got the suggestions from the editor, adjusted the manuscript and returned it to the editor. For Murder a Cappella, each suggestion from the editor was made by one of us and reviewed and okayed by the other. Those areas that Diane had written, she handled first and then passed them to me for approval. I made the adjustments in those areas I had first written, and then I passed them to Diane for her okay.  Thank goodness for the Internet.  It allowed this approach to work and work rather efficiently.  Often, we could each be working on different sections at the same time. No confusion there. So, time was not lost by this “double checking.”

The End Results

Cleansed by Fire was released and has received some very complimentary reviews and sustains good sales in both paperback and Kindle editions.  At one point, it rose to number 22 on Amazon’s bestseller list for its category.

Murder a Cappella has, at this point, only been released in paperback, but the publisher promised an e-book version will be out soon.  It has been well received, sold well, and at one Sweet Adelines competition (not the international—that’s still ahead) all copies the publisher had sent were sold.


I have finished the second book in the Father Frank Mystery series and started on the third book.  I am expecting the second book to be released in 2013.

Diane and I have laid out the basic plot lines for books two and three of the Sweet Adelines Mysteries series.  We have no contract on those as yet.


I took a degree in English intent on writing.  However, I discovered that one could not support a family as a beginning writer. I returned to graduate school, entering a Ph. D. program in mathematics.  Writing was left far behind. After graduate school, I took a job at a research center and began a thirty year detour. Along the way, I received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Data Processing Management Association, and gathered listings in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans.

Then one day I said, “I don’t have to support a family anymore.”All the kids were out of school, gainfully employed and raising their own families.   So I returned to my first love, writing.  I first wrote non-fiction books on the area I had been working in for thirty years. Finally, with a few books under my belt, I moved to mysteries, my real goal.

My wife and I now split our time between Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Texas.  She is the consummate reader and I write.  Yes, she is the first reader, and a critical reader, of my manuscripts.  She has, under duress, written two short stories, one of which placed second in a short story contest. But, that did not excite her enough to continue. She reads. And we writers know that readers are very important to us.

 Jim Callan      A Sweet Adelines mystery.  Book Trailer at:  Murder A Cappella       A Father Frank mystery.  Book Trailer at:  Cleansed By Fire

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life Is A Maze: Words from Amazing Guest Hijacker Bridget Straub

           My guest hijacker in this post is Bridget Straub who can usually be found  at her blog bridgetstraub: Author, Artist, Mom.   Bridget's latest book, On A Hot August Afternoon, is a scintillating story of life, love, and rock and roll--just the thing for some summertime reading.  Paired with the author's first novel, Searching for My Wand, one could make this a "Bridget Straub summer of reading".    To start things off, here's a bit of authorly musing from Bridget.

Life is a maze

        I have been stressing over this guest post, as well as others I need to hurry up and complete. With the release of my second novel, “On a Hot August Afternoon”, I feel the pressure of the “make it or break it” mentality. When I released my first novel, “Searching for My Wand”, I thought I had everything in place. I had a Facebook page, I was on Twitter and I put a trailer up on YouTube. The reviews began to roll in and they were all 5 star! What more could I hope for, right?

       Sales! I could hope for sales, and I’m going to be honest with you, I have not become an overnight success. I had visions of hundreds of sales a day. I knew it wouldn’t be instant, but like a snowball rolling down a mountainside, I imagined that it would build. Instead there was a flutter, and then it fizzled out completely.

       I did more research and discovered this is far more the norm than any real success. I also read that until you have a larger library to build on, first books rarely find an audience. Although disappointing, this information was also promising, because if there is one thing I have it’s a vast supply of work to draw from. In the span of one highly productive year, I completed three or four novels and a musical, so there is no shortage of material. “Searching” was released in December of last year, and now I have “On a Hot August Afternoon” out in both paperback and eBook form.

