Category Archives: Personal Essay

Write is Right by Dellani Oakes

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 I’m the first to admit that I can’t spell. If it weren’t for spell check, the greatest invention in the modern age, I’d never get anything written. Next best, on-line dictionaries, because now I don’t have guess every time I can’t spell a word. If I misspell a word when looking it up, the program will ask me if I mean…. And it gives me suggestions.

I misspell stupid things—anything with IE or EI, will always be reversed. Fortunately, the computer notices and changes it for me. Yay! Necessary. Camouflage. Bureaucrat. These are examples of words I frequently misspell. There are others, but I am most consistently wrong with these. I can usually get through necessary, but I have to spell it to myself as I go. I can’t just type or write it.

When I was a teenager, I had an extensive vocabulary. With a college English professor for a father and an elementary school teacher for a mother, how could I not? Unfortunately, I couldn’t spell the extensive vocabulary and had to rely on much more basic things. When I asked my English teacher about it, he told me to “Look it up.” “But how,” I asked. “Can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” No one ever had a good explanation. It took me years to learn that if it wasn’t under the spelling I thought, that was wrong, I had to try something else. Tedious process. Again, thank god for spell check and on-line dictionaries!

I finally cracked down and put my mind toward spelling better when my English teacher, Mr. Frakes, gave me back a paper that said: “For story and content A. For mechanics F.” Much embarrassed, I decided that perhaps spelling did matter. It was a long process, and it only partially took, but I have finally gotten more conversant with spelling. I had thought of writing this piece, leaving the typos in, but decided that made me look way stupider than I was willing to look and I corrected them. I’m all for window dressing, but that would have been a little much.

I was grateful to Mr. Frakes for teaching me something else with that one message. That was to be as fair to my students as possible. I adopted that method of grading when I became a teacher, because I had some brilliant students who couldn’t spell their way out of a wet paper sack. One even bought a “Bad Speller’s Dictionary” only to find that his misspellings were so messed up, they weren’t in there. My heart went out to him. I felt his pain! More than once, he’d hand in a paper with the same word spelled three or four different ways, all wrong. I asked him about it once.

“I figured if I tried it different ways, one of them would be right.”

Sadly, he was completely wrong in that assumption. Somehow, he defied the laws of averages and statistics, defied the gods of grammar and still managed to mess it up completely. I lost track of him once he graduated. I hope he, like I, learned to spell and that he can find compassion in his heart for others the way I had compassion for him.

 

In addition to writing, Dellani Oakes is a prominent host on Blog Talk Radio.

Science Fiction Writers as Agents of Change

“To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within.” 

― C.S. LewisOut of the Silent Planet
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When I first met these creatures—hrossa, seroni, and pfifitriggi–I became (relatively) convinced of life on other planets. I loved the creativity but that wasn’t all that ignited my sense of wonder. What fascinated me most and led to a lifelong love of science fiction, was C.S. Lewis’ explanation of how each of these species offers their uniqueness, especially in abilities and levels of intelligence, to make their environment extraordinary for all inhabitants.  The narrator in Out of the Silent Planet even compares the conditions on Malacandra (Mars) to our own planet where intelligent beings seem more inclined to share the worst of what we’re capable.

I love to read anything that makes me think that so much more is possible, whether it relates to problem solving or to our potential to invent technological devises…or worlds. Science fiction is the genre I choose most often.

Science fiction writers such as C.S. Lewis immerse us in adventures, but the really good ones also force us to consider the consequences of actions or technologies. They demonstrate through stories how the impossible has only been implausible. Consider these:

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Jules Verne anticipated submarine warfare in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells suggested that time travel might be possible using scientific and technological methods.  Isaac Asimov invented the word “robotics.” And Arthur C. Clark showed how a space elevator might work using a carbon-based filament for the elevator cable. Twenty years later, carbon nanotubes were at the heart of NASA’s first serious study on space elevators. [View Space Elevator Concept (NASA animation) at https://youtu.be/MkPDKVkVaj0]

Now, fifteen years after NASA’s serious study, I am writing a novel—science fiction, of course–that focuses on the use of space elevators to store essential foods in outer space. The setting of The Battle Jericho is 2035. An international banking coalition can control the world’s population by dominating the availability of food supplies.  By maintaining the fragile balance of plant growth, harvesting, processing and storage, the coalition strives to keep costs up and other producers out. They move large quantities of basic grains in elevator cars to a site 62,000 miles up. But what if the space elevator malfunctions leaving the food virtually unobtainable? Millions might starve.

My goal is to write stories that explore far-fetched ideas, conjuring up their incredible value but also their potential for massive exploitation. I fantasize being numbered with authors time proves to be “agents of change.”

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Author bio: Joyce’s love of science fiction resulted from a college class on the Writings of C.S. Lewis. After reading his Space Trilogy, she was hooked. A more detailed profile can be found at Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink

When in Doubt, Make a Fool of Yourself By Joyce Elferdink

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“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
– Cynthia Heimel, writer and columnist

I have struggled in all my careers to follow others’ rules. To envision ways of doing things or solving problems that deviate from the norm is risky, but for some of us it must be tried. For example, during the time I was an economic director in Indiana, one of my board members had ideas for improving the local K-12 school system. His suggestions were a direct response to the issues of the time. Surveying parents and community leaders assured him of the feasibility of implementing these changes. But another board member answered to the school’s superintendent. As with so many in positions of power in our larger institutions, the superintendent would not consider ideas he had not initiated, ideas that could have transformed that school system from mediocre to extraordinary. But the changes did not come with a money-back guarantee and the superintendent preferred the ways he knew and believed he could control.

I supported the board member who wanted a better learning environment for the students. That “leap” across the thin line between creativity and idiocy, between supporting inventive methods instead of the broken status quo, cost me my job. Did I make a fool of myself? There are those who would say yes, but others believe with me that complacency in the midst of turmoil is the true foolishness.

