Monday, November 30, 2015

The Holidays


The holidays mark a time in not just American culture but in Western culture overall where there are endless possibilities for stories and ideas for stories. From the day you start to decorate your house for the season until the morning (or afternoon due to hangover...) of the New Year when you're walking into the gym to start that most infamous of all New Year Resolutions, there are so many opportunities for little tidbits to develop. These tidbits can provide the basis for a good story or a subplot or some filler dialog for a larger story.

Writers are observers of real life, especially the mundane and minute details often overlooked. Real life and real people assist with providing the characters we come up with, the plots and subplots of stories, smaller characters that bring something to the larger story in a significant way, and the foundation often needed as a story's frame of reference. The holiday period gives us more family interaction, social events, drinking, drama, eating, recipes, travel, warm and fuzzy feelings, nostalgia, religion, music, and of course conversation.

If you are working on a manuscript, use this time period to talk to your friends and family members about the kinds of insights your need that could help tell and write your story. I know I plan to. My next novel will involve a relationship between a step father and step daughter, and there are a few step fathers in my life. I have no idea what it feels like to be a step father. I also have no idea what it feels like to be a step child. Families and friends are the wells in which we draw to help us see, understand and then tell our story in different perspectives. It is how our stories make sense when we really have no first hand knowledge. Our best experts are the people closest to us.

This year, whenever you are dealing with holiday related events over the course of Thanksgiving and all through December, pay attention to these little gifts to your writing from real life gatherings during a typically happy time of year.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Who Are You Thanking?

Oftentimes, we are told to "be thankful." "Life" coaches and those who specialize in well-being tell us that gratitude is the foundation to happiness. People who are grateful for what they have are generally happy people or at least happier than those who do not practice gratitude.

Practicing gratitude - it sounds like practicing yoga or practicing soccer or practicing your guitar solo. You have to do it, regularly, daily and often enough to get good at it. And then you are more likely to have a desired result: be more zen and fit, be stronger and faster with the ball, providing an audience with a beautiful rendition of <insert solo> flawlessly.

But gratitude is something different. It's not really physical or something you can see. It's something that's felt in the heart.

Ultimately, being thankful requires that you place that gratitude somewhere. "I'm thankful to my brother for helping me fix my car." "Thank you, Mr. Smith, for the beautiful Waterford Crystal glasses in honor of our wedding." "Thanks, Obama." But gratitude - practicing it - actively feeling it in your heart - who or what toward?

Who are you thanking when you feel gratitude?

Obviously, many folks are thanking God. Many thank God on a daily basis for whatever it is they have or don't have in their lives. Prayer is a form of expressing gratitude to God, among other things. But what about people who don't pray? What about those who practice gratitude and there is not really a clear recipient of the expression of their thanks?

This is a personal and maybe even spiritual question but one that deserves attention on this wonderful holiday, one of my favorites. We focus on what we are thankful for, and that is very important. But who or what are you thanking? I believe this is just as relevant. If you don't know, then maybe you should figure that out!

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Investing in Your Child

Recently, during a marketing meeting with my publisher, I was asked the question: “What is you budget?” Meaning…what are you willing to spend out of your own pocket on your book?

A lot of people think that authors make a lot of money. Well, a few small minority of authors make a lot of money. I read a statistic that said there are approximately 200 authors (and I’m not sure what that means…if that means novelists like John Grisham or an author like Giada who has a TV show and writes books on her cooking…or both...) who make enough money to live off of their writing. They are probably backed by big publishing houses who front them advances and provide the powerhouse that is The Good Ol’ Boy Network of getting their books with the “right” reviewers and in the “right” trade shows and with the “right” stores and with the “right” TV spots, etc. And you probably have to be pretty successful already in order to have that. Some debut authors get lucky and their book catches on like wildfire, like the recent Girl on a Train, but most authors really don’t sell a whole lot of books and don’t make a whole lot of money.

As someone not backed by a major publishing house, and like 99.9% of other authors, apparently, I have to invest in my product. And I have to decide what that even means. I was given an outline to figure out how much I’m willing to spend monthly, and that includes even my time.

I can probably come up with a number on what I’m willing to spend out of pocket, but really, my time is an investment I’m not quite sure I an quantify. At least not on this. 

My book is like a baby, a child I created and am going to put out into the world.