       Theoretically, I should now be able to move on to choosing which novel I wish to edit next, except for the marketing of the first two books that needs to be done. One of the reasons I went with Kindle Select for the eBook version of this book (the first was published through BookBaby) was because of their KDP program, where you can put your book up for free for a day or two, as a way of boosting sales. Unfortunately, I have since been told repeatedly by a variety of authors that this tactic no longer works. That like anything that gets used too much, it has lost its appeal. Now the word on the street is that short of a large marketing campaign fueled by a lot of money, the only thing that sells books is word of mouth. As you can guess, this puts a lot of pressure on these guest posts that are one of the few things I can do to get my name out and begin to push that snowball down the mountain.

       As I’m writing this I am listening to Pandora and they are playing a song by Lenka in which there is the lyric, “I’m just a little bit caught in the middle, life is a maze…” That sums up my feeling about this whole process beautifully. I’m just trying to figure it out and to enjoy the show as I go along.

Thank you, Bridget, for opening up like this and for being a part of my Hijack This Blog! summer program. You've got a lot of us cheering for your success.

I'm sure Bridget's not alone in her situation. Let's hear from some of you who have been published. Has your experience been similar? Did your first books meet the expectations that you had for them? Any words of encouragement or advice for Bridget and other burgeoning writers?
And how about you who have not yet been published: Does this sound discouraging to you? What kind of plan do you have in place for when you finally do achieve your publishing goals?

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Are Ebooks the way of the Future?: Guest Hijacker Clare Dugmore

           Since I'm busy in Orlando, Florida today, I'm going to let today's guest Clare Dugmore just jump in and take over!

       First of all, I'd like to say a huge thank you to Arlee for having me on his blog. I'm sure myself, and anyone else who has hijacked the blog, appreciates the opportunity to reach so many people on such a large platform. Thanks, Arlee!

       I thought long and hard about what I was going to post about today, as there are many topics I could have discussed. I seriously considered using today's post as self-promotion, and sharing an excerpt from my current work in progress Sibylline Nights. I ultimately decided against it, figuring if you want to know more about me, my writing and my novel, you can check out my blog.

       Instead, I wanted to discuss a topic that would generate some debate and get everyone talking. But what topic to pick? The pros and cons of self-publication versus traditional publication? My personal feeling about Fifty Shades of Grey, and its impact on literature and the publishing industry?

      In the end I settled on a subject that has been on my mind for the last few months, ever since a discussion with my brother-in-law, and something I've been wanting to talk about for a while now.

Are Ebooks the way of the Future?

       A few months ago, when I was in the market to buy an e-reader, I asked around my fellow readers and book lovers to get their opinions on digital reading.

      While a lot of people said it was good that you could store so many books on an e-reader, the overwhelming response was that nothing will ever beat the feel of paper books. Then I bought my e-reader.

       I don't think I'll ever buy a paper book again! The only thing I miss about paper books is being able to read in the bath.

       Maybe I'm just more digitally minded (I also don't keep 'hard' copies of photographs, all my memories are digitally stored on my external harddrive), but for me, e-readers tick every box, and have opened my eyes to new avenues of reading I've never considered before.

       The first time I experienced digital books triumphing over paper books was on May 24th of this year. I was eagerly waiting the final installment in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, The Enchantress. I was especially excited, because for the first time in the series' history, the UK release date was just two days after the US release date – as opposed to previous years, when the UK release date was around two months after the US date – meaning that I could read along at the same time as a friend in America, whom I'd shared the series with. We both enjoyed discussing aspects of the book, and it was always frustrating to have to wait two months before I could share her joys and woes over what had happened.

      On the morning of  May 24th I went to my local shopping centre – and let me tell you, it's no tiny town square with a handful of shops. It's home to over 250 shops, a cinema, a food hall including  various fast food restaurants, and has a parking capacity of 10,000 spaces – and straight to Waterstones (a UK book retailer that has 296 stores and employs around 4,500 staff in the UK and Europe).

      After looking in the Young Adult section, the children's section, the fantasy section and the general fiction section, I went up to the cash desk.

      "Do you have The Enchantress by Michael Scott, please?" I asked the member of staff.

      After looking up the details on the computer, she informed me that no, they didn't.

      I was disappointed, but not disheartened. Determined to get my book, I made my way to WH Smiths (one of UK's largest retailers of books, stationery, magazines, newspapers, and entertainment products, who invented the ISBN catalogue and has over 16, 000 employees in Europe). Once again I was politely told they didn't have it.

