Category Archives: Writing

How to Approach Your Book by Dellani Oakes

 

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No one can dictate to you how to write your book. The way the story presents itself to the author is all important. How-To authors will tell you what you must avoid, shouldn’t do, how you have to approach something. The fact is, they don’t know anymore than anyone else, they just sat down and wrote a book about it. Don’t let them bully you and dictate to you how you write. Chances are good that they have broken their own edicts at one time or another.

The best advice I have ever heard came from actor, director, author, screenwriter and producer, Ken Farmer. “Just write the damn story.”

I couldn’t have said it better. There is no set in stone way to approach your story. Anyone who says differently is lying to you. I read an article many years ago, when I was a mere novice. I had one book, Indian Summer, under my belt. I was beginning my Lone Wolf sci-fi series. I came across this article by a famous sci-fi author, whose name I can’t remember now. He said that an author must outline everything carefully before beginning to write. An author must know the ending before beginning to write. An author must spend more time on the outlining and planning stage than on the writing itself. It was, in this author’s opinion, essential to follow a carefully crafted plan.

That one article spun me into a panic of momentous proportions. I don’t do any of that. I tried writing an outline once, only to find myself writing the story instead. I scrapped the outline and wrote. I don’t plot and plan before I begin. I never know the ending. I hop in and hope for the best. I dispense with the long, drawn out planning stage and go for the fun part—writing.

For certain styles of writing, outlining is important. For instance, if you’re writing a biography, non-fiction or a how-to book, you should probably know where you’re going. I’ve always been more of the opinion that the outline is something you write after they paper is done, but then I never have had a conventional approach to anything.

I have been a Blog Talk Radio host for six years. In that time, I have talked with dozens of authors and I ask them the same question every show, “Are you a plotter/ planner or do you jump  in and start writing?” Surprisingly, the plotter/ planners are in the minority, though how-to authors would have us believe that theirs is the only correct and perfect way to approach the story. This offers food for thought. Which approach is the correct one?

The answer is simple, no one can tell you that. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I’ll describe my method (such as it is) and tell you some variations I’ve come across.

I get a starting idea—usually an opening sentence. Once in awhile, it’s dialogue. Whatever’s the case, it nags at me until I write it down. If I don’t, it’s gone and I may never get that story back. Frustrating but true.

Once I start to write, the words flow and I type as fast as I can in order to get them down. Sometimes, a story presents itself through pen and paper. I don’t argue, I just write. These are rare, but do happen. I’ve learned to live with it.

My stories, for the most part, come at me chronologically. I begin at the beginning and write until I reach the end. I rarely use flashbacks, though I do have them from time to time. I rarely skip from one scene to another. For me, that’s a lot more work. The only time I do that is if I get a scene that’s really compelling and wants to be written now. Then I pick up and continue where I left off, bringing the story to that place.

Once in awhile, I can’t remember exactly where I left off. If I’m away from home and intend to write while I’m gone, I’ll take a notebook with me. I might pick up a scene a bit further in the future and write it instead, then go back and bridge the gap.

I listen to music when I write. What I have playing varies, but usually it’s something that provides a background and doesn’t intrude. A lot of my author friends say they can’t have music with words, but that doesn’t usually bother me. I hear the melodies and am only marginally aware of the lyrics.

I continue typing until I finish the book, or the muse clams up. Since she’s a pesky wench, she does that fairly often—hence the fact that I have nearly as many unfinished novels as I do finished ones. If she closes her mouth on one, she often opens it on another. I write on that for awhile until she clams up again.

This is my method, if it can be called such.

There are variations, the most common of which are below. I am presenting these in First Person, though they are the ways and means of other authors:

I write each scene separately, whatever interests me the most. I write notes of each on a note card and lay them out on the floor, moving them around until I get the right sequence, then I string them together.

I write chronologically, but I write different scenes, the ones that speak to me the loudest, then I weave them together.

I have to have absolute quiet when I work. I can’t have music, TV, radio or any other distractions. If I do, I lose track of where I’m going with the story.

