Chicken Soup for Your Writer’s Soul? Absolutely!

chicksoupvolcover

In a previous post I encouraged writers to seek out the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. There you will find a bevy of topics for which new books will be developed. They are always seeking submissions and believe me you are likely to find something you can wax poetic about.

I did find something when I checked out the site  and they selected my essay on volunteering to be included in their newest book, out next week. Yay, it arrived today! And there on page 89 is my story, “A Little Lipstick.” (It’s about a lovely gentleman I used to deliver weekly meals to who had only one poignant request…)

The Chicken Soup guidelines are fairly straightforward. The stories (they also accept poems) must be in first person, not “as told to” and they must have “heart.” Love that description, “heart.” It leaves much open to interpretation, doesn’t it? Doesn’t everything you write have “heart?” Anyway, this was my first submission (already submitted a second) and maybe it was beginner’s luck but I am so honored to be included. It’s just pretty exciting when someone (anyone!) thinks your work is worth publishing and reading. (Let alone paying you $200!) I’ve had two prior books published by big publishing houses. My most recent “Tales From The Family Crypt,” is self-published. With that varied publishing history, I can report this: It’s a thrill to be published no matter how you get there.

So, my writer friends and wannabe writer friends, get there! Give it a try. I can’t promise you’ll make the cut on your first try but I can guarantee you won’t make the cut if you never try. Also, I can promise you’ll be thrilled if you succeed and the disappointment of not getting in probably won’t kill you.

Do It. Join me in a future Soup! And do let me know if you make it. We’ll revel together.

The Irony of Amazon Reviews Mysteriously Disappearing

This post is not a complaint about Amazon reviews. It’s just something that made me smile this morning. I read recently that Amazon is going to crack down on reviews of products or books by people who are somehow related to said product or book. I get that Amazon wants reviews to be unbiased. As a consumer I want that too. And yes, I’ve heard the many stories of frustrated authors whose books have had completely legitimate reviews removed. I am, in fact, one of those authors and I’m not that happy about it.

I’ve had three reviews deleted from my page mysteriously. There were all there for a while and written by completely unrelated people. Two were 5-star, one was 4-star and OUCH it hurts to lose those. I’m guessing that somehow the Amazon algorithm used to crack down on bogus reviews somehow found that one of those writers is my friend on Facebook. He’s a guy I graduated high school with whom I haven’t seen or spoken to for 40 years. But, Amazon decided, I suppose, he and I were too close for their comfort and boom, his lovely review vanished. If you’re reading this, thanks for trying.

They deleted a review of someone I don’t know and to my knowledge she doesn’t know me. Five stars down the drain.

A woman who “liked” my Facebook book page sent me a message saying she was trying to write a review but was unable to “submit” it as Amazon seemed to be blocking it in some way. Maybe they discovered she is one of the 400 or so people who “liked” my page but for whatever reason they didn’t want her review to post.

But, overall I’m doing pretty well for a new nonfiction book about dysfunctional family. Twenty-four reviews, almost all five stars, a handful of four-star reviews and then these two, which are the ones that made me smile.

First is one written by a friend of my sister-in-law, one of the more despicable but true-life characters in my book. The “reviewer” even identified herself in the review as someone who “knows four of the people” I wrote about. She also pretty much said she hadn’t bought or read the book. And, she didn’t say she knew me, because I’ve never met her so I guess that was enough distance for Amazon to allow her review in which says the book is a “sad tale of a woman who is not happy in her own life.” That right there tells you she didn’t read the book because it’s not all sad. Some parts of damn funny, if I do say so myself.

But my favorite selection for Amazon irony in review deletion has to be the one by my brother-in-law. He does know me (alas for me), he’s an actual family member (alas for him since I pretty much described all the family members in detail and he is in no way happy about his depiction because it is, true and undeniably awful). Yet, Amazon allowed him to call me Hitler and that review stands!

But, as I said at the start, I’m just musing, not so much complaining. I’m overall grateful to Amazon for offering a platform for indie authors to get their fine work out there and to promote it to readers seeking new voices to enjoy. I’m hoping to garner so many good reviews I will no longer notice if a handful disappear. (Unlike now when I have pretty much memorized each review as if it were one of my children and therefore I notice when they’re missing!) Until that happens (the magical day when my reviews are in the hundreds instead of the 20s) if there are bumps along the way, if the system is imperfect, I can live with that. But when I realized the irony of stranger reviews being deleted while actual family member reviews are allowed to stay, it did make me wonder what’s up at Amazon?

Have you authors out there had mysterious deletions of your reviews? Do you think this matters much?

