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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Image result for cocker spaniel         Image result for sheriff deputies     Image result for nascar wrecks  Image result for hillary clinton

Since the advent of computers as an elemental part of my existence, you could track my life through the discussion groups I’ve joined.

First, as a Sheriff’s Department employee, I joined a police group (typical of their caution, you had to send a copy of your badge, your i.d. and a confirmation from your superior to even be approved for membership). A while later, as the new owner of a rescue Cocker Spaniel, I joined a Cocker group. They welcomed anyone who owned a Cocker, might own a Cocker someday, simply liked Cockers or had ever even seen a Cocker).  

Law enforcement officers are hard-nosed and wary. Men (mostly) of few words, and all of them to the point. These are people skilled in the use of weapons and they carry that mentality right into your in-box. Make what they consider an ignorant comment and the verbal equivalent of Glocks and Tasers  are on hair trigger. Flaming is their version of Shock and Awe. Compassion? Forget it! If you have a death wish, try mentioning Hillary Clinton in a favorable light. I sometimes stumbled from their cyber-world bleeding emotionally. If you can’t take the heat, trust me, the cop’s kitchen is one you want to stay out of.  

So it was a relief to don my rose-colored glasses and enter Cockerland, where a constant sun filled the sky. Cocker devotees were so sweet, I could literally feel my blood sugar climbing as I read their posts. Express the tiniest upset to them and be prepared to overdose on tender loving care.  The Cocker aficionados rushed to send one another Frosty Paws, a kind of electronic hug. Pets or people never die, they go “across the Rainbow Bridge”. Cocker lovers always give everyone the benefit of the doubt. They remember one another’s dogs’ birthdays. I never felt like I measured up. Heck, I’m lucky if I remember my best friend’s birthday. I didn’t even admit when Raleigh crossed the Rainbow Bridge because I didn’t want to confess about the funeral service, casket, headstone and cemetery plot I didn’t buy. I thought I would only feel guilty confronting an inbox overflowing with Frosty Paws.

Then I joined a Wesley Clark for President group back when the General was in the running in 2004. We were drawn together by belief in Clark’s resume (first in his class at West Point, Rhodes scholar, wounded in Vietnam, 4 star general, NATO commander, etc). We thought it was a time when America needed a hero. Evidently, America didn’t agree. But we stayed together even after he lost the nomination. As a group, the Wes Clark supporters tended to be cool, calm and analytical. They’d write long, detailed e-mails about esoteric policy issues. They were religious about attributing credit for quotes and posting links to their sources. Our moderator was militant about keeping us on a path of fairness and deliberation. This lasted until the great match-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at which time, we broke into two opposing camps and deteriorated into name-calling and recrimination. We found out first-hand how easy it is for even friendly neighbors to turn on one another.

So I bailed on politics and became a NASCAR fan and, of course, I joined a NASCAR discussion group. In general, NASCAR people tend to be one sentence posters. E-mails will flood into my in-box and I settle happily into what I expect will be a an hour or so of contented reading, only to spend five minutes deleting messages that simply say, “Go, Smoke!” or “Down with Jeff Gordon” or “88!!!!!!!”. You can race through their messages as fast as Carl Edwards makes a lap around Bristol. Their judgments are swift and sure. They hate with great passion. The most devastating epithet they can hurl is to call a driver gay. I don’t know that they necessarily think it is true, it is simply that in NASCAR nation, gayness is the ultimate expression of contempt. NASCAR people worship at the altar of Dale Earnhardt and that adoration flows down to his son, Dale, Junior. It strikes me as odd that although I’d guess NASCAR fans are heavily weighted toward being Republicans, a party that professes its support for the free enterprise system, in choosing drivers they scorn those who fought their way up through the ranks in favor of monarchy.

These days, I’m back in the political ring big-time. I was a dedicated Hillary Clinton supporter and joined several pro-Hillary groups. She lost, of course, and now the Hillary gatherings have tended to slide over to anti-Trump discussions.

I no longer belong to all these groups but I enjoyed all of them even if moving among them made me feel that I was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. For amusement, I sometimes imagined how everyone would react if somehow all my various groups, past and present, were merged and had to deal with one another. Would the cops drown in the sea of syrupy optimism from the cocker folks? Would the NASCAR fans be overwhelmed by the blizzard of white papers posted by the Clark devotees? Or would the police pull their weapons and shoot their way free. Would the NASCAR aficionados run down the undoubtedly gay-leaning Hillary fans?  

Or are there more like me than I imagine, showing only one part of their personality to one group at a time but able to appreciate them all and using all of it as fodder for their writing? 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Old Writers - New Tricks

                                                   Image result for photography quotes

This happened a few years ago when I was doing more writing for magazines which often offered additional $$ for accompanying photographs. 