I don’t like music playing, but I have the TV on while I write. I don’t pay attention to it, I just like the background noise.

I listen to the radio when I write. It helps me block out other noise and concentrate on my writing.

I work on only one book at a time. If the words stop flowing, I give myself a break and do something else. When I feel the story again, I go back to it and keep writing. I can’t keep track of more than one plot at a time.

These variations are endless. I have only listed the ones that I’ve heard more than once from other authors. I’m surprised to find that there are a few of us who constantly juggle multiple projects. I don’t know if it speaks to our level of Attention Deficit or some other personality quirk. Most people I speak to work on one project at a time. There are some of us who are, apparently, gluttons for punishment and torture ourselves with more.

Write the way that feels comfortable. Allow your chaotic process to be productive and don’t worry about it. Accept that the first draft will probably be terrible and live with this fact. It takes years to write an acceptable first, second or hundredth draft. Don’t feel as if you need to control it all, because the fact is, you control nothing. The story chose you, not the other way around. It will control how you write, what you write and how it ends. Accept this and move on. It’s much more fun when you allow yourself to relax.

 

©2014 Dellani Oakes
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Dellani Oakes is the author of nine published novels, 50 more which haven’t been finished yet and 75 which are finished, but not published. She’s a Blog Talk Radio host on the Red River Radio Network where she speaks to other authors. She’s also former A.P. English teacher and journalist.

To Buy Dellani’s Books http://tinyurl.com/kwt3ne9

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.

What would you do if he knocked on your door? By Bonnie Hearn Hill

lucas“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.” 

His name wasn’t Lucas, the way it is in my novel, Goodbye Forever. His name, he said, was Joshua. I can tell you that because it turned out to be a lie.

He stopped by my house one spring morning as I picked up the newspaper from my front lawn and asked if I knew where the elementary school was. I told him I did.

“Could you give me a ride?” he asked. “I’m late.”

I’m a sucker for little kids, and I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in our Central California community. Without thinking about it, I said, “Sure. Get in,” and we drove the two blocks to his school.

He asked about the make of my car. I told him.

“That’s nice,” he replied in a soft voice.

I took a second look at him. An impeccably put-together little guy, right down to his dark, carefully gelled hair, he smiled back at me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Joshua. What’s yours?”

“Bonnie. How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m in the fifth grade.” I pulled in front of the school. “It’s Friday,” he said. “Snack bar. Could you loan me a dollar?”

He had already spotted the one in my change tray. I handed it to him.

As he headed toward the school, my phone rang, and my best friend asked why I wasn’t at home so that we could go to the gym as planned.

“I was driving a little boy to school,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted. “He could have an older brother. He could be setting you up for something. What were you thinking?”

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That Saturday, when I spoke to a local writing group, I told them my story. I was trying to make the point that plots aren’t as important as what the writer brings to them.

“So,” I said, “if this were your story, how would you finish it?”

They made my point by coming up with answers as different as they were.

“He disappears, and the last person he was seen with was a woman driving a car like yours.”

“He gets out, and you realize you have driven into a Twilight Zone 1950s small town with no way out.”

“He was a figment of your imagination. You were trying to heal from some kind of crisis and invented this kid to help you do that.”

“It’s a horror novel. He’s bait to bring home dinner, and you’re it.”

They proved my point. Everyone took the initial event and made it their own story. They also warned me to be careful with my own real-life story.

“Next time, he’ll ask for five dollars,” one of them said.

“Or fifty,” added another.

The following Monday was so fragrant with spring air that I opened my front door and let the breeze drift through my security screen. As I worked in my study, someone knocked on the screen door.

“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.

I walked to the door, and there stood Joshua.

“I’m late for school again,” he said.

“Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Sure.” His grin grew wider. “It’s fine with her if you drive me.”

“Then let’s just call her, shall we? Just to be sure.”

“Never mind.” He began to back up. “That’s OK.”

“Because you didn’t talk to your mom.” I opened the door and raised my voice. “Did you?”