Our world is desperate for visionaries who will show us how to bridge the chasms between people and between our dreams and experiences. Are you willing to make a fool of yourself by stepping into the unfamiliar and enduring–though opposed–or will you be lost in the crowds who dismiss or oppose everything they can’t rationally prove?

Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling,
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Stevens, Wallace. “Six Significant Landscapes.” (1969, p. 183)

 

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for self, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful, creative work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

The Rule of Five By Nancy Cole Silverman

 

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Someone once told me we couldn’t be friends because they already had their five.  I looked at them curiously.  I had no idea there was a limit to the number of friends one could have, but indeed with some people – particularly those living here in Los Angeles – there is.  Five appears to be a magic number for which people feel they are comfortable.

It got me thinking.  Could the same be true for my readers?  Was there such a thing as an ideal number of principal characters?

Writers know too many names on a page or in a scene can confuse the reader.  While there is no rule-of-thumb for the number of characters an author may use in a work, there is a limit to the number the reader is comfortable with before they begin to feel overwhelmed. Please note, I’m not talking about the over-all number of minor and reappearing characters in a book, but those that actually interact with the protagonist for the purpose of moving the story forward.

Hence my rule of five.

  1. Limit the number of primary characters to a handful. This frequently allows the author to add color and depth to their personalities.  Alice becomes not just the girl with blue eyes, but my former college roommate, the girl who got all the guys, etc.
  2. Consider combining the roles of principal characters. Do you really need five investigators?  Would two, maybe three be better, allowing you to show the conflict between them?
  3. Make certain your characters names are not too similar to each other. I’m good friends with Maryann, Marilyn and Madeline, but I’d never write a novel with the three of them in the same room. It’s too easy with today’s speed reader to slip by the names and mix them.
  4. Ancillary characters don’t always need to be named. Consider referring to them by their job description. For instance, the intern, the receptionist, or perhaps by a physical description; the pharmacist with the bulbous nose.
  5. First and last names are wonderful and frequently used alternatively, as well as a nickname. But make certain it’s used frequently enough that the reader will remember that Worm when used on page 192, was Marty’s nickname from high school that you introduced in chapter one.

Of course rules are made to be broken. Tolstoy was famous for the number of characters in his novels and their pseudonyms. I remember having to make a chart to follow all the characters in his books. But most readers today all multi-taskers, they may be watching TV, surfing the internet or perhaps even texting while reading your novel.  Keeping it simple may guarantee your reader will remember your book and even pick up the next.

Oh, and by the way, I ran into my I-already-have-my-five-friends the other day.  She wanted to get together.  It seems her BFF had moved away and she suddenly found herself with time on her hands.  She wondered if we might hang out.

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Nancy Cole Silverman says she has to credit her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001 Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction fulltime. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. The first of the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014 and the second, Beyond a Doubt, debuted July 2015. Coming soon, in 2016, is the third in the series, Without A Doubt. For more information visit www.nancycolesilverman.com

 

 

 

 

THE HARDEST WORD —  By Bryan Murphy

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To write science fiction, even the dystopian kind, is to express optimism, for inherent in all science fiction is the claim that there will actually be a future.

The future in whose existence we can have most confidence is of course the near future, which has been shaped mostly by us old-timers. Because it is likely in many ways to be a dark future, today’s young people deserve an apology from us. So here comes one: “Sorry!” On behalf of my whole generation.

From my generation of Brits, it has to be even more heartfelt, because we had things so much easier than most people elsewhere, and therefore have more to answer for. We were born after the Second World War had ended; we had the National Health Service but no National Service; our politicians declined to send us to kill and die in Vietnam; we were nurtured on free school milk, given grants to study and found jobs if we wanted them. Naturally, we wanted more, though for everyone, not just ourselves. Indeed, we got more, but mostly for ourselves.

The end of those days of plenty was foreshadowed when a Minister of Education stopped milk being offered to the nation’s children and thereby earned herself the nickname “The Milk Snatcher” to rhyme with her surname: Thatcher, a word no longer connected with roofing so much as with a longing to return to feudal levels of inequality, a phenomenon that tends to favor the older generation, at least while pensions still exist.

To my eyes, today’s young people are showing amazing creativity, coupled with a superior resistance to bullshit, so maybe we can claim their education as our one success. Will that creativity and perspicacity be enough to guarantee them a future? Frankly, I doubt it. Our problem as a species, in my view, is that our technological evolution has far outpaced our social evolution. Nihilists who see the continued existence of human life as an optional irrelevance, from the left-behind “Neo-Cons” of yesterday to today’s “Islamic State”, are more than happy to use the former to forestall the latter, and their successors will have an even better chance of finishing the job.

So, probably, no future for anyone. That means that today’s science fiction is sheer fantasy. Dammit, I never set out to write Fantasy. To paraphrase Oliver Hardy: “This is a fine mess we’ve got you into”. Joking apart, to the youngsters, once again, sorry.

 

You can find ancient British author Bryan Murphy’s dark futures and other writings here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other major booksellers.

SOME STORIES HAVE NO ENDINGS by Bonnie Hearn Hill

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Winter had settled in, and Central California carried a sharp, stringing cold that made me appreciate the warmth of the classroom as I entered it that night. With a year of teaching writing behind me, and several students who were now published, I had gained confidence in my ability to help other writers reach their goals.

That night just after class began, an attractive, dark-haired woman dressed in white entered the room, walked to the back, and slid into a seat next to Raquel Aleman, one of my regulars.

With shaking hands, Raquel read an essay that night. Unlike her bilingual children’s stories, “I Fought Back” described Raquel’s abusive marriage and her struggle to overcome her fear when her husband shoved her into the bedroom closet as he frequently did when he brought women to their home. This time, she burst out and confronted both the shaken husband and his woman.

When Raquel finished reading, everyone applauded, the first time that had happened in my class.

As students praised Raquel, the woman in white looked straight ahead, as if she didn’t hear.