Love Haters, Freedom Fighters?

One of the big deals on WordPress this week involved the ire of some bloggers who didn’t like the rainbow banner emblazoned across their site as WordPress (I’m guessing) tipped a hat to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

At first the whole anger reaction made me sad. I know I may ruffle some feathers here but, honestly, I’ve never understood anyone’s objection to gay marriage. How can something borne of love be a bad thing in anyone’s eyes? I’ve heard the rationale that gay marriage will ruin marriage. Well, folks, haven’t we already ruined marriage with our more than 50% divorce rate here in America? Haven’t we screwed up marriage with our TV shows showing strangers getting married on their first date? Or the shows in which a marriage partner is selected during a televised competition? Or the reality TV shows inside the very personal life of a celebrity family where we see the dirty underbelly of way too much intimacy in way too public a forum? In how much worse shape could marriage be?

And the marriage these people are protecting? It’s already evolved.  Marriage didn’t always involve religion, it was an arrangement between families. In Biblical times, marriage was polygamous. It didn’t morph into monogamy until at least the sixth century. It was also more about business and land alliances than true love. Love’s only been a big part of marriage for a few hundred years. Don’t even get me started on how little women got to say (and in some parts of the world still don’t) about who they married and when.

Readers of this blog or my book know my family story isn’t a pretty one. If gay people or any people want to form families of love and respect and support, why oh why would anyone say no? We have so much that tears us apart as people, why not embrace anything that brings us together?

Having said that, back to the ire about the WordPress rainbow banner — I loved it but others did not because it represented a political or social point of view with which they disagreed. While their disagreement makes me sad for them and everyone who agrees with them, I actually understand their objection. I wouldn’t want WordPress emblazoning my blog with a political point of view radically opposed to my own.

I celebrate the freedom secured by this Supreme Court decision. Makes me proud to be an American. But with that freedom comes the responsibility  to not shove our own points of view or agenda down anyone’s throat. (We’ve done that and it has dire consequences. I’m looking at you Iraq war.) What did you think about the banner? Did it offend?

Stop. Just. Stop. Stop Saying These Killings Can’t Be Stopped.

NOTE: If you think America has perfectly acceptable gun laws which are working for all of us, you probably shouldn’t read this post. Seriously.

My blogging friend Van posted about the Charleston killings today. Her thought-provoking post is here. It got me thinking about Charleston again as I have been since the horrific killings happened. Let me begin with this: I love South Carolina. I think Charleston is one of the most picturesque cities in the world and I know people there who are loving and kind. So none of what I am about to write is an indictment of anything there specifically. I don’t think they’re more or less racist and hateful than anywhere else necessarily and I don’t even think hate is solely to blame for this killing spree.  But it does start with hate and in South Carolina, hate is a unique part of the root of the problem.

I’ve been in the newspaper industry a long time. We produce and syndicate special sections for newspapers which are earmarked for use in schools. When newspapers were found mostly in print we sold our products to most of the papers in the country. One of the sections I am most proud of is titled, “Live Without Hate.” I wrote it years ago after the horrific homophobic hate-based killing of young Matthew Shepard. It began with the premise (yes, from a song), “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” So, we reasoned if hate is taught, because no one is born hating anyone, hate can be unlearned too. When you learn more you know better, you do better things in the world.

Makes sense, right? Lots of newspapers agreed and bought and ran the piece and delivered it to schools. Except any in South Carolina where we did have lots of clients. Why? The title, one client explained to me. The title could incite a riot. “Live Without Hate” could incite a riot? Who objects to living without hate I wondered. It was all about that flag controversy, the one still raging this week. At the time, the pro-flag side adopted a slogan, “It’s not hate, it’s heritage” to explain why they wanted to continue to fly that Confederate flag. So, the word hate was incendiary.

But I think the word hate is a smokescreen. I think the whole flag controversy is a smokescreen. It’s a distraction from the real problem. Now the governor can call for a removal of said flag and all’s right with the world? We’ve done something to stop the next killer? I don’t think so. I think these are smokescreens put up by people who want us to turn away from what actually could be done to reduce crimes of this nature. While the sight of that flag evokes a very unpleasant visceral response in me because I do think it represents hatred of a very high order, I don’t think the flag or the heritage it represents for some people killed those people in the church. I think people and in particular politicians want to blame the flag and the  hate because you can’t stop hate. They want to blame crazy because you can’t stop crazy. The one thing very few in power want to blame is the one thing they can do something about. Guns.

