Sunday, March 25, 2007

Are we really listening?

I am constantly working on balancing my family, writing and job. Last week the job won out over the family and writing, I had a three day conference for work. The conference was about improving leadership skills and based on the principles found in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. We were learning about the obligation to dissent and how to apply listening and coaching skills.

I was surprised that while this was a work conference that I was once again able to apply these skills to my writing and family as well. My work has made a commitment over the last couple of years to guide its leaders on how to be “Great” leaders. Every time I leave one of our conferences I find myself not only being a better leader but an even better mother and writer.

I am thankful that I work at a company that not only encourages us to speak our mind but it is our obligation to do so. It’s about the process of putting the rigor around our solutions so that even if your idea or thoughts don’t change the direction you can understand the why and contribute to making it successful. We even upgraded it that while we may get behind that decision in the beginning; we may waver along the way and have concern and again it is our obligation to speak up and say we need help. Wow, that sounds like a great plot with good conflict. Once again able to apply what I learned to the other love of my life; writing.

What this really boils down to me is, are we being heard and is everyone listening. I don’t know about you but I often find myself reading email while on the phone or watching TV with one eye. I am not really listening to my co-worker, family or friends because I am trying to do too much at one time. How about when you are cooking dinner and the kids want to talk, and the dog is barking are we really listening? Sometimes yes, it is much easier for me to talk and cook on a weekend when it at a more leisure pace and we are doing the cooking together. Monday through Friday is all about getting the food on the table so homework and weekday chores can get done. I also find it hard sometimes to talk and drive, especially in heavy traffic. So I share with my passengers in the kitchen or the car that I need to focus on what I am doing and ask if we can talk later. I am not living in the moment then and maybe I will miss out on their passion around the topic if I delay. It helps with safe driving and not having a burned dinner but could I handle it differently?

So I am taking the skills I learned last week about encouraging that obligation to dissent and speak up with what’s on your mind. We did a session on active listening. What I found to be most important is that listening doesn’t mean solving? How many of you just want to vent about a problem but don’t need someone to solve it. So next time my kids talk I am going to practice these skills. I will recognize the moment is now and maybe I should pull off the road for a few minutes or detour to a restaurant for dinner so they are my focus. I am going to paraphrase or reflect back to them what I heard them say. I am going to ask questions along the way without interrupting or disrupting the flow. Not only to help me understand what they are saying but also to help them probe their feelings more.

I am going to practice this in my writing. The heroine is expressing her feelings early in the relationship to our hero and he paraphrases or reflects back to her and gets it all wrong; or he doesn’t do either and goes straight to solving her problems. Perhaps part of his growth is learning how to listen or perhaps learning to apply his good listening skills he uses in business to his personal life.

So while I had a week that was unbalanced, the things that I learned will help me in the areas that really matter; my family, writing, personal and professional relationships. I will try to live in the moment and really listen to those around me. I know I won’t be perfect and will have to dissent to myself that I could do better and give myself permission to fail. Life is full of second chances and if we don’t take them we will not grow and become better people. So I’m going to try to listen and encourage the voices inside myself and others that need to be freed and heard.

Lyn Emerson, Vice President
March 25, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

You Learn Something New Every Day

As a writer the phrase ‘you learn something new every day’ is a given. As much as we love writing and reading, learning is an important part of this career we’ve chosen. After writing and reading, we love to do research. Okay, part of research is obviously reading to get the info and of course, writing to take notes. But, learning something new is the real draw to research. I love knowing something today I didn’t yesterday, or even this morning.

Most romance writers will be the first to admit their significant other doesn’t “get” what they write. But, with suspense thrillers, action-adventure, and police procedurals added with the romance genre, we have a bigger chance for our husbands or boyfriends to understand where our stories are coming from.

I learned something new today. All fingerprints are different. Okay, most of you are saying, “Of course all fingerprints are different, that is how they catch the bad guys. Duh!” But, all of your fingerprints are different; each of your ten fingers are unique and different from each other. This I did not know.

I would not have thought to ask my policeman husband but I’m working on a romantic suspense manuscript right now and now I have questions he can answer. It was kinda interesting to have a conversation about fingerprints. I love learning new things and learning new things about my husband!

What new thing did you learn today?

Jill James, President

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why YA

Why YA?

I write YA. I never thought I’d go that route, but after my granddaughter asked me to write her story, I sort-of, shall we say fell into it…And fell in love with it, at the same time.

Was I surprised?

You bet your booties I was…I’ve read Harry Potter, and liked the books. Was I the biggest fan? Nope not at all. I found Harry and his buds entertaining, but didn’t get up at midnight to pick up the latest release. It would be there in the morning, and usually it took me several weeks just to get to it. I make a point of finishing the books I read before I start another one, otherwise, I’d have books stacked up all over my house, which I nearly do anyways. So I eventually get to Harry, and I take my grandkids to the movie, but never on the opening weekend. I wait for the hoopla to die down. So I guess you can say my fan base level is about 5 out of 10.

But….I do have a great appreciation for J.K Rowlings imagination, and her talent as a writer, and could only hope to have a tenth of her success, even that would make me a multimillionaire. What I appreciate most about her, she has brought kids back into book stores and opened up and revived Young Adult reading and renewed the genre taking to places it had never been before. Therefore, making it possible for a novice like myself to consider writing a YA. Go into any bookstore and you’ll find there is a whole new section of YA reading, from contemporary to historical…You name it, and they got it.