“No.” He turned and began to run.

What if he had knocked on the wrong door? I asked myself. He could be in danger, and I couldn’t forget this until I saw it through. Because I had no choice, I called his school. When I described what happened, the school secretary said, “I know the kid you’re talking about.” She emailed me his photo, and a little boy with enormous eyes and carefully gelled hair smiled up at me.

“That’s Joshua,” I said.

“It’s not his real name,” she told me, “but he is in fifth grade. He’s been stealing food and money from other kids, although his family is well off. This is the first time we heard of him knocking on doors in the neighborhood.” She paused and added, “He just walked in. The counselor’s taking him to the principal’s office right now.”

That was the last I heard of Joshua. After two years, I haven’t seen him again, although one Halloween I did hear a knock on my door and a soft voice saying, “It’s me.”

Did I invent the sound out of the many voices of children in my neighborhood that night? Was it another kid trying to coax me out of one more treat? Was it Joshua?

What would you do if he knocked on your door?

I wrote a book.

The kids in that book—a novel—didn’t get the help they needed. I hope Joshua did.

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Bonnie Hearn Hill writes suspense tied to social issues. GOODBYE FOREVER is the second in the Kit Doyle series. It’s about a Sacramento, CA crime blogger who goes underground as a runaway teen.

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:

space elevator

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

About Music …

Music moves us. Whether it be to make us happy, sad, or (in some rare cases) violent, music affects our emotions. The authors of the Write Room have shared their thoughts and feelings about music and how it shapes our lives. (Dellani Oakes)

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Daddy’s Music by Linda Palmer

I didn’t realize how cool my daddy was until after my mother died and we had him to ourselves for five years. He was very quiet; Mother was the go-between. Yet without me realizing it, he made me who I am today. A huge influence was his love for music. Daddy, who played alto sax in high school, loved the sounds of Lawrence Welk, Paul Mauriat, James Last, Leroy Anderson, and Mantovani. He was also into Broadway musicals, so my sisters and I still know every word of Camelot, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, South Pacific and a slew of others. Daddy went from vinyls, to eight-tracks, to tapes, to CDs, with quadraphonic in there somewhere. He had great sound systems in his cars, and I loved long Sunday afternoon rides listening to whatever musical score was his favorite at the time. (Can anyone else out there recognize every song from Midnight Cowboy?)

I’m eternally grateful for his eclectic tastes, which ultimately impacted mine. There aren’t many music genres I don’t like, and I’m always up for listening to something new. So thanks, Daddy. You get full credit for the chills I get when music truly moves me. I just wish you hadn’t pawned your saxophone to pay down on a house all those years ago. I’d love to hear you play it.

 

Let the music play on by by Jon Magee

“If music be the food of love, play on”, wrote William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3)

Music has the ability to move us—our memories and our imaginations. So many times, I’ve heard a song on the radio, on a commercial, or during a movie, and found myself transported to another place and time. The lyrics and the melody remind me of a moment I’ve experienced, a memory I haven’t recalled for ages, and I’ll feel everything that I felt back then.

I am not musical in terms of having the ability to play any musical instrument, but I do have an appreciation of music and have enjoyed the listening to it from an early age. I have no doubt that music has been a great means of communicating to the world in many ways. When I am writing, I have often used the memory of music and singing as a means of setting the scene for an era, or to bring out the expressions of emotions set in the heart of the characters whether it is the expression of love or the feelings of sadness.

Even the Philosopher of the 1960’s, Mr Michael Jagger, used the medium of song as he shared his philosophy of life with those who supported him. Along with a group called “The Rolling Stones” he sang “You can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want , You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need”. Clearly that would be true in many other walks of life. Looking back through the ages it was the singing of particular songs that became the heart of the peace movements and many political campaigns too, as well as the religious revivals through the ages. When people recall the Wesleyan revivals they would often equate it with the music of the Wesley brother and Toplady. Likewise the same vein may be applied to the Welsh Revival, and not forgetting how Moody is a name that is still linked to Sankey.