“I’ve never told this to anyone,” Raquel said to the class. “I can’t begin to explain how free I feel, and how scared.”

We talked then about how the only things that own us are those of which we cannot speak. We talked about possible markets for her essay. Although we critiqued numerous manuscripts that night, Raquel’s was the one everyone praised as they left the room.

Usually quiet, she was animated as she paused at the door. “See you at the Robin,” she told me.

After class each week, many of us met at Red Robin, and some of our best ideas happened there. This was the first night Raquel would join us.

Students continued to file out until only the woman in white and I remained. Her black hair was pulled back from her face, her lips a deep red. Those are the only details I recall, and even they are suspect. When I think about her now, I’m sure she wore a white suit. In other attempts to recall her, I’ve told myself it was a white dress similar to one I used to own.

We stepped outside, and I started toward my car. “Which way are you heading?” I asked.

“The same way you are, I think.” Her voice was low and controlled.

Panic attacks hid out in the parking lot. Lights could play in weird ways, and even when I thought I was balanced and happy, a crippling wave waited behind every corner. I was grateful to have this stranger with me, grateful and curious. Side by side, we headed through the cold night air toward the parking lot, and I wondered if I should invite her to meet us at Red Robin.

“I liked your class,” she said. “I’m sorry I joined late. I just saw it in the school catalog yesterday.”

“I’m glad you came,” I told her. “Have you written before?”

“Only journals, but I can never get it down. I thought maybe this would help.”

We reached my car, and I leaned against the back passenger door. Something was making me anxious. If I didn’t have the solid surface against my back, I wouldn’t have been able to stand there.

“Maybe it’s time,” I said. “I’ve heard that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

“I hope so.” She spoke in a clear tone devoid of emotion. “Several years ago, my daughter was killed by a drunk driver.”

I hadn’t expected that, and certainly not in such a calm, practiced tone. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to get too personal.”

“Don’t apologize. I wanted to tell you. It destroyed my life.” Again, she spoke in a matter-of-fact way, as if she had rehearsed this speech for me. “Almost a year after that, my son died of a drug overdose.”

“That’s terrible. What did you do?” I didn’t know how else to respond.

“Part of me was furious with him for doing that, especially since he knew that my daughter’s death had nearly destroyed me. I was so devastated, so…” She stopped and stepped back as if she had second thoughts. “I know you want to go meet the others. Is it okay for me to tell you this?”

“It’s okay.” I felt glued to the ground. For whatever reason, I needed to listen to her.

She sighed, as if attempting to collect her thoughts. “I went to work for the IRS. It was easy because no one cared, and everything was rigid. I had to be on time. I couldn’t talk to anyone. Do you understand?”

“In a way I do,” I said. “You didn’t want to feel.”

“Do you think writing will help?” she asked.

“All I can tell you is it’s a great healer.”

“I believe that.” She glanced around the dim parking lot at the other students who were laughing and talking just a few feet from us. “I can’t share this with anyone at work. I set it up that way, of course. My marriage is over. Both of my children are dead. I’m not just grieving. I’m angry.”

“You’ll be safe here.” I believed that, and I felt connected to her and to the honesty of her words. “If you don’t want to read in class, you don’t have to. Just try to start writing what you feel. Don’t edit yourself or worry about what anyone will think. No one will see it unless you want them to, I promise.”

“That’s what I need.” For the first time, she smiled. “When I heard Raquel read tonight, I wondered how it would feel to be that open.”

“Raquel didn’t get there overnight,” I said. She got there by doing the work.”

The last car left the lot, and I realized my hands were numb from the cold.

The woman glanced at me and then at her watch, although I doubt that she could have seen it in the darkness. “I’m so sorry I took your time. I have never told anyone what I shared with you just now.”

“It’s all right,” I told her. “Remember what I said about healing. I know writing can do that for you. It has for me.”

We talked longer, close to thirty minutes.

Then I watched her walk to her car and realized that I had somehow slipped into panic mode. I, who had been leaning against the passenger door, was so weak that I had to feel my way to get into the driver’s seat. Inside, I took deep breaths and tried to calm the crazed flutter of my heart. It was as if I were expressing the anxiety the woman in white could not.

She never returned.

At first, I made excuses. Perhaps she had to work late. Maybe something else had come up. But the moment I walked into my classroom the next week and saw the empty seat next to Raquel, I knew.

“It’s because she confessed to you,” a friend told me later. “Every time she looked at you, she would have to remember.”

I wonder.

What happened to the woman in white? Why didn’t she return? Did she ever write? Could I have said or done something to encourage her?

At first, I thought I had failed her. Then I had to remind myself that our encounter that night was about her, not about me. I may have been only one person on her path to share that story, only one of many strangers who would bring her closer to coming to grips with it.

Raquel sold her personal essay that year and much later, her memoir. In the twenty years I taught that class, we celebrated many successes, including my book deal with a major publisher for my first six suspense novels.

For a long time, I tried to remember the name of the woman in white, as if that detail would anchor other memories and maybe an explanation. I can’t believe that I would let a student float in and out of my classroom without asking her name.

Some stories have no endings, no structure to contain them, no red bows on top. When I share with others what I recall of this one, I always hear the same question. “Could you have imagined her?”

I’ve asked myself that as well. No one else with whom I’ve discussed it, including Raquel, remembers seeing her that evening.

Was the woman in white some part of me, a metaphor for that quality in all of us who dare to confront our pain and try to put our voices on paper? Was she part of my own healing?

No. The woman in my classroom and that parking lot was a real as I am. One night many years ago, she stepped into my life and allowed me a glimpse into hers. Even now, I’m not sure what I saw, or why.

 

 

Bonnie Hearn Hill’s many mysteries can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Hearn-Hill/e/B001HMUYPQ

ACE THE COURSE OF LIFE by Sal Buttaci

ZZK.Menu of Life

I know what you’re thinking. Since when did Sal Buttaci become an authority on life? How presumptuous! He is neither a guru, a licensed counselor, nor an aging whiz kid privy to all life’s answers. So let me suggest you return the arrows of criticism to your quiver. Let me state from the start: this is merely an article in which I express my opinions about how to make the best of the life we are given.