Politicians and culture at large like to try to put a price tag on the Stay At Home Mom. Then they like to put a price tag on the cost of being a parent. And I always laugh at that kind of thing because I really don’t think that you can put number on the cost of being a parent. They can say, “ costs this much for diapers and this much for school supplies and a mother should be paid this much for cleaning the house…” and I just laugh and laugh and laugh at that. There is no number that can be attached to being parent!

I have two daughters. One daughter is 21 years old and starting in an RN program up in north Raleigh in January. She has two years completed at a 4 year university, has a CNA2 license and has been working her ass off… and saving money for the past 1 ½ years while living at home and really only having a car payment to worry about. The RN program will require her to move back out and she will also not really be able to work for two years. 

My youngest daughter is 19 years old and finishing up her third semester at a 4 year university 2 ½ hours away from home. She does work part time at an on campus job to help defray living costs (and her clothing habit). While I’m sure my husband can whip out the Quicken and come up with exactly how much money these two kids have cost us in dollars and cents over the last 21 plus years…and still costing us…there is no price tag for most of the things that come with parenting. Things like endless worrying, driving to practices and games and waiting around, wrapping gifts before Christmas morning, preparing (bad) meals, advising about boys, showing how to shave legs, opening your heart to their friends, cheering them on and disciplining them when they are stupid, picking up all the Polly Pocket crap on the floor as you dissect pieces of lego out of the bottom of your foot, cleaning vomit out of carpet, taking them up the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building, holding their hands when they are scared and rubbing their foreheads when they are sick…I mean, really how do you quantify what the cost is to YOU in raising a child?   

Scout’s Honor is my third child. Readers will either like it or not like it or not have much of an opinion one way or the other. That’s just how life is. It’s the same with human beings. When someone doesn’t like my kid, it breaks my heart in places that do not see the light of day, ever. It haunts me, causes me to lose sleep and makes me want to go change it somehow. It will probably be like that for my book too. 

But it will not change the investment that I put into this baby…both financially and intangibly. There are some things that money cannot buy. I believe that.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Re-invent the Wheel

I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. Most things that need to be done, have been done before and by someone else. There are lots of things that have already been done that are done better than I could’ve imagined myself.

I’ve never had my own website before, other than a blog through Blogpsot, years ago when I attempted to be a blogger about life as a mom in this world. This blog is through Blogspot – it’s the same blog actually. When I began this segment of my journey (the getting published one…the one where you have to put yourself all over the Internet in order to make yourself a legitimate presence)…I saw that GoDaddy was offering a website deal for $12.95 the first year.

Getting a website with my name as the address made this thing much more real. Saying out loud, “Go to” was a bit weird. But I know nothing about making any website, let alone one that is for an author.

Thankfully, GoDaddy comes with a website builder that you can use yourself. It is basic and bare bones, but unless you are Jodi Picoult or Sarah Dessen, your author website doesn’t need to be expensive and a financial burden. What I did was look at other new authors – other nobodies like me – who have a starter website – and take a look at what they have on them. Then…go do that.

Some have very advanced websites that incorporate their blogs well along with everything else they are doing. Others are very simple and some don’t even appear to have a blog. I decided to do something else in between: A simple website that links to my blog. And then I put the normal types of pages on the site: a way to link to my social media accounts, a bio page, how to buy my book, how to contact me and book an event, reviews for my book, what my book’s about, etc. I think that for now that is all I really need to do.

So when you are considering having your own website, which if you are an author, you should…. Really, seriously, do it. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But you need a place where people can go to see you and your product. A place with your name. A place that might actually describe you and what you are doing. I am a simple girl. I live in North Carolina. My book takes place in North Carolina. My website reflects this. My bio is short and sweet without too much personal information. My review page is blank because I have no reviews yet! But that will change at the new year.

Once my book is finally out, then I will have more to put on there and will have to keep it up to date with event postings and anything else that I see OTHER authors putting on their pages to help make their book accessible, but more importantly, me more accessible.

So my advice is, simply put, go find authors like you already out there who have made a path through this heavily wooded forest leading to a release date. And go do what they are doing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day

I am a veteran. It’s probably one of the more bitter-sweet titles I can claim and hold as an American.