Music is also the great leveller of life too. Our singing abilities may not be as good as others, but the needs expressed will be something that can touch us all in one form or another as we sing or listen. We all identify with the words “all you need is love” as the Beatles put it. Perhaps we can identify with Buddy Holly as he sang of his personal unrequited love experience with Peggy Sue. (Peggy Sue was not a made up name, it was a real person who he knew in his life.) Can we not also sense the heartbreak of the New York mining tragedy as the Bee Gees sang “Have you seen my wife Mr Jones? Do you know what it’s like on the outside?” Music will bring out the cheer and also the tears. In our music will come our humanity and the road many of us take in human life. But above everything, may music be the food of love in our lives!

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Mood Music by Patricia Dusenbury

I listen to music while writing. Jeff Buckley’s audible exhale at the beginning of Hallelujah stops me cold. I hold my breath, waiting for him to begin singing. The line “…all I’ve ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you,” evokes thoughts of love as a power struggle, the things vulnerable humans do to each other. I’m reminded that some things, once broken, cannot be fixed. I’m ready to write about grief and the pain of love lost or, worse, thrown away.

Cole Porter said that Night and Day was about obsession, not love. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald et al. sang it as a love song, but not U2. Their version captures passion that defies reason. In the video, Bono slides a razor blade across his thumb. I listen and write about physical attraction that overwhelms common sense, love as a form of insanity.

It’s not all noir. I also use music to evoke time and place. My mysteries are set in New Orleans and the bayou country. Jazz, blues, Dixieland or zydeco – it depends upon what I’m trying to write. I put on the music, listen, and I’m back there. Ditto the songs popular when I was in high school and college.

There’s one vivid musical memory I’ve not used – not yet. Years ago, I walked into an ice cream parlor in Palm Springs. Three middle-aged women (younger than I am now) sat at the counter, eating overpriced ice cream. They licked it off their spoons with evident pleasure, while Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat played on the jukebox. Whenever I hear that song, I see those women, and I smile. One day, they’ll be in a book.

 

As a child, Patricia Dusenbury read under the covers into the wee hours. Despite sleep deprivation, she managed to get through college and a career as an economist. Now retired, she hopes to atone for all those dry reports by writing novels that people read for pleasure. 

Her first book, A Perfect Victim, won the 2015 EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) award for best mystery. The sequel, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, was a top ten finisher in the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. A House of Her Own, which will be released October 16, completes the trilogy. http://patriciadusenbury.com/

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Timpani by Kenneth Weene

My Junior High School Music teacher pulled me aside and offered a simple solution to our dilemma. “Kenneth, don’t sing, just mouth the words and I’ll give you a passing grade.”

Thankful to end the embarrassment of all heads turning towards me whenever I hit a “note” that had never been heard before, I agreed to acoustic exile.

In boarding school I tried out for the chorus, which shared concerts and dances with girls’ schools. The chorus director assured me if ever he found a piece of music that included my one note repertoire he’d add me to the roster.

Not being able to sing didn’t dampen my love of music. I think I know when somebody else is on tune. I love the sense of tempo, especially when timpani lead the way, which immediately suggests classical music. Not surprisingly, my favorite composers are from Eastern Europe. Dvořák, Bartok, Scriabin, Shostakovich, and Mahler are my big five. Say Slavic music and I’m ready not just to listen but viscerally take part—feet tapping, hands waving, and head bobbing. Drawing on my Junior High lesson, I sit at the rear of a section where my gyrations won’t disturb others.

Driving is one of the better times to listen to music although I do have to be careful not to take my hands of the wheel and conduct or tap the rhythm on the gas pedal.

Driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park my musical selection was Mahler. Perhaps Dvořák would have been a better choice, The New World Symphony, but I love the sweeping grandeur of Mahler and it went perfectly with the majesty of the mountains. We rounded a bend. Grazing in a small meadow was a herd of elk. The music, the mountains, and the elk came together in the moment.

Without thought or care, I began to sing along. The inhibitions learned in adolescence dropped away and for the moment I was one with the music.