(1) Face life.

Keep fear at bay. Too many of us hesitate with every step because we are afraid of the outcome. If we choose this and reject that, what will happen to us? Given a particular opportunity, we sometimes show our cynical side by distrusting the offer, suspecting the opportunity to be a masqueraded danger to avoid at all cost. It is certainly acceptable if we cannot move our feet in the clutch of nightmare, but we should not regard life as  a frightening experience. We must never allow fear to become irrational. Never permit it to stop us from living as fully and as honestly as we can.

(2)  Embrace life.

See the good out there. Realize you are the beneficiary of all those wondrous things for which too many take for granted. Simple things. A sunny day. A snowfall on the doorstep of holidays. Rain teeming down on a windy autumn day. Wisdom out of the mouths of children. The ring of laughter. Do you see what I mean? Life is replete with goodness that increases its value with our appreciation. Look around you. Beauty is everywhere

(3)  Chase life.

Don’t wait for joy. Seek it out. Avoid false joys that come when we negatively indulge ourselves in drugs and liquor and whatever other bad habits deplete us. Never chase the dream you know can never be caught. Seek instead the attainable and when you find it build upon it. Avoid deluding yourselves that material gain heads the list of what makes life worthy of an A. It isn’t. Ask those who acquired millions and lost it all in downward spirals of economic distress. Instead, be compassionate towards the poor and needy. Give what you can in dollars and time. Be loving to your children by spending quality time with them. Toys and gifts temporarily please them but the heartache of lost love endures. Those working hours spent earning more money for material gifts cannot be recalled. From our childhood, what we remember most vividly is the love we received or the love we were denied.

(4)  Pace life.

Rome was not built in a day, nor should our lives be lived like a race to the finish line. Pace yourself. As parents, allow your children to enjoy their young days. Let them be children, keeping in mind how few those years compared to adulthood marked by the daily responsibilities of life.

I remember one day at about ten years old I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror drawing a black mustache under my nose when my father walked in and stood behind me.

“Going to a Halloween party?” he asked, which I knew was silly. It was summertime. “No, Pa. Just wanted to see how I look in a mustache.” He smiled, then made a life prediction: “Someday you won’t need a crayon. The hair will grow on its own and you’ll wish it didn’t.” I looked at him with knitted brows. “Shaving’s no fun. You’ll see.”

Don’t be in a hurry to grow old. And when you are old, don’t think for a second you must at all times act your age. Find things to laugh about. Sing a song now and then. Don’t let love rust away. Wear your many years like a badge. Be happy you’ve done the best you could with your life.

 

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Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

 

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.
www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? by John B. Rosenman

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Okay, folks, here is a test. Leave a comment after you’ve read this post and tell me which of these five jokes are funny and humorous, and which are not. If you want to keep it simple, just write the number of the joke and Yes or No. If you want, you can explain your answer. Hey, here we go.

1. What has four legs and an arm? Answer: A happy pit bull.

2. A family of mice were surprised by a big cat. Father Mouse jumped and said, Bow-wow!” The cat ran away. “What was that, Father?” asked Baby Mouse. “Well, son, that’s why it’s important to learn a second language.” Submitted by BH LEE

3. Want to get people excited? Just put Alka-Seltzer in your mouth and pretend you’re  possessed by the devil.

4. Whoever invented “Knock-Knock” jokes should get a no-bell prize.

5. A man walks into a bar with a small dog under his arm and sits down at the counter, placing the dog on the stool next to him. The bartender says, “Sorry, pal. No dogs allowed.” The man says, “But this is a special dog – he talks!” “Yeah, right,” says the bartender. “Now get out of here before I throw you out.” “No, wait,” says the man. “I’ll prove it.” He turns to the dog and asks, “What do you normally find on top of a house?” “Roof!” says the dog, wagging his tail. “Listen, pal…” says the bartender.” Wait,” says the man, “I’ll ask another question.” He turns to the dog again and asks, “What’s the opposite of soft?” “Ruff!” exclaims the dog. “Quit wasting my time and get out of here,” says the bartender. “One more chance,” pleads the man. Turning to the dog again, he asks, “Who was the greatest baseball player that ever lived?” “Ruth!” barks the dog. “Okay, that’s it!” says the bartender, and physically throws both man and dog out the door and onto the street. Turning to the man, the dogs shrugs and says, “Maybe I should have said Dimaggio?”

What are the correct answers? The point of course is that it’s hard to say because humor is often subjective, and we don’t agree on what’s funny. What’s a knee-snapper to one person is stupid, offensive, or simply pointless to another. What doubles up your Aunt Matilda in helpless mirth leaves your Uncle Walt unfazed. Whatever you do, though, be careful joking about politics or religion. I once pissed off a friend by telling a brief Mitt Romney joke.

What about dirty jokes—do you like them? Say, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman and the one-eyed whore? She… Naw, I better not tell it. Okay, do you know how to tell who’s a virgin in Virginia? (or supply your own state name). The answer: By her out-of-state license plate.

You don’t think the last joke is funny? In addition to it being flat, dumb, and in bad taste, it’s sexist, discriminatory against women. Perhaps you believe that jokes which offend people shouldn’t be published.

Well, I think people should be offended sometimes. Their feathers should be ruffled and even plucked clean off on occasion. I for one love some dirty jokes and those which are often politically incorrect. I love Aristophanes’ classic sexual comedy Lysistrata in which Grecian women go on a sex strike to stop the Peloponnesian War. However, there is a limit. For example, I just checked some jokes online about Jews, Blacks, and Catholics, and they are REALLY offensive, so you won’t see them here.

