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Honoring Our Mothers

May 8, 2017

I was going to write a lengthy post about writers and our inquisitive minds. And then I broke my right wrist. I am profoundly right-handed, so one-fingered typing causes great fatigue. I looked at the calendar and realized  the annual confluence of three important dates has arrived.

May 9 is my mother’s birthday. She’s been gone for many years, but I still celebrate her birthday. She’ll always be with me in my heart.

Of course, May 14 is Mother’s Day. Before you ask, I never shorted Mom with one gift for both days.  Her presents were wrapped in different paper. One gift had to be See’s dark chocolate truffles. Her favorite. The other was usually several books, because Mom liked to read.

Early the following week, Terry and I celebrate our anniversary.

It’s a time of joy. It’s a time of celebration. I hope you have your own celebrations coming next week. I raise a toast to mothers everywhere.

Featured, Politics, Uncategorized

Thoughts Define Us

June 27, 2016

All that we are is the result of what we have thought–Buddha

I wish that more people would think before they speak or act. Whether it’s political discourse (my fingers want to type “discord”) where we listen to people calling each other names or it’s an overheard conversation waiting in line at the grocery store (where two men gossip about a neighbor down on his luck — “all his fault. He should have…”), we are a collection of what we think.

Does anyone really think that politicians believe what they say? Or are we hearing the thought de jour designed to sway our thinking for the few minutes we listen? We hear that no politician tells the truth but only the truth as he or she sees it. We hear that politicians live for the moment when giving speeches, playing to the crowd, and bowing to applause. We wonder if people can be so duped to believe voting for a referendum won’t have serious consequences.

Take the referendum thing for a second. Back in the ’70s, Californians voted on Proposition 13 to freeze or severely limit the percentage property taxes could be raised. That proposition is still on the books, which means it cuts into badly needed revenues the state could use to rebuild its infrastructure. What the voters didn’t realize was there was no “sunset” clause where the proposition would end if the legislature didn’t take action. And now, bridges, highways, schools, and other things used by the populace can’t be improved or repaired.

Just last week, the United Kingdom voted on a referendum on leaving or staying in the European Community, the EU. From the number of Google searches the day after the historic vote, a whole passel of citizens didn’t know what that meant. They searched for all sorts of issues surrounding Brexit, with many saying they didn’t know what leaving would really mean. Really? I’m shocked that people believed the bellicose rhetoric of the leave side. Jon Stewart may have said it best when he turned the vote into a Jane Austen moment. To paraphrase, the Brits voted either for Sense and Sensibility or for Pride and Prejudice. Only time will tell what the unforeseen consequences will be.

In the US, we have elections coming in November. The summer promised to be long and hot, full of accusations, hopes for an indictment before one convention, mud-slinging, outright lies, and declining voter morale. I for one have campaign fatigue. Living in a so-called swing state exposes me and mine to a barrage of commercials, a barrage which doesn’t look like it will ease until after the election. Like the residents of the UK, many US citizens appear to be falling for one set of lies or the other. Too bad they don’t or won’t educate themselves on what is really at stake and vote accordingly.

I rather fancy the Australian way of voting for top leadership. If I remember correctly, all Australians must vote. That’s right, must. Voting becomes an obligation not a privilege. Aussies also have something on the ballot the US and UK don’t: the choice of voting for “none of the above.” Would that we had such a choice this time around.

Okay, political rant subsiding. It’s not over, but it’s back under control. Have a terrific summer. Try not to listen to too many campaign commercials. They are certain to turn your stomachs and ruin your day.

Peace out.

Book Promotion, Brand management, Featured, Marketing, Uncategorized, Writing Life

Bookselling

May 23, 2016

Many readers of this blog are also writers. And like my fellow writers, friends recommend books on how I can be a better writer, how I can write [fill in genre here], how to publish and how to sell books. You can imagine my skepticism when a respected friend recommended How To Sell A Crapload of Books. Yeah, I thought. I know how to sell a crapload of books. Write a book and give it a title of How To Sell A Crapload of Books.

To be polite, I accepted the book. I expected to scan the table of contents, skim a couple of chapters and thank my friend for his thoughtfulness. Instead I found a well-written book that, while not offering many new revelations on book selling/promotion/author branding, made cogent arguments for building an author brand, leveraging connections you didn’t know you had and creating an executable promotional plan.