Which brings us to the most important part of that sacred moment. My wife did not cover her ears. She did not stare at me and shake her head. No, she smiled sweetly and said nothing.

Finally, when we had passed the elk and the last notes of that symphony had faded from the CD player, she commented. “That’s a relief. The way you were singing I thought one of those bulls was going to get in the car and try to mate with you.”

 

Writer, poet, and social commentator Kenneth Weene is generally an easygoing fellow, but arm him with an imaginary baton and chaos can ensue. You can find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU

 

Transported by Music by Trish Jackson

Music truly is the language of the soul. I can’t imagine anyone in the world not being moved to tears at least few times in their lives by a musical score or a song. Music brings back memories; music calms us; music ignites a flame in us. To quote Wordsworth. ‘Music is the universal language of mankind.’

Music also has a way of transporting us to another place and time. Every now and then you may hear a song you haven’t heard for years, and immediately be taken back to the time when the song meant something to you. You can clearly picture the scene and even smell the scent of it.

I grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Africa, where every young person in the entire country—or so it seemed—listened to the LM Hit Parade on Sunday nights, broadcast from Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique.

I was a boarder at high school because our farm was too far away from any town for commuting. Like any boarding school, we had to obey some strict rules. Radios were not allowed to be on after lights out, and in those days they didn’t come with earphones. Armed with a flashlight and a sharp tongue, the duty matron patrolled the dorms in the dark, and if a radio was on, it was confiscated for the rest of the semester.

Only the seniors were allowed to have the radio on after lights out expressly to hear the LM Hit Parade on a Sunday night. It took a while, but I finally made it to my senior year. At the time in 1969, songs like Soldier Boy by the Shirelles, Crystal Blue Persuasion and Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, and Touch Me by the Doors were somewhere near the top, and whenever I hear any of those songs, I am back to our dorm in the darkness. I can still feel the excitement as the countdown progressed.

In 1974, the radio station was closed down during the Portuguese revolution, and the facilities were nationalized. I thought that was the end of it, but surprisingly, with the advent of the Internet and Internet radio stations, it has since been revived, and they play all the old songs from their former era. http://www.lmradio.net/streaming.html

 

Trish Jackson writes rural romantic suspense and romantic comedy, which always includes pets. www.trishjackson.com

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Inappropriate Musical Tastes by Dellani Oakes

I have inappropriate musical tastes for a woman my age. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open…. Apparently, I should be a fan of Michael Bublé and Harry Connick, Jr. While I like some of their music, it certainly isn’t my favorite, or even in my top five. Okay, let’s be honest, not even in my top twenty. However, women of a certain age, are expected to like certain things, but I don’t fall into that category.

That sort of misconception started in my late thirties. I had to go for an extended MRI, nearly three hours of thudding and clanking, because I’d developed tinnitus in my left ear. When I got there, the young men running the test asked me what I wanted to listen to.

“What do you have?”

They listed off a few albums and I wrinkled my nose.

“Got anything good?”

“We’ve got some Steely Dan,” one remarked, somewhat hesitantly.

“Which album?”

“Um… Aja and Greatest Hits.”

“That sounds good. Anything else?”

They had some Jethro Tull, but that was as exotic as the choices were. Good enough, far better than the other things they offered. They were pleased, because they mostly had to listen to Big Band and Buddy Holly all day.

“It’s good to have someone in here who appreciates good music,” the other told me as he set up the CD player.

However, when I had to go back a few years later, for an MRI on my neck, the girl didn’t even ask. She put the radio on easy listening. Radio in the first place, not my choice. Too many commercials. And easy listening? Do I look like I want easy listening? Where is the Hendrix, the Zeppelin? Bring on the Floyd! A pox on easy listening! It puts me into a pop induced coma in which I shall surely languish until someone plays metal.