You see, I do have some taste.
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What about your writing? Your short stories and your novels, your biographies, essays, and poems? How far are you willing to go in using humor? What chances are you willing to take? Do all your jokes have to be “clean”? Perhaps if you write a book which doesn’t offend anyone, which only supports what is safe and acceptable, your book wasn’t worth writing in the first place.

Do you like jokes at your own expense? I do, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited and go too far. I like to poke fun at my unique dancing style, which causes my partners to duck and run for cover. We know that comedians sometimes deride themselves and find humor in their personal and painful experiences. If they came up the hard way in poverty, they may work it into their routines. As a comedian, Jack Benny depended largely on three self-deprecatory jokes: (1), he was always thirty-nine years old, (2) he was a notorious tightwad, and (3) he was a terrible violin player. I believe the last two are false.

We often use humor in satirical works to ridicule and correct human vices and follies. Vices are much worse than follies. They include such sins as greed, hypocrisy, and cruelty. Plus corrupt political and social systems. Think of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Orwell’s Animal Farm. The humor is sometimes biting and laser-sharp, as well as deliciously delicate, capable of eviscerating its targets without mussing their hair. In a presidential debate, Ronald Reagan once used a critical question concerning his advanced age to demolish his opponent. He said, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” When Megyn Kelly recently said Donald Trump called women derogatory names like “fat pig” and “dog,” did he go too far when he said, “Only Rosie O’Donnell”? Bad taste or not, his interruption received the biggest laugh of the first Republican debate.

Have you ever watched the skits on Saturday Night Live which lampoon political and entertainment leaders? C’mon, you know you’ve howled at some of them, ignoring your better (and less interesting) nature. A guilty pleasure is still a pleasure, right?

Many jokes and cracks will offend somebody. Hell, they are meant to. As for you, Dear Reader, use your own judgment but be willing to take chances now and then. And if you are personally offended or attacked, try to live and let live. Above all, remember what Geoffrey Chaucer wrote concerning the brilliant but outrageous Miller’s narrative in The Canterbury Tales. Whatever you do, do not “maken earnest out of game.”

End

 

John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

Remembering Mom by Dellani Oakes

Mom and me September 14 2014

My mother was a woman’s libber before the term became popular. She was independent, self-assured and the most fearless person I know. She turned 96 on Monday. Her vision has faded, her hearing lessened, her mind is going. She’s been in a wheelchair for the last four years, due to a re-break of her hip that didn’t heal properly. To see her now, you’d never know that she used to drive around the country doing speeches about a small Appalachian settlement school in Kentucky. Back in the 40s, there were no interstate highways, no cellphones and no GPS. She was on her own, with only her map and her fantastic sense of direction to guide her.

Mom married very late in life. By society’s standards, she was an old maid—36 when she wed, 38 when she had my sister, 40 when she had me. She gave us a childhood that was full of exciting experiences, chock full of great books, educational trips and just plain fun.

By the time I was 9, we had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas and Nebraska. Everywhere we lived, we visited spots of historical significance. When in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we visited The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, Longfellow House…. We drove up to the bridge at Lexington and Concord and saw the Cannonball House and the Minuteman statue. We made a trip up to Bar Harbor and rode a ferry across. We had our pictures drawn by a lady on the ferryboat. I look like I’m about to be shot. My sister’s is much better.

Every summer, we made a drive from our home in Nebraska, back to visit our cousins and grandmothers. Mom’s family lived in Ohio, my dad’s in Tennessee. Along the way, we visited friends or, once in awhile, spent the night in motels. Sometimes, we stopped in spots we’d read about in books: Hannibal, Missouri where we visited Mark Twain’s house. Also, one of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s homes there.

I’ve gone on a lot about our trips, mainly because it shows a lot about how my mother thought and planned. She would study maps until she had them memorized—or so it seemed to me. She remained unflappable when we had the occasional flat tire or radiator overheated. It seemed we always had our car trouble in the best spots, where help arrived in the best possible way. When I traveled with my mother, I was never afraid. She always was so confident, so sure she would never get lost. Oh, we got turned around from time to time, but she would say, “I may not know where I am, but I know where I’m not.”

Looking back, that probably shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was. It’s hard to see my mother so diminished. The spark is still there, but with the dementia and the mini-strokes, it’s hard to find her. I was happy to see that she recognized me, after not seeing me for a year. She lives in Kansas, I live in Florida. I surprised her, arriving without any warning. I did tell her who I was, and she remembered me and my children, even had a spark when I mentioned my granddaughter.

Mom playing dress up with Audrey December 2012

My daughter laments she can’t see her grandmother and bring her daughter to visit, but I suggested that she not. Let the six year old have memories of her GiGi as she was the last time she saw her, not as the woman who might not remember her name. I also want my daughter and sons to remember her: my mother a vital, energetic, brilliant, fearless woman.

With such a strong mother, it is no wonder that Dellani Oakes is such a creative writer. You can find her work at http://www.amazon.com/Dellani-Oakes/e/B007ZQCW3A

The Fundamentals of Marketing

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The Write Room Blog is a group of 30 disparate authors who write about a vast range of topics. I will also assume that a significant portion of our million plus visitors are also writers. This marketing blog post is for all of you.

Why writers? Because the majority of  writers I’ve met over the last 23 years (that’s how long I’ve been writing for  profit) have difficulty taking the concept of marketing and applying it to their book selling business. Consider the following, if you will (and, yes, the examples place me firmly in the cohort known as Baby Boomers)  …

Where does one go for overnight delivery in the U.S.? FedEx. What’s the real thing? Coke. Why is it a small world? IBM. Who comes to mind when I mention mufflers? Midas. And do you remember when jeans were called Levi’s?

You were able to answer the preceding questions because the companies mentioned knew how to do something many businesspeople never learn. They knew how to position themselves in your mind, to establish ownership of specific words or phrases, to be the first companies you thought of when you needed a product or service they provided.