When I started doing my research into, what is kosher and what’s not in YA, I found it was pretty much a wide open field. Murders take place, there is teenage sex, (Yes I did say that.) More of behind the door stuff. There are warrior maidens, who do kill in battle, and lots of cute guys, and romance of type that could revival Bronte’ sisters. Very tension filled, romantic stuff. Surprising, yes, and no. And these books are very well written…Very well written, and filled with electrifying emotion, that only a teenager could really understand, and baby boomer can remember with a little fondness. (Life has a way of making you very jaded.) So to say they are fun, and an enjoyable read, is an understatement.

This all took me by surprise. So I dove into my new adventure of writing YA, and have loved every moment of writing over the top romantic moments, that only a teen could appreciate, and ole gal like me can reminisce about.

One of the books that has caused a stir and possible brought back the romance of Vampires is Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series, Twightlight and Moonlight. Both I’d highly recommend. For her Vamps, there fan clubs now, especially for Edward, who is your classic turn of the century romantic, because that was when he was born, and a real cutie too. If I was fifteen, I’d fall in love with him. Hey, I’m a fifty something grandma, and I still fell in love with him…Who wouldn’t love to have a Edward in your life at least somewhere, even if it was in the past.

YA's have come a remarkably long way in recent years. And I think it has more to do with the demand of the young readers, and their savviness. (I know that’s not word, but hey, why not.) So it’s a wide open field, the sky’s the limit.

I do have to admit, this is the most fun I’ve had writing a book in years. I’ve written contemporary cop stuff. Straight historical, paranormal historical, and I’ve liked what I did. But it was just okay, and I think it showed in my writing. This, though I’ve loved, and fell in love with my story, its characters, and yes, the genre.

I guess I’m just a kid at heart. I hope that never changes.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Techno babble, and song birds

The Blog has been down for a few weeks due to technical problems. Blogspot switched over to another “Beta” system, which left me completely confused. So I sent it over to Jill, the President of the BD’s, since she is much more savvy at this stuff then I am, and I believed she’d know what to do…And she did, so we’re up and running again. My own blog spot, Writerrants, is down for the same reason, I can’t get into it. So I’ll have to either get a new site, or just let it go. I haven’t decided yet…Which brings me to all this technology I have developed a love-hate relationship with…

Admittedly, I’m not techno savoir-faire at all. Computers not only give me headaches, but can send me into a vertigo episode…So I rely on my kids to fix my problems. What they get out of it is a Sunday dinner to die for, with all the fixins. Then I’m up and running again, happier and hopefully saner as I marvel at the fact my grandkids will live with even more advance technology that will cook the Sunday dinner and serve it up on the table, with a push of a button. I don’t find it appealing at all. It brings up images of the Jetsons.

As much as I don’t like technology, and “like” I use the term loosely, I rely on it. I need it to write, since I can’t spell worth a darn, spell check has saved me some embarrassment. I use it to communicate. I can e-mail my family back east everyday. The web is invaluable when it comes to research. And I’ve even made friends in other parts of the country and world through different writer’s loops. So yes, as much as this computer can frustrate me into a tizzy, where my husband will fight it out of my hands before I chuck it out a window, I need it.

The one thing I don’t do is e-books. Not that I don’t believe there isn’t a place in the world for them, it’s just not for me. I admire authors who got their start there. But for me, I have to break away from the computer, I-pods, and palm pilots and hold something sold in my hands, and smell the scent of the printed page. And as an author that is my goal, to have my story held in someone’s hands, as the print pulls them into another world away from all the techno stuff that has invaded our lives like aliens from outer space.

The smell of words on a page and bookstores filled with paperbacks, hard covers and newspapers was a gift given to me as a small child, when I walked into my great-grandfather’s house. He lived in an old Victorian on 59th street in Duluth Minnesota. Off the entrance hall stood his mysterious den filled with books lining shelves from floor to ceiling. The room’s scent surrounded me, filling me up with furniture polish, leather bound books and newspapers. It was comfort and warmth, mingled with his pipe tobacco. His desk was an old battered antique, covered with all kinds of papers all the time. In the corner he kept a large cage with several Canaries. The birds were males, so they sang. He was a mining captain, and sadly I knew the birds were sacrificial lambs to the iron-ore mines. While he kept them in his home, he adored them, and could coax them to sing constantly.

It was in that den where I fell in love with books every time, (with his permission) I could step over that threshold to stand in awe, especially on a clear sunny day, when the light would pour through a huge bay window onto the wide old hardwood floors, that creaked when stepped on. And if I stood on the window bench, I could see through the trees, Lake Superior like a brilliant blue gem in the distance as the books wrapped around as soft as a worn old afghan, framed with the song of caged birds. Then I’d set down for hours in that window and look at his picture books depicting the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

I’ve tried to bring this wonderful experience alive in my own home for my grandchildren. My husband built me a set of beautiful shelves, I’ve lined with books. Although the pipe tobacco is missing, and I don’t own any birds, the furniture polish and paper covered in print is ever present. On my modern battered desk a computer sets, surrounded by CD’s and the debris of my writing, with a knitting project within reach when I hit a wall in my WIP and need a break to think about what comes next. Busying my hands with yarn helps me to break through the barrier.

I hope my grandchildren will remember my den when I’m gone. And will return there in memory, as I do to my great-grandfather's to find fond reminiscences, lined with comforting warmth, as they turn the pages of a book read to their own children to surround themselves with the familiar scent of print on paper.