Vandehey and Aryal use humor to lay down some principles: “the PR you can afford is probably useless.” Rather than name everything a debut writer can’t possibly do, they offer things that worked for other writers whose careers is where ours are. If you write mysteries, consider a book launch that is a scavenger hunt, especially if you can launch your book where the action takes place. Leverage where you live, because more people know you where you live than across the country in huge cities. They advise not getting your heart set about book reviews by the New York Times in favor of concentrating on wooing your local newspapers. The louder the local buzz, the more likely you can extend outward in concentric circles to broaden your audience.

Because so much of life takes place online today, Vandehey and Aryal demand a writer learn how to use social media. That means more than a Facebook page where you do nothing except flog your books. Hint: This doesn’t work and pisses off potential book buyers. Learn what each platform can do for you. Twitter is great for reaching more potential buyers than most other outlets. Facebook is great for building your brand. Know the difference. Don’t waste time on social media networks or social media applications if your readership doesn’t hang out there. I know most of my readers have no clue what Instagram or Snapchat do. I don’t hang out there, but I know I’ll engage in great conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and LinkedIn. Yes, even LinkedIn.

The authors share ten secrets for building an author platform. Rather like a 12-step program. the secrets walk a writer through suggestions they have tested and know work.

Regardless of whether you read this book, or one of the countless other books in print about book selling/promotion/author branding, first decide what your goals for writing and publishing your book really are. If you are a “friends and family” writer (i.e., most of your sales will be to friends and family and not to strangers), set you expectations accordingly. That decision will drive how much effort you want to put into building an author platform. If you want to rise beyond the friends and family level, determine how much time and effort you can devote to building that platform. Once the decision is in the bag, begin executing it. Consistently. Daily. Diligently.

What have your learned about bookselling that you can share with other writers?

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 Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.
Featured, Uncategorized

Close Captioned

April 4, 2016

CCI don’t know about you, but sometimes I need close captioning in my life. Or for my mouth. I try to watch what I say. I really do, but “occasionally” I suffer from blurt mouth. You know the feeling. That moment when what you meant to say gets garbled by what you actually said.

To protect myself, I perfected a series of ways I could go through life “close captioned for the cynically impaired.” In essence, I learned how to fake it.

Take those innocuous words that protect you from stepping all over your tongue or other people’s toes. Words like “really?” (CC: Are you out of your freakin’ mind?) or “Indeed” (CC: I do believe that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard). Lest I overlook our fine Southern friends, a well placed “Bless her heart” speaks volumes.

Back in college, where I spent 13 formative years, I learned how to take notes in lecture halls while sound asleep. I perfected the skills of writing notes, back in the days of cursive, keeping my eyes open and sleeping behind both activities.

This came in handy in the corporate world when we were forced to sit through tedious meetings. Whoever gave upper management the idea that two hours of PowerPoint slides was a great way to excite the workers into doing something was delusional. I usually sat with three or four other female managers, none of whom dared look at each other for fear of falling out of our chairs and rolling on the floor in deranged laughter.

I remember one meeting where the VP droned on so long that I kept nodding off. Revert to previously acquired skills. My colleague was studiously writing down what I thought was everything the bloody idiot was saying. She’d look up, brow slightly creased in concentration, and then write something in her notebook. I glanced over and bit my lip to keep from falling out of my chair and rolling on the floor in deranged laughter. She was listing every Beatles song title she could remember.

We all learn to cope in our own ways. Sometimes it’s listing song titles; sometimes it’s napping with eyes wide open; and sometimes it’s thinking up snarky things to put in whatever work I’m currently writing.

If you hear me utter, “really,” or “indeed” or “bless her heart,” you have an instant translation guide right here.

Do you go through life closed captioned for the cynically impaired?

And why the kitty in the header, you ask? Because more posts get read when they feature a kitty. So there. Bless my heart.

Featured, Uncategorized

When the Going Gets Tough,

March 28, 2016

the tough go shopping. At least that’s the old cliche. Retail therapy doesn’t work. I’m much less of a shopper today than I was ten years ago, so I have to do something else when the going gets tough.

This week, the going got real tough. Bad things happened to a young man I think of as my son.  Bad things also happened to his father as a result of the bad things that happened to his son. I won’t go into details. What happened is personal, but I want to share my reaction to it.

It all began on Wednesday, when I received a brief video of the young man, followed by a call from his father. We talked for a while until his father had a plan. I rang off so they could execute said plan.

I couldn’t function for two days. I tried to work, but I couldn’t concentrate. I meditated in short stints, because I wasn’t able to clear my head enough to find some peace. Finally, after accepting the reality of what was going on in my two friends’ lives, I took the only “next step” available. I cleaned my house.