Am I really talking about marketing here? Yes, but not in the way you might expect. You see, the common assumption is that marketing is the process of offering your products and ideas for trade. It’s not. Marketing is actually about the manipulation of perception. Specifically, it’s about manipulating the perception of your prospective customers, doing everything you can to capture and maintain a position in their minds that’s valuable or useful to you.The fundamental purpose of marketing is to get into the mind of the customer and stay there.

Marketing ensures that the answer to the question “Who you gonna call?” isn’t “Ghostbusters” but is, in fact, your company. Don’t misunderstand me: good products are important. You won’t maintain the position you want without them. But they aren’t the focus of marketing.

A case in point … When you want fast food, great value and fun for the kids, what restaurant invariably pops into your mind? McDonald’s, right? The company has bought that position in your mind with a constant barrage of advertising. They started out owning the word fast, then they went after the word value and the phrase fun for the kids. More recently, they ran ads which reminded people that McDonald’s is also fun for adults, purposely going after the words or phrases or positions in your mind which relate most closely to what McDonald’s does well. Why? These are the things they want you to call them for. Food isn’t the focus. McDonald’s doesn’t sell food that tastes like you’ve spent all afternoon labouring over it, so they invest huge amounts of money to program you to think about them only when you want a fast, inexpensive meal you and the kids will enjoy. Again, it’s the process called positioning.

When I needed most home repairs, I used to go to a store called McDiarmid’s. Why? I had more success getting the things I wanted at the price I wanted at McDiarmid’s than I did anywhere else. They owned the home repair spot in my mind. Well, McDiarmid’s is gone now, replaced by a new franchise. A franchise that figured people like myself would keep coming there out of habit. But that didn’t work for me. McDiarmid’s still owned the spot they were after. Who got my business? The company I go to when I need deck maintenance supplies: Home Hardware. They’ve successfully captured that position in my mind. It was enough to draw me in when McDiarmid’s sold their business. And the people who were here before any of the preceding companies: Fife’s Hardware? I miss them. The owners retired a few years ago, and the store closed. Everyone in Kenora (where I live) knew that when no one else had what you needed, Fife’s did. You’d pay a little more, but they’d have it.

Got the idea? Marketing is concerned with two related things: Getting into your mind and staying there. This post is designed to give you an introductory look at how this is done.

 

Be first in the mind of your customer.

There were cars offered in the marketplace which were better than those built by Henry Ford. He didn’t even build the first car. Ford was, however, the first to build automobiles on the assembly line and, as a direct result, was also the first to offer an affordable car to the public. For the rest of Henry Ford’s life everyone else had to chase him.

Understand the lesson provided by Ford’s example. I believe it’s the key to a successful marketing campaign. If you can’t be first, set up a new category you can be first in.

Rolls-Royce did this admirably. Henry Royce provided detailed engineering and unsurpassed quality, while Charles Rolls saw to it that the cars they made were big, fast and stylish. Their 1907 Silver Ghost was the culmination. It was a car so unlike any ever built—having such power, comfort and quality of manufacturing—that it firmly captured a spot in the minds of the public. Result? Not only did Rolls-Royce create a new category of car, they quickly became the standard for excellence in automobile manufacturing.

Interestingly enough, Rolls was never first in the overall marketplace. But, remember, marketing isn’t about being first in the marketplace (having the best sales or the biggest share). This goal may be part of your overall strategy, but it isn’t the primary function of marketing. Marketing is about being first in the mind of your customer. Rolls did that.

When I was growing up, people wanting to make a firm and decisive statement about their wealth and status bought a certain kind of car. They didn’t buy a Jaguar or a Lambourghini or a Porsche. Nor did they buy the most popular car from the most successful manufacturer in the marketplace. They bought a Rolls. Why? Because Rolls-Royce was the best that money could buy. In my mind it still is.

 

Do whatever it takes to maintain your captured position.

Which tastes better, Coke or Pepsi? More to the point: who cares? The colossal media wars that have occurred between Pepsi and Coke have had nothing at all to do with which product tasted better, or was better. Their many battles have simply been for a position in your mind. Pepsi wants to be first; Coke is.

I believe that if you comprehend this last point, then you understand marketing. Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.

 

Own a word in the prospect’s mind.

So, how do the big guys and gals do it? How do they capture a position in your mind and then maintain it? One way, perhaps the most powerful of all marketing approaches, is to own a specific word in the prospect’s mind. Gillette owned the word razor. Pillsbury was dough. Betty Crocker was cakes. These companies were the brand names the people of my generation (baby boomers) grew up with, and it didn’t happen by accident.

The whole concept of brand names stems from what marketing is about. It’s about making certain that the customer thinks of you when they need the products or services you provide. Marketing is about positioning.

As I’ve illustrated, positioning is a powerful concept. But let’s delve a little deeper. Let’s take a look at the rise and fall of Bayer. I think it’s a fascinating example of just how powerful the concept of positioning is.

Bayer bottled acetylsalicylic acid (A.S.A) under the brand name of Aspirin. And because they were first in our minds with such a powerful and useful drug, they were wildly successful. In fact, they were so successful in their positioning efforts that Aspirin actually replaced the phrase acetylsalicylic acid and the abbreviation A.S.A. in our culture. Their company also created a phrase based on the bottle design, “The Bayer Cross.”

Ownership of the word Aspirin gave Bayer such domination in the market that no company was able to compete with them until the problem of Reyes Syndrome was discovered. What happened then illustrates the power of positioning even more clearly than Bayer’s incredible marketing success. The very thing that made Bayer successful—ownership of the word Aspirin in our minds—also led to their demise, in terms of market share. You see, at the same time people were linking the name Aspirin to the wonder drug, acetylsalicylic acid, they were also linking The Bayer Cross to the word Aspirin. Do you remember what happened? When Aspirin fell out of favour, so did Bayer.

An interesting follow-up note to all of this is that other drug companies seem to have learned from Bayer’s mistake. For example, we all know that Tylenol rose up to replace Aspirin in the marketplace. But do we know who makes Tylenol? No, we don’t! In fact, I actually had to go look on the label of my own bottle of the stuff to find out that Tylenol is bottled by McNeil.