I tend not to get political on this blog. It’s a place where I write about families and family issues with a goal of helping others to be closer with their family members and to heal rifts that exist. But, this issue is taking precedence for me today. It matters more than my occasional musings. I don’t want to offend gun sportspeople. I’m not coming for your guns. I may not be a hunter but if that’s your sport, have at it. But have at it with weaponry appropriate for the sport. The animals are unarmed, do you really need an AK-any number to shoot at them? The Charleston shooter used a semiautomatic handgun. Who needs that kind of gun and ammo? Self protection you say? How many guns and what type of gun do you need for that? Wouldn’t a gun shooting one bullet at a time protect you sufficiently? And, how many times have you actually used your self-protection gun? I have friends who have self-protection guns and fortunately not one has ever used one. Are you a shooting range sportsperson? I’m not coming for  your guns either. But why live ammo? Can’t you just go to the range and get the same thrill from shooting the target with some sort of dummy bullet? The target will be no less alive or dead, right?

We need politicians to look at the Charleston church shooting for what it is. Yes, this shooter was a hater and yes he was also crazy but he if he hadn’t been armed, his insane hatred couldn’t kill anyone. If he had a knife, yes, he’d still be a crazy hater but maybe he could have killed one person before he was stopped. The gun in his hand and the ammo in that gun enabled a crazy, hating lunatic to kill way too many good people. As did the one in Sandy Hook, as did the one in every hate-based on crazy-based killing in recent history.

We need better and enforceable gun laws. We need ammo laws. (Chris Rock once joked we could let people have all the guns they want but bullets should each cost $50,000. Funny but not all that far off the mark.) We need to decide who we want to be in America. How many of these horrific sprees of hate-based killing are we willing to tolerate in the name of “freedom?” Those Constitution  wavers who point at the 2nd Amendment to insist we follow the rule of the Founding Fathers can’t really believe Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison et al wanted this kind of society, can they? The Founding Fathers understood freedom comes with responsibility. Freedom should not be a free for all for society to run amok with nuts killing anyone anytime crazy or hate or anger strikes. Our highest priority in this country should be self protection, yes, of all of our selves. It’s not a partisan issue, or at least it shouldn’t be. These killings can be stopped. If you stop nothing else, at least stop saying these killings can’t be stopped. We can either do something or continue to let our own people be shot down because we were too weak to make laws strong enough to protect us. America, our national anthem says we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. Can we be brave enough to protect our freedom with strong enough laws to keep more of us alive? (If you ignored my note at the beginning and you read this anyway but you disagree with me, save yourself some time. I probably can’t convince you I’m right about this and you will definitely not convince me you are so don’t take the time to try. Let’s just agree we disagree.)

But, blogger friends who feel like I do, let’s continue what Van started — a conversation about Charleston. If you want something done about the gun problem in America, let’s get going. Let’s write and share our way to safety in our homes, our schools, our stores, our places of worship, our streets. Let’s begin the end of these horrors. Let’s stop saying these killings can’t be stopped and start writing our way to a better world. Who’s with me? Share. Post. Tweet. Share some more. Let’s get a “Bloggers For A Better World” movement going. Anyone with me?

Chicken Soup for the Blogger’s Soul?

In my search of good places to submit original writing, one of the first I came across was the juggernaut that is the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Having received many of these books as gifts over the years, I was intrigued. So with my usual, What the hell, attitude, I wrote an essay and sent it off to their call for submissions on Volunteering and Giving Back. (They have a boatload of titles and topics so check out their website and write an essay to submit.)

Much to my shock delight, I’m in! The book is publishing in August and my essay entitled, “A Little Lipstick,” will be inside.

So, the point of this post, is this. If you are a writer or a wannabe writer, adopt the useful, “What the Hell” attitude. Send off your work and send positive vibes into the universe. Or, do as I did. Send off your work and forget about it completely so that you too can be shocked delighted when someone out there likes what you’ve written enough to publish it. Hitting the submit button feels very powerful. Don’t take it personally if you never hear from an outlet again. Or, worse yet, if you get an actual rejection telling you the writing is the worst thing they’ve ever seen. (Okay, no one actually says that, it just feels that way.) Just reward yourself for being brave enough to send your creation out there. You just never know what may happen.

The founder of the Chicken Soup books, Jack Canfield, was rejected by 144 publishers. No, that’s not a typo. 144 publishers said no to his concept. Fast forward to today, 500,000,000 books in print worldwide. Again, no typo, 500 million books.

If you haven’t yet been rejected 144 times, keep trying! Eat a bowl of chicken soup for comfort if need be! But keep hitting SUBMIT!