And I cleaned, and cleaned and cleaned. My husband and I dug into tasks we had been putting off. Small things, really, but each one left behind a positive result. I didn’t fall into a Martha Stewart moment and redecorate my house from top to bottom. I didn’t even take my baskets out to the deck to power-wash them as she would. I washed and scrubbed and dusted and polished until the only scents in the house were Pledge, Mr. Clean and Comet.

My husband took over the bathrooms. His scents were Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles and Windex. And his bathrooms sparkled. No one cleans a bathroom like a veteran. He learned how to scrub toilets in the Air Force. Thank you, U.S.Government.

And now we are done with spring cleaning from 2014!

By the time we were finished, my heart was at ease and I had accepted that the results of my friends’ problems might not end as I wish..

This morning I finished the laundry. More scents: Tide and bleach. Again, I could see positive results from doing the laundry. Empty laundry hamper, fresh sheets and towels, shirts drying on a rack in the laundry room. I only wish the fitted sheet hadn’t attacked me.

What do you do when the going gets tough?

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Serenity

March 21, 2016

Serenity can be so difficult to find in the hustle and bustle world we live in. Everywhere we turn are screens beckoning us to take a look at something. I have too many screens in my house:  three televisions, two cell phones, three computer monitors, one tablet, even digital clocks that remind me every second of the current time.

Sometimes I need to get away. In my previous post I wrote about the 5-minute spring break and how poetry serves me well when I need solitude. I also turn to photos of very peaceful places. Over my desk I have a print of Mabry’s Mill, an old grist mill up on the Blue Ridge parkway. It’s many shades of green foliage, weathered brown building and water spilling over the wheel whisper, “come sit a while, relax and listen to the birds.”

The picture at the top comes to me from a dear friend in India. It’s Buddha with the sun behind the statue. Whether in India, Thailand or Japan, the image of a sitting Buddha brings me such solace, such a sense of peace of mind. This one is particularly poignant because the sun is behind it.

026 (1)Serenity can be as close as my yard. Earlier this year, we had a wonderful rain, which washed the remaining leaves of my dwarf Japanese maple a bright red.

While I love world travel, I find I need to find serenity closer to home.

Where do you find serenity? Do you need to travel to find it, or do you look closer to your feet to find something wondrous?

Featured, Uncategorized, Writing a Series, Writing Inspiration, Writing Life, Writing Style

How I Found Mad Max

March 14, 2016

Perhaps the title should be “How Mad Max Found Me.” I’m often asked by book clubs how I come up with my ideas. That’s both an easy and difficult question, because inspiration can come from a shopping list dropped at Kroger’s or a single child’s clean sock lost in a gutter in Blowing Rock, NC. But Mad Max has a distinct path to her literary birth.

Originally,  Unintended Consequences was about a husband and wife who undergo horrible changes when the wife is hit by a car and suffers an traumatic brain injury. It completely changes her personality. Written from both his and her points of view, I though I was so clever in depicting the wife’s descent into drug addiction and psychosis, and the man’s as he became more and more troubled by his wife’s behavior. Yawn.

I struggled through multiple (try at least 10) revisions, but I was never satisfied with the way the story shaped up. I fought to keep the twin perspectives, even though they weren’t working. And then one morning about 3am, I woke to a voice shouting in my head: “This is MY story, damnit. Tell it my way.” Well, yes ma’am.

Max had a way of grabbing my attention. At the beginning, she was a minor character. As soon as I took her “advice” and began writing from her point of view, the story sprang to life. She gave me latitude to let her be snarky when necessary, soft and tender when necessary, vulnerable at times. No spoiler alert necessary for the next sentence, because it’s revealed on the back cover. When her daughter is murdered, she comes into her own, buries her grief to be a strong grandparent and help solve the crime.

Max took hold of me. By the time I began Uncharted Territory, or as I call it, Max 2, I knew her inside and out. She still hasn’t revealed her complete personality. She reveals only what is necessary for the current narrative.

I live with her every day. Beginning a new Mad Max book is like inviting a good friend in for coffee. She blows my mind by what she is willing to do to protect her family. I wish I were like her, but only a little bit of Betsy is in Mad Max. I think a lot of Mad Max has made her way into me.