When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I was going to go to the Air Force Academy and conquer the world. All 5’2” of me. I was going to marry Ice Man (who was soooo much better than Maverick) and we were going to shoot down Soviet jets together...and in my world...Goose was alive, Tom Cruise wasn't weird and I, too, looked good in sunglasses. Then I learned that fighter pilots need to be able to see. And well, I was already quickly deteriorating in my right eye. Then I also learned that I needed to be good at math. So my fighter pilot dreams went out the window much like most young peoples’ ill-conceived or unrealistic dreams for their futures.

My plan changed to becoming an Army officer. What kind, I didn’t know. So I looked into West Point and got an application packet and carried around the West Point catalog with me everywhere…and realized, once again, that I needed to be good at math. (Aside: I learned well after the fact that I could’ve gone to West Point to play softball…but hindsight is 20/20…and certainly my eyesight was not 20/20 in 1989.) 

So then I looked into the Virginia Military Institute. I sat in my guidance counselor’s office and talked with him about my plans…and he just looked at me and listened to me and nodded intently…and then at some point just stopped me and said, “Dori. You’re a girl. You can’t go to VMI. You can't go to The Citadel either. They don’t accept girls.” I felt really, really stupid and acutely aware of my female-ness in that moment.  It never occured to me that I couldn't do something, like go to a military school, because I was "a girl."

I did find a co-ed military school up in Vermont and applied there. But I needed an Army ROTC scholarship to be able to afford to attend. So I applied and competed for a 4 year Army ROTC scholarship. I was accepted to Norwich University but just missed getting a 4 year Army ROTC scholarship....damn the math all to Hell. So instead, I went to a private Christian school in Virginia, entered its Army ROTC program as a first year cadet and paid for my first year of school with student loans (more math...). 

2LT Dori Dupre - 14 May 1993
Because I did so well in my first year, and math didn't matter so much anymore, I was sent to Airborne School as a freshman and earned a 3 year ROTC scholarship. While in ROTC for all four years, I trained to become a commissioned officer in the US Army upon my graduation…and my senior year, I was designated active duty, Military Intelligence, my first choice.

I could write lots of blog posts about my experiences as a cadet. There is significant growth that occurs in a young woman from age 18-22 anyway…but throw in assembling and disassembling weapons and being wet and freezing with no sleep and learning how to navigate terrain with nothing but a map and a compass, alone; and jumping out of planes and being 5’2” in a formation run for miles full of men who are at least 6’ tall...feeling like you are in a dead sprint, and leading your peers in leadership does test you. And what you learn is that most of us can take a lot more than we think we can. We don't give ourselves enough credit. Most of it is mental. 

I said earlier that being a veteran is bitter-sweet for me. It is sweet because there is no higher calling and greater honor than being in service to this incredible country. It was something I wanted, something I believed in and something I felt in my heart. I don’t care what bellyaching everyone wants to do about this politician and that political party and this horrible system and that worthless voting block and this immoral Congress and that awful leader. It is STILL the best damn country in the world. My service was sweet because I chose to do it and I believed in what our country stands for. ‘Merica.

But my service is also bitter. It is bitter because due to “life” happening, unplanned and unexpected events, some as a result of my own choices and others not, I had to make the difficult decision to end my Army career upon the completion of my 8 year service obligation (4 years active, 4 years reserve). So there is always that feeling within me that I didn’t get to quite finish what I started, do all I wanted to do, serve in all the ways I wanted to serve. I did all that I was obligated to do…but there is still a void. 

As we age, we learn that most people don’t get to do everything they want to do, let alone much of what they want to do. And that’s okay.

This Veteran’s Day, I salute every veteran who, like me, started out as a kid with a dream and a pure heart. I salute every veteran who had a number called and lost their personal freedom for two years..or more. I salute every veteran who learned that their country was under attack, needed their service, and volunteered. I salute every veteran who served this country, either a viciously difficult messy 6 years or an easy breezy 2 years, whether they wanted to or not, whether they chose it or not. I salute every veteran who got up and put on a uniform and stood a post and pulled a watch and led or followed others and did the very best they could…until they could at last go home. And I salute all the ones who never got to go home - because they died in service or they died while alive. If there is one thing this country should get is helping to fix our broken soldiers who are living as human shells, dying each day a little bit more with the relentless torment of PTSD.
Arthur Dupre, US Army
Glenn Scotti, USMC
Eric DeJong, US Army (West Point graduation - receiving his diploma from President Bush)
Jon Dupre, US Navy

Thank you Dad, Uncle Glenn, Eric, Jon and my other selfless extended family members and friends who are veterans. <3