I’ve decidedly surprised people with my eclectic musical tastes. On one such occasion, I had to go get my tires rotated. I’d been listening to a Rammstein CD in the car, and had left it cued up to the song I wanted to hear on my way home. I didn’t think about the fact that someone would turn on the car and have it blast from the speakers when they moved it to the service area. I was in the waiting room, reading my book, when the young mechanic walked in, looking expectant.

“Black Kia Optima?”

I stood up and he took a step back, clutching his chest.

“Wow, not what I expected,” he said with a grin.

“Why?” I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not.

“Well, based on the CD in the car, I thought it would be some guy my age.” He laughed loudly. “You don’t really look the type.”

“Oh, what type do I look?” The challenging tone was unmistakable.

He chuckled, taking another step back. “Not the type to like heavy metal. What band is that?”

“A German group called Rammstein.”

“It’s really good. I hope you don’t mind that I listened to it while I worked on the car.”

“Not at all! I’m glad you liked it.”

“I’m gonna look for more of their music. That’s some good stuff.” He smiled, shaking his head. “Really wouldn’t peg you for listening to that kind of music.”

I took a step toward him, talking quietly. “I also like Jimi Hendrix, Rob Zombie, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Iron Maiden.”

“No shit?” I didn’t think I could have shocked him more if I’d put 50,000 volts through him.

 

I wrote this while listening (inappropriately) to Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tool, The Diamond Light, Pink Floyd, Noah Gundersen, X Ambassadors with Jamie N. Commons, and Marilyn Manson. Would you like a play list?

Dellani Oakes is a (mostly) appropriate author who thinks inappropriate thoughts as she listens to music she shouldn’t like. How do you know when Dellani is awake and working? There’s music playing, (inappropriately loudly).

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.”

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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.

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.

A Day In The Life of a Writer 

 

coffeecup

The rain beats furiously against the window, interrupting a restful, dream-filled sleep, in which I am floating in a sea of acceptance slips, signing book contracts, and arranging to fly to California for the Letterman show. The menacing buzz of the radio alarm clock goes off every ten minutes, the exact time it takes to drift back to sleep. At 7 A.M., there is no good reason to be awake. I don’t have to attend school; nor do I have to leave for work, a bone of contention among those in my family who fervently believe that I should make them a hot breakfast before sending them out into the real world.

Misery, the fifteen-year-old dog who has lived up to her name, lays her large, shaggy head on my pillow, and pants morning breath into my face. The bluish glare of her cataract-coated eyes warns me that she will not be held accountable for what may happen if I don’t let her outside immediately; a realistic deterrent to further lazing in bed.

By 8 a.m., the house is quiet once again. Even the pounding rain has tapered to a fine drizzle. My four-year-old grandson Ian, dropped off by my daughter, walks into the kitchen to announce that he is “here”, as his eleven-month-old brother, Jesse, babbles nonsense from the playpen. The baby’s voice has the penetration of a well-known grease-cutter.

It’s Monday morning and another non-work week is about to begin, during which time I will babysit two lovable, but precocious boys, run business inventories on two computers, manage a three story home, do freelance writing and count my blessings that I don’t have to go to work.

By the time I gulp two cups of coffee, and complete three fourths of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Jesse’s insistent soprano voice is reaching high C. I consider doing a warm, grandmotherly article on minding toddlers, but when Jesse leans over the playpen and spits up on the dog, my enthusiasm wanes.

The next hour consists of what my “new age” daughter calls creative playtime. That translates into letting the children do whatever they please. I am as modern as the next person, but after Ian poster paints the white Formica countertop in black stripes, insisting it’s his pet zebra, free expression ends. Jesse’s creativity is limited to the realization that his diaper is detachable, presenting endless possibilities. By noon, I’ve put the house back together, made lunch for the boys, driven Ian to nursery school, and tucked the pit baby (so nicknamed for his tenacious grip on breakables) into bed for his one treasured nap.

Two hours later, I’ve compiled inventory, mailed overdue bills, and sent manuscripts off to the literary meat market, while the Apple works its internal magic with the numbers I’ve posted into it. I’ve hung up three times on a telephone computer robot, who wants to know my vital statistics, and tried to convince another telemarketer that I did not want to win a cruise to Tahiti.