Featured, Uncategorized

Searching

March 7, 2016

Humans are always searching for something: the Holy Grail, le mot juste, the perfect piece of chocolate. Some searches are lofty, like knights of the Round Table seeking the Holy Grail. Others are personal, like writers looking for the right word in the right place, le mot juste. With a nod of the head and tip of the hat to Gustave Flaubert, nothing is harder than reducing long rambling ideas to a succinct phrase that perfectly describes what we need to say.

As a writer, I only start writing when I start editing. For me, the first draft is always a pouring forth of everything possible that could go into a book. Time for a confession, I’m trying to go from being an eighteen-draft writer (yes, you read that right) to a ten-draft writer. I work with a couple of terrific critique peeps who never let me get away with sloppy phrasing or the wrong word. I love editing. I really do. I work hard to write prose that flows, create characters that draw the reader in and twist plots to keep the reader off base. I write a series where I have to be sure I don’t change the hair color of a character–except for a teen who changes hair color as often as she changes tee-shirts. I can’t change character names, relationships, ages without explaining the switch in focus. I’m fortunate that I have a strong book-club reading public that catches me on every oops, always after the book is in print.

I have yet to suffer from writer’s block, because I’m always searching for time to capture a new idea. I have a cyber file of fragments, synopses, rejected sections of novels. Those rejected chapters live in a file called “parking lot,” where I park stuff I cut from one story or another. I will most likely use them in short stories I will publish myself.

My other personal search is for the perfect piece of chocolate. Well, not really, but a good piece of chocolate is reward for a hard day at the keyboard where I polish, rage, polish again and pound my head on my desk, until that right word pops up and smacks me on the forehead. Love those times, which used to be rare but are becoming more common. Like once a year.

And now you are wondering what the image at the top of this post means. It’s all about searching. I was driving home one cold, rainy day in late January through a monochrome world. Gray skies, black bare trees, large black birds sitting, watching. I pulled to a stop and watched birds land and take off. They were huge. All black. Bigger than a crow or raven. These were black vultures, carrion feeders, that abound year-round where I live in Southwestern Virginia. I find them beautiful. Many people don’t, probably because they look wicked, evil almost. These are part of nature’s garbage disposals, eating road kill.

I watched for about twenty minutes. I don’t know why. Perhaps the birds and I were searching for something. I’m not sure what it was, but the birds were fascinating and beautiful in their blackness.

What are you searching for today?

 

Uncategorized

California Deamin’

February 29, 2016

Toes in the Sand About this time of the year, I long for sand between my toes.  Winter is winding down, and I need sun and sand. I use time near the seashore to restore my psyche, recharge my batteries and renew my desire to write.

Maybe it’s because I grew up near the beach in Southern California and always had sand in my bathing suit as a child. My mother has pictures of my first Christmas, a picnic at the beach, one of those unseasonably hot days when the Santa Ana winds blew. The best place to chill out was near the ocean. I had a small bucket and spoon. She said I spent two hours putting sand in the bucket and pouring it out. Oh, the simple things that delight a child.

Over the years, I spent much of my misplaced youth in or around the water. Almost always salt water, although occasionally a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, or water skiing (actually, water non-skiing, because I always fell off the skis and ended up drinking too much river water) on the Colorado River out near Needles, CA. Mostly, I gravitated to salt water, because that precise spot where the influence of the land gives way to the pull of the sea is magical. I can’t get that from fresh water.

When the winter days grow longer, I dream of getting in the ocean and swimming. Not surfing like I did when I was young and silly (I still have knobs on my knees from kneeling on the board), but floating around and enjoying the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. Now that I look at the title of this post, I wonder if I’m really California Dreamin’ or am nostalgic for any ocean. At this time of the year, the Pacific is too darned cold. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico are much better.

My friends often ask why I don’t go back to California. It’s an easy answer: the California I loved and remember fondly no longer exists except in my memory. I’ve moved on. I no longer fit out there. I fit when I live, in southwestern Virginia on a huge fresh water lake, which is too cold to swim in now. This summer, yes, but not now.

I do dream of California sometimes, because I miss my friends who still live there. But, my life is in the East. I think I’m kind of grumpy, because we missed our trip to Florida this year. We waited until it was too late to book the bungalow we love. However, the sun came out today. It was warm enough to go for a long walk without heavy jackets or boots. I returned to the house with a flushed face from the sun.

Maybe California Dreamin’ gave way today to Virginia dreaming. Or maybe I returned smiling because I know how to get over a bump in my latest story. Or maybe I returned smiling because my husband and my kitty were waiting for me. Yup, I think those two things, plus sun, are enough to make me smile.

Happy Leap Day. What makes you smile today?

 

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