      My disappointment growing, I checked in both ASDA and Sainsbury's (UK supermarket chains, with 525 and 1000 stores respectively), but neither had the book.

      I was shocked.

     I knew The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series wasn't a global sensation like Harry Potter, but I thought since the series has been printed in 20 languages, is available in 37 countries, and featured in the Top Ten on the New York Times Children's Best Selling Series list, that a shopping centre the size of the one I was at, with two large book retail chains and two supermarket chains, would have somewhere for me to buy The Enchantress.

      Feeling let down, I made my way home, and that's when the alternative hit me. I could buy the book online – perhaps if I was really lucky, it would even be delivered before the weekend.

      While comparing prices on Amazon and Play, I noticed that Amazon offered a digital version of  The Enchantress, and it was cheaper than the paper version. The added bonus, it would be delivered to my tablet computer instantly. I was sold. Never again would I need to worry about different release dates, not being able to get to the shopping centre, books being out of stock, or dodgy delivery times.

      I could have any book I wanted, whenever I wanted, with just a few taps of my stylus.

      I downloaded The Enchantress to my tablet, enjoyed it immensely, and that's when I started to discover all the other fantastic benefits of digital books.

     While reading, I came across the word chitin – I'd never heard of it before, and curious I highlighted the word, intending to copy it into my web browser. As I copied it, something amazing happened. Up popped a little bubble entitled New Oxford American Dictionary, and gave me the following definition: chi·tin n. [BIOCHEMISTRY] a fibrous substance consisting of polysaccharides and forming the major constituent in the exoskeleton of arthropods and the cell walls of fungi. chi·tin·ous adj. mid 19th cent.: from French chitine, formed irregularly from Greek (see CHITON).

      I was in awe. Rather than having to open up my browser, or log onto a computer, with the inbuilt features of my Kindle application, my tablet could give me the definition of a word as I read the story.

      Later on, I was introduced to the character Xolotl. Interested in the mythology behind the name, I highlighted it. Sadly this time my dictionary had no definition. But, after clicking on the "more" option, I was able to open my browser – from within the Kindle app – and go straight to Wikipedia, where I discovered that in Aztec mythology, Xolotl was the god with associations to both lightning and death.

      Information about character mythology at the tip of my fingers. Never again would I have to be pulled out of a story to look up some details, or try and remember a name once I'd finished the book.

        Having a toddler, I found many other advantages of digital books. I could read without him ripping, chewing or turning the pages, and with an added screen protector, it's was safe from sticky fingers.

        I could also "close" my book with a moment's notice, and not have to worry about losing bookmarks, or them falling out and my page being lost. For you see, digital books have inbuilt bookmarks, and with a tap of my stylus, a page could be "bookmarked" so I could pick up where I left off. Even more impressively, you can have multiple bookmarks, so I could remember pages with passages or parts that interested me, and share them with my friend who was also reading the book.

       The back-lighting on my tablet also meant I could read in bed, in the dark, without the need for a lamp – something I'm sure whoever shares the bed with you would appreciate if they're trying to sleep while you read.

       I've found since having the Kindle app, I'm reading more books, because digital books feel more accessible to me. I certainly can't go to the book store in the middle of the night when I have insomnia, or walk around Waterstones in my pyjamas. I can, however, browse the Kindle marketplace both at 2 a.m in the nude if I choose.

      Not only that, if a book looks interesting but I haven't quite made up my mind about it, I can scroll down the page, and read reviews by others who have read the book. I can even download a sample of the book (how much of a sample varies from author to author) free of charge.

      The variety of digital books compared to paper books seems a lot more too, as many independent authors are self-publishing exclusively as e-books. Some are even free, or cost less than £1. While people may argue the quality of an e-book that costs nothing, I won't. I'm not going to gripe over a few typos if I didn't pay for it, and the story keeps me entertained for the weekend.