I want to make sure you understand what I’ve been saying. The company who successfully imbedded the word Tylenol in our minds, thereby making sure that when we wanted acetaminophen we thought of Tylenol, also made equally sure that when we wanted Tylenol we didn’t think of their company.

I believe this marketing strategy was probably a wise choice. Do you remember the Tylenol poisonings? The brand isn’t quite as popular as it used to be, is it? But the problem didn’t directly affect the maker itself.

 

There can only be one.

Las Vegas is gambling. It owns that word. Want proof? How many of you think about going to Reno when you think about gambling?

Ask someone in their 50’s or 60’s to tell you who The King was. They won’t tell you it was Edward. The King was, and always will be, Elvis.

Who owns the word Camelot? As popular as the Kennedy administration was, I’d wager King Arthur still owns the deed to that particular plot of land.

Who’s The Duke? John Wayne. There’ll never be another.

Who owns the word Communism? It’s Russia, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that communism has failed there: Russia still owns the word.

There can only be one company or product in first place in any particular market.

 

Your largest competitor will determine your strategy.

There are many reasons to believe that two companies (or people) can’t own the same word in your mind. Think about the implications of this!

Pepsi’s marketing strategy is determined by Coke. Burger King’s strategy is determined by McDonald’s. It’s a fact of business. Even smaller outfits like Pic-A-Pop or Wendy’s are bound by the fact that there can only be one company at the top. Why? A simple reason is that it’s difficult, and often financially impossible, to go head-to-head with whoever is before you in your particular market. The leverage just isn’t there. Instead, the underdog needs to go for an entirely different position in our minds. To do otherwise is a risky proposition. Watch the ads and the business stats. I think you’ll find this holds true.

Consider the implication this way: People don’t carry many options around in their minds. We’re programmed to make constant choices between two things: We move away from or toward; we do this or that; we choose right or wrong. None of us want to settle for second best. We’ll take our first choice whenever we can. So, in the long run, marketing tends to come down to what I’ve mentioned: finding a way to be first in the mind of your customer, then doing everything in your power to stay there.

 

Find a way to be first.

Let’s go back to the Coke-Pepsi example. Coke was invented only a few years before Pepsi, but customers have the perception that Coke is the old-timer, the big boy on the block. Coke also did a terrific job portraying the drinking of its product as an American pastime. Did Pepsi let this fact hamper their ambitions? No way. Pepsi eventually turned Coke’s apparent strength (it’s lifelong appeal to the older generation) into a weakness and became the choice of a new generation. It created The Pepsi Generation.

I’ll repeat that. Pepsi set itself up as an alternative to Coke by turning Coke’s major strength into a major weakness. In other words, they chose a marketing approach that exactly opposed Coke’s position in our minds, making the drinking of Coke a choice between the new and the old, forcing us to unconsciously place Pepsi in an equal or equivalent position in our minds. They split the market, created two categories, and forced the consumer to choose between the best of the old world and the best of the new world. They earned a spot in our minds where they were, indeed, first. How’s that for Contrarian thinking?

The Pepsi story proves there are many ways to be number one. The key to discovering one of these spots is to remember there are always different ways to look at things, different perspectives, different points on which to focus.

I’m reminded of a pattern I noticed in old gunfighter movies. The best gunfighters didn’t battle with their closest competitors. No, the good ones tolerated each other. They shared the marketplace, so to speak. They each fell into a niche where they were first, where they were the best. One was the fastest, another was the most accurate. There were one-gun men and two-gun men. There were those who preferred long rifles and those who used a six-shooter. Then there was Bowie. He used a knife, rather than a gun.

All of these men either stumbled into a field (or pursued one) where they were best, and in doing so set themselves up to be pursued by foolish upstarts looking to knock these so-called market leaders off their perch. As I mentioned, they each created their own category. They discovered ways to the top by carving out niches within the biggest marketplace, by finding an area where no one could compete with them, where they were the best, and where they were first in people’s minds. As is often the case, art imitates life.

 

Marketing is a process, not a solution.

When you’re actively trying to change a customer’s perception of you, your product, or the marketplace, you’re attempting to change his or her beliefs. This takes time. So often a business will opt for the quick fix to their growth problems—a series of sales, down-sizing, a new product line—only to find they’ve cut their own throat in the process, that instead of owning a spot in the customer’s mind, they’ve become indistinguishable from others in the marketplace.

 Think of marketing as educating the customer. You’ve got to teach people what’s unique and special about you and your product. You’ve got to show them why they should choose you in the first place, why they should return frequently, and maybe even why they should increase the size of their purchases. You’ve got to create a permanent position for yourself in the minds of the people who are your target market. It’s the only sure-fire approach to sustainable long-term growth, and it takes time.

 

 Don’t add unnecessary new product lines.

Adding a new product line without a lot of careful thought is a risky proposition. You may end up diluting your brand.

I used to go to Midas when I had muffler problems. I wonder why they thought I’d go to them for brakes? Someone else already owned that spot in my mind.

Another example of this foolishness is Pizza Hut. I thought they did a wonderful thing with their slogan Pizza Hut… And Nothing But. The phrase stuck in my mind, and it actually brought me back to them after many years of absence. Then they did something I couldn’t believe. They started running a series of ads introducing their newest product, wings. Ads, by the way, which also included the above slogan. What a waste of money! Not only did they not get the chicken wing spot in my mind, their credibility suffered.

Extending your line of products or services on the assumption that people will buy because it has your name on it is an idea which has proven to be expensive for many companies.

Be prepared to leave some things alone. No one’s going to believe you can be the best at everything. This is still the era of specialization, the age of delivering a specific product or service to the largest number of people. Giving up things is integral to that process. Note: It took me over 20 years to learn this lesson. And when I did, when I chose to specialize, the floodgates opened and customers beat their way to my door. My specialization? Ghostwriting. If you or someone you know requires a ghostwriter. I’m your guy. Writing the way it should it should be.

