Monday, April 29, 2013

Debt is a Home Wrecker

When I was with my husband we were always on a budget. We would have to be on an “austerity program” as he called it. He worked ten hour days and still we could never get ahead. Our budget was always being blown. At times, I thought he blamed me even though I contributed quite a bit of money to the household. We just never went a month without some kind of new debt.
I know most people have this issue to worry about. It is the way of the world and can be a never-ending struggle. My husband used to say he wanted to make enough money so he wouldn’t have to take crap from anyone. Somehow he thought if he was a financial success nothing else would matter. He hated being reminded of his own mediocrity and refused to hear about people who were achieving more than he did. Being with that kind of person made it difficult to look past our money problems. When I was with him I was always reminded that we were not okay. That is a hard way to walk around life, feeling like you are not good enough. After a while I started to think of myself as a failure too.
Now that we are apart, I refuse to look at my triumphs in life solely based on my economic situation. Money makes life easier but it does not guarantee happiness. Happiness is accepting yourself as you are.

Brenda Perlin


8 Slices of cake

Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Being a Writer

Although it has been a rocky road, I have enjoyed some success as a writer. I have five books to my name—only one of which was a self-pub. I have been a columnist for a short time with the local newspaper—The Florida Times-Union, and I have published many poems and articles in numerous literary magazines and several glossy mags.

However, if I were to total up all the prize money, the royalties, and the contributor copies I have earned, I’d be surprised if I have made even as much a $7,000 in a career that has spanned just over 40 years. By my count that would mean I would have made approximately $175 per year, and that wouldn’t have even kept a hamster in seeds and grain. Thank goodness I had a teaching career on which to fall back.

So, why do I keep at it when there is so little money to be made? It is for the same reason as the rest of the world’s writers—the compulsion to write. I have, as I think all writers have, a drive to put on paper (or on computer) the words that help me process the world. And I sense that there is a bit of immortality in the process, as well.

Think of all the writers from days past whose words have moved and excited you. I suppose, I like to think that in the distant future, someone might come across a poem I have written or a book over which I have labored, and they might find an answer or an insight into the human condition. Pretty lofty goal, isn’t it?

I also enjoy great satisfaction when I get an idea on paper that is exactly what I needed to say. Whether I am paid for my efforts or not is immaterial (although I will never turn away a writer’s fee). The glow that comes from preserving in words an emotion is intoxicating and has kept me writing whether there is anyone else in the forest to read it.
Just about a month ago, I signed a contract to write my 6th book, another Jacksonville, Florida,  history, and even though I have an accelerated deadline and a mountain through which I must sift, I am excited that once again, I will be able to capture thoughts and memories of people before these thoughts and memories are lost to oblivion.

I love recalling and preserving earlier customs that we no long practice. Remember wearing hats and gloves, even in Florida, when it was time to go shopping downtown? Remember sock-hops and cruising through the curb-service restaurants? Remember hanging out at the beach, and celebrating that fact as you listened to the Beach Boys on an AM transistor radio? Remember being painfully smitten with a person who didn’t even know you existed? Remember falling in love for the first time and being certain that THIS IS IT!?!

It is a privilege to be privy to the memories of others, and it is very satisfying when I can capture those moments so that they will live forever somewhere in the Cloud or on a network or in pages. I will continue to write until I lose all my words.

I do want to be clear about one thing, however. I don’t give my writing away. Once I was “stiffed” by a tabloid after I had written four articles for them, so I have been careful ever since to be sure that some portion of payment is made before I begin, or that I get it in writing what I will be paid. I also recall being asked to write for an up-start website for a pittance, and I turned them down flat. It may seem somewhat contradictory that I would do that, but I felt my time was worth more. And this website was totally uninteresting to me.

Perhaps if the site had been for a charity that I support, I would have written for it for free. If the site had even been about something about which I wanted to learn, then I could see myself writing for little to nothing.  Still, there has to be a pay-off for any writer—be it expanding ones knowledge base, which might come in handy at another time, or helping a cause in which one believes. Then, and only then, would I write for free. 

Writing is a sacred calling. It is something we writers are compelled to do with our days on this earth. And because it is sacred, writers must value their worth and consider carefully the payoffs in the offing—be it tangible or more esoteric. Then, our hope of enlightening readers will come true, and we need not give ourselves away to those who would take advantage.
Dorothy K. Fletcher
Pen Woman , Jacksonville Branch

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A quick hop over the border: Strasbourg

... Except there is no real border anymore when you cross over from Germany into France, only a sign saying: “ You now entered France and that the speed limit is 120 km/h on motorways and 90 on national roads. Strasbourg is merely 50 minutes away from where we were staying in Baden- Baden and well worth a visit. In fact, Alsace is one of my favorite destinations for quick day visits. The best time to avoid huge crowds that are almost always present, is when summer school holidays are over in September. Truth be told that the month of October is indeed the best for gourmet travelers because the first fresh wines are available, all types of venison and mushrooms.