While the Apple is printing out evaluation reports, I type a short story into the Dell, inspired by the momentary peace and solitude. Engrossed in my work, I don’t realize that Ian has been dropped off from nursery school, until he plops a hideous (I never said that) green lump of clay sculpture on my keyboard. Seven pages of manuscript disappear, lost forever in that mysterious story-eating gray box–just when Mary was lusting after John.

The type of calmness that sometimes precedes insanity washes over me. I make Ian a healthy snack, and even manage to tell him how much I missed him.

“You didn’t miss me, Grandma,” he says. “You’re the one who took me there and left me.”

I’m tempted to say, “You’re right,” but I hug him instead. Ian settles in for some violent cartoons, and the siren-like wail of the pit baby marks the end of creative writing.

The teenager, made into an only child by the absence of five grown brothers and sisters, storms into the house. She throws her books on the table, raids the refrigerator, and gives me a twenty minute discourse on her first day of high school; heavy on boys, light on scholastics. She informs me  that much as she would love to watch her nephews for me, she must get to the Mall at once. Owning only four new outfits, she doesn’t want to repeat herself in a five-day school week. Everyone (related to the infamous “they”) will notice.

By now it’s 4 P.M., and my manuscripts are still in the mailbox, soggy from the misty rain. The mail carrier, over five hours late, neither knows, nor cares that I wait anxiously each day for acceptance/rejection slips. An hour later, I spot him running down the street, new on the job and obviously frightened. Misery, in a rare moment of bravado, must have given him a toothless, raspy snarl, for now the mail dropped in haste on the unprotected porch stoop is as wet as the outgoing mail. It’s mostly brown envelopes, signifying returned manuscripts, and I’m in no mood for rejection. I’ll open them later.

As Jesse methodically empties all the kitchen cabinets and drawers, I concoct a simple dinner of chili with beans and brown bread. Dining with small children will either cause compulsive eating or pseudo anorexia. Ian detests all healthy food, and Jesse concentrates on feeding his supper to Misery, whose sense of smell has deteriorated to the point where she indiscriminately devours scraps of bread and shredded napkins.

The last hour before my daughter comes to collect her sons is spent re-stocking the cabinets, brushing crumbs out of the dog’s eyes, picking up the fifty or more toys that Jesse has hurled from his playpen, and bathing the boys. Ian has an inborn aversion to having his hair washed, and Jesse likes to scuba-dive, giving me heart failure and more gray hair. By the time their bath is completed, the bathroom is under water and smells like wet dog. Misery, in her senility, refuses to relinquish her spot on the soft rug next to the bathtub.

Their mother arrives and asks the same daily question, “Were they good?” I give the same answer, “Perfect!”, and she carts them off to her car. I am alone; at least for another twenty minutes when the breadwinner comes home. My husband walks in the door with that “don’t even ask me about my day,” look on his face, and heads for his recliner. The pile of damp, warped mail catches his eye, and he rummages through it.

“Hey, I think you might have sold something,” he says. “Don’t you want to open it?”

I move in slow-motion, back pain radiating down my legs from constantly plucking Jesse off the staircase, and listlessly open the SASE. (self-addressed stamped envelope)

“Look at that,” my husband says, glancing over my shoulder. “You just sold another article, made $100.00, and you never had to leave the house.” He grabs his paper and settles into his chair with the martyred look of a man who has battled rain, fog, and bumper to bumper traffic to provide for a wife who sits home and nonchalantly collects honorariums and checks. I hate that look. After a full ten minutes of savoring my sale, I trudge back to the Dell, free to write for three more hours. But by now Mary is no longer lusting after John.

 

Bio: Micki Peluso writes humorous slice of life stories based mostly on her family and friends. No lawsuits yet but she has been removed from several wills. These stories, published in various newspapers and magazines led to her first non-fiction story, . . .And the Whippoorwill Sang, and will be published in 2015 in a collection called, “Don’t Pluck the Duck.”

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