Take, for example, the appearance of the superstores (Big Box Stores). They were, and are, first when it comes to offering a good selection of quality products at the best price. They managed to achieve this position because they willingly gave up all the frills other businesses traditionally offered so they could dramatically reduce the price of their offerings to the customer. A lot of businesses have gone under learning there’s no way to directly compete with these stores. Why? Because a traditional business can’t give up what the superstores have given up. A business that has lost or is losing its market share to a superstore needs to understand that there’s no going back, that they’re going to have to establish a different category they can be first in.

 

Contrarian thinking can help.

No one sells more cottages claims a local realtor. If I wanted to go into competition with him, I’d seriously consider a statement like No one sells fewer cottages … but we sell every single one that’s listed with us. Do you see the reasoning? If the market you’re interested in is held by someone who specializes in selling fast cars, why not establish yourself as a dealer who sells slow cars? That’s right, slow cars—for the person who wants complete leisure and comfort, rather than speed. To effectively compete in a marketplace held by a big restaurant like McDonald’s, I should give serious consideration to slow-cooked, wholesome food (if not gourmet) served in an intimate and adult environment. It’s an offer that’s exactly the opposite of what McDonald’s does. I won’t get the customers to whom fast food is most important, but I’ll get the ones who don’t mind slow food, and to whom taste and atmosphere does matter. It’s a smaller share but it can be very profitable.

These examples illustrate a viable marketing approach that works by offering something the competition can’t do. It’s what the superstores I mentioned earlier did to small business. Think about it: The fast food place can’t offer the slow, painstaking preparation that is a must in gourmet cooking; the fast car dealer can’t switch to, or add, a line of slow cars without damaging his position; the realtor who sells a lot of cottages, definitely isn’t going to give each of his customers his individual attention—because the big guy can’t be small and personal.

 

Admit a negative, get a positive.

When overnight isn’t necessary … was a slogan tossed around by a national postal service in the U.S. that couldn’t compete in the arena of overnight document delivery. The company owned up to this negative but showed that it could compete effectively for two, three and four day deliveries. Very slick. I found myself giving them the positive, even though I knew exactly what was going on. You see, by admitting they’d justifiably lost a portion of their business to companies like FedEx, I was more inclined to believe their claim that they were still the place to go when overnight delivery wasn’t necessary. Cool.

 

Look for weakness.

It’s unfortunate, but when you’re the little guy, or you’re a business losing market share to someone’s brilliant idea, the right marketing choice has to be chipping away at the opposition until you find a weakness. Those who stop chipping just don’t survive. The refusal to do the difficult and make the Contrarian choice, means that they have no hope of uncovering the rare weakness all companies exhibit from time to time. As a result, they aren’t positioned for that one master stroke, that chance to do the unexpected, to be bold, to be daring, to be a winner.

 

Hang in there.

In every situation there’s going to be a choice open to you which will produce more substantial results than anything else. Develop the patience and the pertinacity to look for that option, the objectivity to recognize it and, finally, the courage to boldly capitalize on the thing. Marketing is no exception.

Choose a position you want to occupy in your customer’s mind, and when you somehow manage to earn that place, do whatever it takes to keep it. Expect to have your position constantly challenged. Be prepared for it. You should also expect that you and your employees will make mistakes. Be willing to allow this to happen, to let isolated failures go unpunished. Sustained creativity and growth can’t happen when people are afraid to make mistakes. Unless you’re willing to accept your mistakes, fix them and continue on, you’re in trouble. Persevere.

 

Think of marketing as artistic communication.

Marketing isn’t exact. How can it be? You’re trying to access and affect the beliefs of a wide variety of individuals. In the world of marketing the most insane ideas will often work, while supposedly fool-proof campaigns crash and burn. How else can you possibly explain the creation of the Pet Rock fad? Get creative. And have some fun communicating with your prospective customers.

 

Advertise.

Most businesses tend to advertise when they have the money, rather than when they should. It’s a truism; Advertising is needed most when things aren’t going well. If you’re looking to launch a marketing program of any kind, please remember that successful marketing requires consistent advertising over long periods of time. It’s the only way to get into a prospect’s mind and stay there.

I don’t mean to imply you must advertise every day, or every week. Timing, after all, is important. For example, a successful trend usually occurs when the supply never quite exceeds the demand. Consider your favourite author. Would you purchase books written by he or she if new ones appeared (and were advertised) each week? Probably not. It’s the fact a new book by this author comes out only rarely that keeps you interested, that keeps you buying. Successful impresarios and businesspeople have made use of this knowledge for years. Just think of the phrases for a limited time only or Christmas comes but once a year. They’re classic examples of trend building.

 

Have a monthly marketing budget.

You wouldn’t go wrong by regularly giving the public answers to the questions: “What do you do? When do you do it?” and “How do you do it?” But the simplest marketing rule to remember is that you need money to get into a mind, and you need money to stay in the mind once you get there. Successful marketing means spending lots of money. Plan for it.

 

Summary

Do whatever it takes to learn about, understand and put into practice the concept of positioning. I’ll even give you a reason for doing it: What word, words, or positions do you occupy in the minds of the people you work with? Can you answer the question? If not, you now have your reason for learning to use positioning. Furthermore, when you do identify the position or positions you now occupy in the minds of these people, are these perceptions helping your company to be more profitable? Are they indicative of relationships you can count on in the future? Can they be sustained? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Marketing is the answer, isn’t it? Even if you have to capture the mind-positions you want one person at a time. Think of how great it would be to secure ownership of words like good friend, honest, trustworthy, loyal, reliable, valuable, kind, cheerful, positive or successful.

What’s the one thing you’d like to have people recognize you for, and what are you going to do to make sure that when they think of that specific word or phrase your name pops into their heads? Marketing is the answer.