In our bid to join the twenty-first century, my friend Brenda and I took a class on Digital Photography. We both bought new cameras recently. In the past, our photographic expertise had consisted of: a) peering through the viewer to more or less center our subject (with a success rate of about 50 percent); b) clicking the button and 3) hoping for the best. If we had ever learned from past experience, we would have confined ourselves to purchasing simple, throwaway cameras and letting it go at that but, ever on the quest for knowledge, professionalism and technological hipness - and always over-estimating our own abilities, we forged into new photographic territory.
Brenda chose her camera by means of the ever-reliable “it was on sale” method.. I used a somewhat more labor-intensive technique for making my decision.  I went to the camera section of the website and read the reviews for different brands and styles of digitals.  I was particularly on the look-out for comments such as: “this camera is so easy, a two-year-old could take competition-winning photos with it!”  I ignored any mention of pixels and shutter speeds and other mechanical comparisons. By the time I scrolled down through page after page of reviews, often by writers who disagreed (“Brand A is the easiest and most reliable camera I have ever used and I’d never buy anything else!” versus “Brand A is junk and a total waste of money!”), I was no closer to a resolution than before.
When my camera was delivered, it came in a box of a size to suggest that it contained a microwave. The box included three manuals, one so thick, you’d assume it was instructions for building the space shuttle. This particular manual boasted four pages of Table of Contents. It has thousands of depictions of tiny little icon choices that my aging eyes have to struggle to differentiate and a series of complicated schematics that only an engineer would understand.
Of course, you have to consider that the manual would only be half as large if it was not divided in half by language since it has instructions in Spanish as well as English. I am not one of those people who are bothered by having to “press one for English”. In a complicated life of many ups and downs, pressing a single button seems like one of the simpler decisions I have to make. I almost enjoy it because it is something I can do without agonizing about whether I’m doing the right thing. And, in fact, with this manual, it really probably wouldn’t matter much if I flipped to the English section or the Spanish section because I think I would understand either one equally as well.
Along with the camera itself and the manuals were several cords and a cd and a carrying case and a little extra memory thingy that the Amazon people advised me to buy.
It was all so overwhelming that I simply placed everything in a cupboard and never looked at it again.  That was in August.  Brenda got her camera for herself at Christmas and has yet to take a picture.
We both decided we needed professional assistance if we were going to be able to take advantage of our new cameras and that’s why we signed up for the Digital Photography class. The first class was on a Tuesday.  I missed it because that was also Super Tuesday and nothing could have pulled me out from in front of the t.v. when election results were rolling in.

Brenda called me on Wednesday night. She was depressed as she told me about the class.  First, everyone there seemed to have higher end cameras than either of ours and second, all of them seemed to be considerably farther along the road to knowing how to use their cameras. (For instance, they all knew about framing and shading and what Photoshop was.) Bottom line: she felt dumb even though the instructor tried to convince her that neither the quality of her camera nor the depth of her ignorance was a cause for concern.
She told me that she tried to take notes but in looking back at them, they turned out to be gibberish. She told me our homework assignment was to know the speed of our cameras and to take a “raw picture”.
Sadly, she asked me if I knew the speed of my camera (answer: no) or if I knew what a raw picture was (answer: no).  We are supposed to get together this afternoon with our manuals and try to figure these two things out.
At the end of our conversation, she said -  “there’s only one consolation about next week’s class.”
“What’s that,” I asked.
“You’ll be there too and you’ll be just as stupid as me.”

Oh, wow, I could hardly contain my anticipation.

* Incidentally, we only made it through three classes before we ignominiously dropped out. My digital cameras is still in the same cupboard I put it in on the first day I got it. I mostly use my cell phone to take pictures now. I'm not very good at it. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Every Writer Needs A Blog

Image result for blogging

I've been blogging for years, probably at least 15. In the beginning I didn't take it very seriously and I wasn't very good at it. My blog had no consistent theme. I wrote about whatever I wanted to write about. It was simply fun to do and it was practice for thinking up ideas and writing itself. I made no attempt to draw readers. I just published it and if by chance someone came along and read it, that was great.

I do better than that now although I still don't consider myself a mega-professional blogger with thousands of hits every day. I write three blogs - one about politics; one about NASCAR and this one, Rafe Vincennes (the name of the main character in my on-going series), about writing. The political blog is the one I've been doing the longest. I watch my stats with interest now and I must say, its a real thrill when you first hit 100,000 hits or you see that 700 people read your blog the previous month. 