      There's physical storage advantages to digital books too. I live in an apartment, with very limited space and two children who have a lot of toys. My beloved books now take priority behind buggies, racetracks, play-sets, action figures and countless other things. My current bookshelf is very pressed for space, with books stacked on top of each other, and squeezed in where ever possible. Not to mention the countless tomes I have stored away in cardboard boxes and cupboard boxes. With digital books, your only limit is your memory card, and with external cards and harddrives, that amount can be increased at any time.  Plus you don't have to worry about damage from dust, damp or booklouse who look to burrow into you books, and eat it from the inside! With digital books, if you're unlucky enough to loose or damage your memory card, you can just download a book again. Once you've bought it from Amazon, it's yours for life.

     It makes travelling with books easier too. I currently have a Kindle app on my desktop computer, my laptop, and my tablet. If I wanted to, I could also install the Kindle app on a computer at a friend or relatives' house, and access my library there. I can take my whole book collection with me, where ever I go.

     People have said digital books "ruin" the experience of reading, but for me their invention has actually heightened it.

     Before I end this post, and open it up to others, I wanted to mention one digital book very close to my heart.

      On August 6th 2012 a very close friend of mine, Kyra Lennon, is releasing her début novel, a contemporary romance titled Game On. Without the invention of digital books, she might not be releasing her story now, as she'd be going through the process of querying, getting an agent and then submissions for publishers (I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing now. That's another post for another time). Suffice to say, Kyra weighed the options, and wanted complete creative control over her novel, something digital books offered her.

If you're interested, here is the synopsis for Game On:

After swapping her small town life to work for a top U.S soccer team, Leah Walker thought she could finally leave the ghosts of her past behind. However, when she meets serial womanizer, Radleigh McCoy, the memories of her old life come swarming back, and she is forced to ask herself whether she has really changed at all.

Details of the forthcoming blog tour can be found here.

       And that's me done. Thank you again to Arlee for having me, and thank you to everyone who has stuck with me for the whole post. I hope it generates some interesting debate, or at least makes you think a little harder about digital books, and what they mean for the future of publishing.


About Clare Dugmore:

I'm an almost thirty aspiring writing from the West Midlands of England. I live with my husband and two sons. My current work in progress, which is in the first round of edits, is a contemporary fantasy: Separated at birth, triplets Esmee, Maggie and Nola are reunited by their new magical abilities. Even with the Paraphysiology Intelligence Division hunting them, they choose to oppose magical terrorists intent on eradicating those without abilities.

For about me, my writing and my novel, you can check out my blog.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

I'm Happy And I Know It...Now What?: Guest Hijacker Jericha Senyak

        Guest Hijacker Jericha Senyak can be found at her blog The Museum of Joy.  Like Tossing It Out, her blog is a rather eclectic blog.  Keep in mind that for this post Jericha has hijacked my blog with her writing and her ideas.  These ideas may not necessarily reflect my own, but I welcome the opportunity for others to express their opinions and philosophies.  Do visit Jericha's site for more information about her array of interests and thought.

I'm Happy And I Know It...Now What?
This is basically me. By Davies up North on Flickr
         I am naturally gifted with optimism. I don't mean gifted in the sense of talented; I mean it in the sense that the universe gave it to me as a gift, way back when I was a wee one. It was a present, bestowed upon me basically at random, not something I earned or specially deserved. I just had it - this great capacity for joyousness, this strange ability to experience delight in what seemed to be a greater magnitude than everyone around me. In a weird, subtle way it was almost like, well, some kind of superpower. Especially when I got to college and I was surrounded by hundreds of angsty, miserable, anguished young people, and there I was, going around being happy all the time. And honestly? For a long time I felt supremely guilty about it. It didn't seem fair. I hadn't done anything to merit getting to be happier than other people. There were plenty of wonderful folks I knew who deserved far more joy than they were getting, and here I was, bouncing blithely along, hogging all the happiness.

       Maybe that sounds strange to you - happiness is a glorious thing, after all! Why feel guilty about it? Well, to me, joyousness feels like a kind of "impossible good news," as Chesterton says, and an inherent part of experiencing it is that I want to open that experience to everyone around me. It throws open the doors of the soul, blows a bright wind through my being, and makes me want to invite everyone in! Except, of course, I didn't have the least clue how to do it, and meanwhile I was watching all these people suffering and the best I felt I could offer was something stupid along the lines of "Don't worry! Be happy!" - which is probably one of the single most frustrating and obnoxious things you can possibly be told if you're feeling bad.