The whole region is well renowned and loved for its quaint, picturesque and medieval towns, dotted with timber framed houses which all seem to have an abundance of window boxes with flowers spilling out. Whether you drive to Riquewihr, Kaysersberg (birthplace of Albert Schweitzer), Obernai or Colmar ─ you are always in for a treat. The year before, our choice was Colmar, my all-time favorite, smaller than Strasbourg but with equally big crowds of tourists vying for sightseeing spots and restaurant tables.
Since my hubby had not seen the capital of the Alsace region and the seat of the European Parliament as well as the European Court of Human Rights. The city’s population has almost doubled in the last decade, with the greater urban area now comprising just under 1 million inhabitants.
The adjacent area to the northwest covers the magnificent natural park and mountain region of the “Vosges”, an ideal location for hikers, bikers and nature lovers. You will find fewer tourists there. I spent a whole week during my college years on a very isolated but romantic “gite”, i.e. a cottage.
We had tried to find home swapping partners on the French site, in vain. We almost made a deal, i.e. signed the exchange contract, when the French found out that it’s likely to be very hot in Florida in the month of August. Indeed. Though there are many picturesque towns of a similar nature on the German side of the border, the French has a more exotic feel to me, being German. And the food in the restaurants is different, even the baguettes are better…although a bit more expensive. Strasbourg, by the way, is very expensive territory with a normal iceream sundae I enjoy in Germany on a regular basis costing here almost twice as much.

With this being our last excursion of this year’s European stay, we enjoyed every minute in spite of the crowds and took plenty of photos. The weather was only glorious. We wished we could have stayed along the banks of the river Rhine which runs almost all the length of the border between the two countries. We brought home some regional delicacies like “foie gras” and wine. We skipped the pottery that is typical for this region, colorful stoneware, but just too heavy  to bring back on a plane. Hubby and I, both agreed that Colmar had a more intimate feel to it. But now we had “done” the entire Alsace.
All there was left to do after this excursion was pack up or numerous gigantic bags and clean the house we had spent 3 happy weeks in for our departure back to the US.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Make Everyday a Celebrated Earth Day!

What does it mean to celebrate Earth Day? For many, as Frank Robinson executive director for the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (LGBG) says, it means “to encourage children to develop a natural curiosity about nature, allow them to play in natural environments at their own pace and learn to follow their instincts.” Still, to mark the anniversary of a modern-day environmental movement, a special day is set aside.
In 1970, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed the first nationwide environmental protest "to shake up the political establishment” and force this issue onto the national agenda. At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. And, air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. More often, environment was a word that appeared in spelling bees rather than on the evening news. But on April 22, 1970 an event occurred that ignited our present-day 21st. Century Green Revolution.
More than 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Denis Hayes, the national coordinator, and his youthful staff organized massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly became well-known.
A rare political alignment occur that enlisted the support of Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders resulting in the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts. In 1990, Denis Hayes organized another big campaign; and this time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting the status of environmental issues to world-wide attention. As the millennium approached, he again spearheaded yet another campaign, combining the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990 and 5,000 environmental groups from around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries. So, on April 22nd., we again celebrate an event that has forever changed the way we see our environment.
What can you do as a parent? As Robinson says, “encourage your children to develop their natural curiosity about nature, allow them to play in natural environments at their own pace and learn to follow their instincts.” Robinson and his staff have kicked off the season with hosting events which provide the opportunity for families to enjoy music and entertainment as they engage in activities that promote environmental stewardship. Another central Virginia site which equally hosts activities is Maymont’s Nature Center to attend these events, children must be accompanied by an adult, pre-register and admission fees apply. See for details.

Still, as Robinson implies, everyday should be a celebrated ‘earth day’. Consequently, year around, the Great Richmond Virginia areas hosts events in which to participate. The Children's Garden provides an excellent "outdoor classroom" for young visitors to cultivate their interest in nature and learn about environmental stewardship. Through hands-on demonstrations, crafts, and activities children discover that they can make a positive difference at home, in their communities, and in the world. See to identify events of interest to your family. And, if your children are too young to participate in active recreation activities, expose them to the fascination of nature through “scratch and sniff” board books. These books appeal to the senses of touch, sight and smell and are available through DK Publishing,

Avid naturalists, such as master gardeners, have recognized for years that exposure to the environment is not only fun for children but teach them skills such as patience, caring for something other than themselves and the value of work, itself. Applied in a more formal event, such as a celebration, children can learn about cultural diversity, science and environmental concepts as well as gain self-confidence and self-esteem.