I faithfully update the blogs. I now include pictures and links. I have enough readers that I get feedback if I fall behind. I use BLOGGER.COM and my blogs automatically appear on Twitter and Google+. I post them myself to Facebook. (I didn't know about any of these when I first began blogging). 

I still don't try to make money off my blogs by selling ad space. There are lots of tricks to increase your viewership or earn income off your blogs. I have just never had the time to look deeply into it although I might when I retire from my real job.

If you write books, a blog is an excellent platform for keeping readers up to date with your progress or to alert them that you have published a new book.

I'd recommend that every writer have a blog as a presence on social media. Of course, first, you have to find a subject that interests you enough to write about it every week at least - whether that is being a parent or pets or fashion or movies or whatever it is you have a passion for. Then you just have to DO IT. I've known several people who started a blog with great aspirations then simply petered out after the first few. 

For those of you who'd like to start a blog, here is what it was like for me as a newbie.

WHEN I FIRST BEGAN BLOGGING..... (written, I think, in 2008)

Blogging has always simply been an exercise in self-indulgence because I write it for myself and the three people a year who just happen to stumble on to it accidentally when they’re surfing the web.

It is nothing but writing because I never learned to use all the bells and whistles offered by the blog people who provided my space for free, although they frequently sent me encouraging messages to “enhance” the blog by adding this or that new feature. My blog doesn’t have pictures and it doesn’t have links. I write about whatever subject piques my interest. Sometimes, I go long periods without posting anything at all. Maybe there are a few more than three people who read it because I get complaints sometimes saying, “I went to your blog and there was nothing new.”

My goal in life is to sell my novel before I retire. (*Note - this never happened. I turned to e-publishing instead). To that end, I bought a book about how to market a fiction manuscript. I had an old copy but publishing companies and editors and agents change frequently so if you’re serious, you need to have the latest edition. In this most recent update, I discovered a new twist: publishers and agents who may be interested in buying your book manuscript consider it an advantage if you have a “platform”.

When I read this, my first reaction was – “huh?” I had no clue what a platform was but it turns out, it is any way you might have to reach potential readers of your book – a radio or television show, a column in a newspaper or magazine, a blog. Unbeknownst to me, I was already two steps ahead of the game. I write this column and I have a blog.

I decided I needed followers to make my blog look impressive in the unlikely event an editor and/or agent ever actually checked it out. A blog without readers is sort of like the tree that falls in the forest: you don’t know if it makes a sound or not. So, I sent e-mails to all my friends asking them if they’d go to the blog and become followers.

The young girls at my office had no problems. They instantly sent a one word message, “done.” Unfortunately, though, most of my friends are roughly my age. I began getting a flood of responses saying, “I went to the blog but I couldn’t figure out what to do.” So, I tried myself and I couldn’t figure out what to do either.

When I looked at it with a critical eye, I thought the blog looked amateurish. Any editor who viewed it would instantly know I was old because only an elderly, behind-the-technology person would have such a boring blog.

I decided I would pay to have the blog professionally done. The first thing the blog developer at Visionary Web asked was, “why pink?”

“What?” I said.

“Why pink?” he repeated. “The name of your blog is “red state blue collar” so why did you use pink as the primary color in your blog theme? Seems as if red and blue would have been the obvious choices.”

I felt like a fool right off the bat.

The new blog is red and blue. I “own” my very own domain name now, providing I can keep up the annual fee. The blog has a little button to press to become a follower. It even has a link from my Facebook page. The Visionary Web guy, Toby, showed me how to import pictures and to link to other sites. (And I plan on doing this before long, really). He told me about tags. The more tags, the better. Tags describe what your post is about. Like tags might be: “NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson, Daytona, Sprint Cup, auto racing….etc.” Tags are how you distinguish yourself to the search engines such as Google so if someone does a search for Jimmie Johnson, there you are. (Only it really isn’t quite as easy as that because you have about 4 billion competitors out there trying to do the same thing).

The pink blog was a pleasant dalliance. I dropped in now and then when I was in the mood, then waved a cheery good-bye – “see ya later”.  The new professional red and blue blog is a marriage requiring devoted attention in order to flourish.

To make it even more stressful, the Visionary Web people are like the friends who introduced you to your partner. They have a proprietary interest in seeing that the relationship works. They send me suggestions about things to do now and then. I worry about not living up to their expectations. I imagine them going to my blog site, shaking their heads in disappointment.

“She hasn’t imported a single picture yet,” or, “her latest post was pretty lame.”

My hope is that the blog will be an effective sales tool should a publisher happen to pop in. Over all, though, the old blog with my three + readers was a lot more relaxing.