This is basically my deal. You are more than welcome to
disagree with any part of this. Via Dammit Janet!
        You can't tell somebody about joy and expect them to feel it, any more than you can tell somebody about religion and expect them to believe it. I knew that, but I still found it confusing and frustrating to go around with this intense sense of wonder in my chest that nobody else seemed to share expect in momentary bits and flashes, with no way to understand why I had it and others didn't. I told myself that if the universe had decided to give it to me, I'd better behave in a way that was worthy of the honor, and that meant doing my very best to share it, to give it away, to open it up to others at every opportunity. In other words, if I was grateful for the gift, I had better pass it on. If I tried to hoard it, or just accept it as mine by some unknown right, maybe the universe would see fit to take it away.

       But I wasn't about to try and make anybody happy. (By 21 I'd seen enough friends and loved ones suffer from depression to know that that just doesn't work.) I just didn't know what to do, and in the meantime, my secret feeling that I was clearly supposed to be using this power made me feel like a smarmy, self-righteous, obnoxiously cheerful, namby-pamby jerk. Like, "Aw, I'm so happy and everyone else is so sad! It must be my job to tell everyone else how great happiness is!"The fact that this seemed to be my most crushing spiritual problem made me feel even more guilty. Man, people out there have real problems, and you're worrying that the universe might take your good feelings away if you don't hand them out like damn Happy Candy? Really, Jericha? That's your problem? Could you get any more trivial?

        And then, a few months ago, when I was just starting out on my blog and looking for inspiration, I stumbled across a lovely post on Scoutie Girl by the thoughtful & talented Gwyn Michael called Learning to see again. the beauty in the breakdown. Some of her first words in the post hit me right in the gut. "I have been blessed with an uncanny capacity for optimism," she wrote, and in my brain something went zing! because, you see, I'd never once heard anyone else say that but me. Her post (which you should read, because it is wonderfully inspiring and beautifully written) was basically about the fact that she sees it as her prerogative to spread joy because, well, the world is a pretty dark place a lot of the time and we all forget how to see the beauty in it sometimes and dammit, we need help. But the real reason her post meant so much to me was that her experience came out of suffering. She writes,

"The year I was thirteen I lost my father to suicide, my bedroom and all my belongings to a house fire, and whatever hope was left in my mother. It was a sad, sad year and shaped me in many ways. I remember coming into the house after the fire and looking into the shell of my room. Most everything was gone, but on the wall were the melted remains of a yellow princess phone dripping down onto the charred carpet. It was somehow beautiful in my eyes and I became fascinated by the beauty in the unexpected."

Here is a beautiful image from her post.
        In her eyes, as in mine, her natural capacity for joy and her desire to share it weren't some Pollyanna-ish unwillingness to acknowledge that darkness and despair exist, but rather a sense that seeing beauty is as deep a part of the human experience as suffering. And whatever bleakness surrounds us, when we manage to find our way towards focusing on the things that are beautiful and meaningful to us, well, something kind of magical happens. It's hard to do this, and it doesn't come naturally to most people, but maybe, just maybe, those of us for whom it is easier can do our best to lend a hand. At the very top of her post, she wrote,

What is mine to do in the world is to awaken people to other ways
of seeing. To inspire hope where there is doubt, love where there is pain.

This is also totally me! Except with
CHAMPAGNE. Via Sunset Magazine
       Hearing this coming from somebody who had suffered terrible things and still believed in this, well, it made me think about it a little differently. It gave me a sense that maybe I wasn't being so nicey-nice and self-righteous and pacifying in feeling like well, this is what I've got. Of course, in some ways, it's still hard for me to accept this as the thing I'm supposed to do, because it seems so, well, prideful, this idea that I could awake anyone to anything. Who the hell am I to think I know how to open somebody's eyes? But really, the point is that I don't. I have no idea whatsoever. Here I am, a sparkling champagne fountain full of joyousness for no good reason whatsoever other than I was born that way, and boy oh boy is it not my job to try and force you to drink. ("But it's AWESOME! I SWEAR! just TRY it, you'll LIKE it!") Nope.