Consequently, whether your child’s experience occurs through a book, backyard, organized community event or public garden activity, children can, as Robinson says, “be encouraged to develop natural curiosity about nature while playing in natural environments at their own pace and learn to follow their instincts.”

About the author - Spotlighted by Landscape Architect magazine as an Industry ‘Mover & Shaker’, Sylvia Hoehns Wright, recipient of the Turning America from Eco-weak to Eco-chic Award and founder of the Plants of CARE program, challenges all to ‘change America’s landscape’, move their life-styles from eco-weak to eco-chic – ‘green’ life’s garden, one scoop at a time! To acquire details of Wright’s activities, visit her web site or contact or follow tweets at ID Wright Scoop or postings at facebook The Wright Scoop.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Do we Need Publishers?


In an op-ed essay in the New York Times, Scott Turow warns about the “slow death of the American author” due to e-books, among other things. 
Hugh Howey, author of the indie-pub phenomenon Wool, on the other hand, says that self-publishing is the future, and great for writers.
In an essay for the online magazine Salon  he writes: “Those who take their writing seriously, who publish more than one title a year and do this year after year, are finding real success with their art. They are earning hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.”
Howey compares the self-published independent author to the independent musician. “We admire anyone who learns the grammar of chords and then strings these phrases together into music.” They begin by playing cover tunes, progress to busking and open-mic nights, get small gigs and hope to open for a big act or be discovered by a major label. “This is how artists are born. They are self-made.”
Like most successful musicians, Howey became an overnight success after years of hard work. His breakthrough, best-selling novel, Wool , was the eighth or ninth title that he published through Amazon’s Kindle Select program. After he sold half a million copies, Simon & Schuster offered seven figures for the publishing rights. Ridley Scott also optioned film rights.
According to Forbes magazine, Howey turned down S&S’s original seven-figure offer, and sold instead just the print rights for six figures. He kept the e-book rights for himself because he thinks that S&S won’t be able to sell enough to make up the royalty difference.

Not only is Howey’s story inspirational for all independent writers, it begs the question: what do we need publishers for? Either as writers, or as readers?
Commercial publishers claim to be agents of quality control: they find the best manuscripts, edit them rigourously, design and lay them out to be legible, print and distribute them so that readers enjoy reading them and promote them to bring them to the attention of audiences. Publishers take care of all those grimy aspects of publishing so authors are free to write more great books. And they keep those who cannot write very well out of print, sparing us readers.
Having worked for big and small publishers, here is what I know about the reality of choosing and editing books:
o   Acquisitions editors and agents choose manuscripts to publish based on sellability, not on quality. Because they cannot tell the future any better than you or me, they use factors like whether an author has been published before to make decisions. Getting selected from the slush pile is due either to blind luck or connections within the industry.
o   The quality of editing varies widely. Most copy-editors and proofreaders are right out of university and they’re so badly underpaid that most quickly seek more rewarding employment.
o   Manufacturing choices also come down to cost, not quality. The fact that magazines and book covers get printed in colour is due to competition and the relatively lower cost of colour printing today than 20 years ago.

In reality, authors today do most of what publishers did 20 years ago: research, check facts, write, edit, copy-edit and proofread. Interior design or layout is capably handled by word processing apps. Howey and any number of other authors concur that most authors published by big companies have to do their own promotion. The days of book launch tours are long gone.
What the corporations do is pay for printing and distributing copies to bookstores. The only promotion they do is of their biggest sellers and celebrity authors.
And it’s not hard for the individual author to handle that part as well as the commercial publishers do. Layout and production of e-books is done by software. Just follow Smashwords’, Amazon’s or iTunes’ instructions, and you’re fine. Amazon’s CreateSpace system makes laying out a book for print straightforward as well, and the quality is equal to, or better than commercial publishers’ — at prices is better than anything I’ve found in 30 years of managing printing.
That leaves cover design.

Proposing a new publishing model
Writers can do all the functions of a commercial publisher, and independent authors do so already. Hugh Howey’s experience proves that they do this very well.
In other words, authors don’t need publishers. I suggest a cooperative model of publishing.
A good writer is often a good editor, as well. (Not all are effective proofreaders, though.) Some are excellent cover designers — David C. Cassidy and Lisa Damers, for example.
As professional artists, we writers can trade our skills. We can trade editing skills for cover design, publicity for pre-publishing analysis, marketing savvy for layout or e-pub preparation. A large enough, dedicated enough group of authors can perform all the functions of a commercial publisher, without taking 90 percent of the authors’ revenues.
This is my suggestion: let’s get together, cooperate in producing the best books we can at a better price than commercial publishers ever could.
It’s time to return publishing to the authors.