Just doing my best to look meaningful in the snow, here.

Is this awesome or pretentious? Via Favim.
     Instead, I have to think about it like this: if I was a really violent, cruel, rage-filled, bitter, vicious person, would I influence the lives of people around me without even trying? Damn right I would. Would people look at me and feel like the world was maybe a yuckier place than they'd thought after I did something casually horrible to them, or just walked past radiating nastiness? Heck yes. So then, why do I think that somehow I'll mysteriously not influence people by doing my best to be honestly, fully, genuinely joyous? Why am I so convinced that people will look at me and feel bitter instead of better? I don't think it's a terrible concern to have, really - I don't want to march around like some kind of Queen of Awesome Happytown, looking out of my Wonder Carriage and scattering scraps of minor contentment as largesse. If I start thinking I can save anybody, I'm in serious trouble. No, if I'm going to add anything to this universe, I've got to be something more like a lighthouse, maybe, or the lamp in the window on a dark night, or the sun coming out on a gray day: just a steady, quiet beacon, not telling anything, not teaching anything, just a steady, honest manifestation of lightness and warmth in the midst of gloom, saying, I am no less real than the darkness. 

      In all of this, what came to the surface in me was the desire to build a museum that celebrates the human experience of joy. We have a lot of spaces dedicated to general history, and a lot of spaces dedicated to the memory and experience of suffering and death. We don't have many places that honor and memorialize the millions of ancient, ongoing, cross-cultural experiences of gladness, wonder, and delight. I know perfectly well the world is full of pain and fear and anger. I don't think joyfulness is better than that, or more right, or more true. My wariness to share and express joy came from my fear of being seen as someone who was trying to overwrite or deny the ugly things about existence, a happy person casually dismissing others' experiences of unhappiness or telling them that they were wrong or foolish or not trying hard enough if they weren't just being happy, like meeeee! But I think Gwyn Michael is absolutely right when she speaks in her post of her belief that "in helping people to see in a more positive way, we give them hope and that gives them power. When we feel powerful we are motivated to work and to change."

       It's so easy to forget that no matter what happens, what suffering overwhelms us, the universe is still full of wonder too. That's maybe the very strangest thing about existence: that somehow, the darkness and the brightness don't cancel each other out. They're just both there, both part of us. One is not more true than the other, and we need to remember and honor and work to understand both. I think there's plenty of people already working on suffering; I think the world could use a few more on the side of joy. What do you think?

      Have you ever had the experience of feeling like you've been given something you desperately want to share, create, pass on, or work with, but felt like you couldn't or shouldn't act on that deep desire? What was it? What did you do?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Take on the Topic of Blog Followers: by Guest Hijacker Lauren Shearer

     Lauren blogs at Word Art: Painting with Words.  In this Hijack This Blog! feature she discusses that ever popular topic of "Followers".  

*sniff* all her followers left her
Five Reasons You May Have Lost Followers and Why You Shouldn't Be (Too) Upset

Losing followers isn't fun. It's like a little jolt, or like when a bug flies in your eye accidentally, or like when you slip on a banana peel and fall flat on your face. (Because I know that happens to you all the time...)

But hey! You shouldn't be (too) upset. And don't just take my word for it - here are five reasons why a follower may have clicked "unsubscribe,"  and why you shouldn't go into mourning because of it.

(Just FYI, Lee covered blog math and gaining followers in this post. I really appreciated his thoughts on that, so you should go give it a quick read-through either before or after you finish this post. Or during. I guess you can do it during if you want.)

Numero Uno: My blog is boring.

We're prone to telling ourselves this, and you know what? It might actually be the case. You may, in fact, own the Most Boring Blog in Existence (in which case, contact Guinness World Records right away). And you may have gotten unfollowed because one of your followers suddenly realized this. Which, of course, begs the question - if your blog is the Most Boring Blog in Existence, how on earth did you get followers in the first place?

But I think we can safely rule out that your blog is NOT the Most Boring Blog in Existence. So what then?

Okay, if you still suspect your blog may be boring then don't sit around moping. Shake things up a little! Add some new gadgets, or take some away. Start a blog series. Write a post in the meter of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you're bored with your blog, your followers might be too.

Numero dos: I'm a terrible blogger/writer/person.

Another one of those things we tell ourselves. And yes, my dear, you're not a perfect person. Nobody is.

Now as for being a terrible blogger/writer - how so? Are you terrible, or just lazy? Or sloppy? Or self-centered? If you think you're a bad writer or blogger, do something about it. Buy a book on writing. Buy several books on writing. Read them. Think about them. Apply them.

If you suspect that a follower left because they're tired of you writing all your posts lyk this then maybee its tiem u rethot ur blogging stile.

Numero tres: The person who unfollowed me hates me/only followed me so I would follow back (which I didn't)/was offended by my opinions.

Your point?

If a person truly hates you, do you seriously want that person following your blog?

If a person only followed you so that they could add you to their own follower count, do you seriously want that person following your blog?

Hmmm? Yeah, thought so.

Okay, next point. The person who unfollowed you may have been offended by your opinions. Let's ask some questions, then.

Do you stand by your opinions?

Did you state them in a way that was respectful? (this question may be arguable, but is a good one to consider anyway)

Do you value your opinions more than another person's approval?

If you answered yes to all three then you have nothing to worry about. It's your blog, and yours alone. If you truly stand by what you said, if you said it in a way that wasn't intentionally inflammatory, and if you truly value your opinions, then who cares if you lost a follower (or followers)?

Let me give you an example. I am a Christian, and I'm not afraid to talk about it on my blog. I don't get too deep into theological posts and questions, but I do talk about it occasionally. Has this lost me followers, or detracted potential followers from clicking the "follow" button? Yes, most likely. And that's not necessarily a good thing, but you know what? It doesn't matter to me. I stand by my convictions. If a person unfollows me because of that, so be it.

Numero quatro: The person who unfollowed me was genuinely uninterested in my blog.

Now we have a reasonable point. The un-follower (new terminology here!) may not be interested in your blog anymore, and THAT'S OKAY.

(Yes, that was important enough to put in all caps.)

I'm sure you've lost interest in a blog before. Maybe you even unfollowed it. Was it entirely the fault of the blogger? No, I'm sure it wasn't. Perhaps you followed them for content you thought you were getting, but they changed direction. Perhaps you followed them way back when you were crazy about one subject - but now the fervor has died down now and you've moved on. There are lots of reasons.

And if you can justify unfollowing a blog to yourself, then you shouldn't blame another blogger for unfollowing you as well.

Note: I understand that some people (I tend to lean this way a little myself) think it's rude to unfollow a blog just because you're uninterested; but different people have different standards for this. Be understanding.

Numero sinco: The un-follower has reached the maximum amount of blogs they can follow, and is cleaning up their blog list.

Did you know that there is a limit to the number of blogs you can follow? That number is 300.

After I found that out, I went and checked the number of blogs I was following. I'm at 100, currently, so I still have a ways to go.

So maybe your un-follower has just found a 301st blog that they absolutely love and absolutely must follow. But - oh dear! They've reached the limit. One blog must go... which one will it be?

And they go to yours, and click "unfollow."

Why did they single out yours? Maybe it was for one of the reasons above. But the point here is that it's basically necessity here that's causing them to unfollow you. Which may or may not make you feel better, but there you go.

We'd like to think that following is like a commitment, a promise made by a person to regularly read and follow your blog.  But the truth is that unless a follower is actively involved with your content, they're just a number. That's it. And numbers are great, but what you really want is dedicated readers. People who enjoy your content, who read it consistently, and who comment.

So if a person unfollowed you for whatever reason, then they are not your dedicated follower. They're not the kind of follower you want. Not to sound insensitive, but good riddance!

Think of it as sorting out the sheep from the goats. Now we shall see who all my true followers are....

Bio: Lauren is a college student, an aspiring author, and an enthusiastic (sometimes) blogger who writes about writing, movies, books, and other fun stuff over at Word Art: Painting with Words.

I'm sure you have stories about losing followers. Let's hear them (it could be therapeutic)! Have you ever unfollowed a blog? What were your reasons? How close are you to the 300 blog limit (or do you use something other than GFC to keep up with blogs)? What are your opinions on unfollowing in general?

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