Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bernie Fine and Jerry Sandusky: Let's Never Shut Up About This Again

This year marked 25 years since I was raped. I've never been quiet about it because it never occurred to me that I should feel embarrassed. After all, I was 10, and I was asleep in bed when a serial rapist kidnapped me from my bedroom... not a lot there that I need to feel responsible for. I'm sorry that any rape survivor feels any different, because regardless of circumstances, you are not responsible or to blame for what happened to you, either. No matter what.

My rapist is up for parole right now. I've already given my victim impact statement to the parole board and I'm just waiting for an answer. If he gets out of prison, my life will be very different, and you may not see me here anymore.

That's because our justice system and our community is really, really screwed up with regard to sex crimes. First off, there is no reason on the planet for a serial rapist ever to get out of prison. Now make it a serial rapist who also raped children, and I don't understand why this person even deserves to be alive right now. But that's beside the point.

I was one of the lucky ones. I told my story to the police, I was believed, and my rapist was caught before the statute of limitations ran out (in New York, a paltry 5 years-- that's right, if the rapist evades capture for 5 years, even if DNA evidence proves he did it, he's a free man and can never be convicted for that crime). He went to trial in three counties and was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum-- 25 years "to life."

I was assured at the time that he'd never get out. Except that was a lie. He's getting out. "Life," as defined by NY State, is 35 years. So sometime between next month and 10 years from now, he will be out.

Yet I'm still one of the lucky ones. At least I had these 25 years. I didn't have to look over my shoulder and wonder when he'd be back for revenge, as he promised when he let me go. He told me then that he'd come back for my 4-year-old sister.

My daughter is now 4.

Other people don't get those 25 years. Even if they manage to be heard and believed and the crime is investigated and makes it to trial and the rapist is convicted... even after all that, the sentence may still be a joke. Take, for instance, what I just found in my state's sex offender registry. Took me five seconds to find that a man in my town convicted of 1st degree sexual abuse involving intercourse with a 7-year-old girl spent 16 days in county jail, and then was sentenced to 5 years of probation.

Yep, that sounds like justice, doesn't it? He's even smiling in his mug shot.

Through the years as I've shared my story, I've heard from probably 40 or 50 women who've told me that they were also raped. It's a terrible sisterhood we share, a club that none of us wants to belong to. But then there are the men... four of them who've confided in me that they were also sexually abused as kids.

Being raped is a steaming pile of shit for anyone, but in particular for a boy. In addition to all the other emotions you go through-- worthlessness, self-blame, depression, betrayal, and so on-- now you also have this additional stupid stigma that you weren't "manly enough" to fight it off. There are fewer men out there talking about it, fewer support groups, and I presume it's even easier to feel alone and crazy. I felt alone and crazy until college, when I met a group of women who, it turned out, were all going through the very same crap I was-- hypervigilance, overreactions to triggers, trust issues, and so on.

When I read about Jerry Sandusky and then Bernie Fine and their heinous sexual crimes against boys, I thought about the men I know who've been abused. All those terrible people who didn't do a damn thing for the victims... all the people who SAW or KNEW that men were raping little boys and were too chickenshit or too uncaring to actually, y'know, DO something about it... and I thought, "That's exactly why rape victims don't come forward."

Far too often, we're not believed, or even if we are believed, it's just too horrible for society to think about-- so they do anything they can NOT to think about it. They pretend we're not really here, that it's not really so bad. They take this huge thing we just summoned up the guts to share and they do nothing about it. They fail us. They move on with their lives and we wonder why we can't move on with ours. People would much rather pretend that this stuff is so rare as to be inconsequential. But it's not rare.

There are child molesters and rapists in your community. They are in your church, they are working in your schools, they are on line next to you at the grocery store. You've probably made pleasant small talk with a child molester without ever realizing it. He (it's usually a "he") seems nice. A pillar of the community. "He would never do something like that"... except that he would. They live in Idaho and in North Carolina just the same as they live in New York and California.

If you need proof, then use the resources that proponents of Megan's Law fought for. Take a quick look at your state's sex offender registry. Now, keeping in mind that these are people who were caught and convicted and haven't yet aged out of the system. If you really want to feel ill, scroll down to the fine print about their sentences. See how many child molesters get nothing more than probation?

So here's the thing... let's take this Sandusky and Fine stuff and actually do something productive about it. We can all shake our heads and say "tsk tsk" and then go read the next scandalous story, and then nothing will actually change. Or we can go after our elected officials and MAKE THEM make some changes or kick them out of office.

Here's one: Abolish the statute of limitations for rape.

Bobby Davis found out that when he came forward about Fine's abuse, it was too late-- police wouldn't bother doing an investigation because the statute of limitations had run out. That's disgusting. Fine didn't miraculously become innocent of raping a small boy because some invisible timer had run out. Rape does not have an expiration date. Tell that to your state senators and assemblymen.

Here's two: Increase prison terms for sex offenders.

Convicted child molesters and rapists should not have a chance to rape someone else's child. This is not a "three strikes and you're out" kind of crime. One is enough. Raping ONE child should mean life in prison without the possibility of parole, period. Probation is bullshit.

Here's three: Prosecute those who see or know about sex crimes and do not report to authorities.

They have aided and abetted a rapist and deserve to be criminally punished. That includes churches who hide away their priests and pastors who've committed sex crimes, wives who know their husbands are rapists, and everything in between. If you know someone has raped someone, the time to call police is NOW.

And a few other things I want to say...

BOBBY DAVIS and MIKE LANG, you are heroes. You are amazing for speaking out the way you are. You're amazing for not letting people sweep you under the rug.

"I don't want this to happen to anybody else," Mike said.

I wish I could guarantee that. What I can guarantee, though, is that because of people like you, there are other men who will feel less alone and less crazy. You're encouraging people to speak out, and you're showing the world that male sexual abuse survivors have nothing to be ashamed of.

It's not your fault. It's not the other survivors' fault. The fault lies with the criminals who did this and the people who allowed them to do it, time and again-- people like the district attorney and university police who let Sandusky get away with it the first time, Penn State coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, senior VP for finance and business Gary Schultz, everyone at The Second Mile who knew about what Sandusky had done and let him get away with it after an "internal review," wrestling coach Joseph Miller (who watched Sandusky molest a boy), graduate assistant Mike McQueary (who watched Sandusky molest a boy); Bernie Fine's wife, everyone at ESPN who heard the tape of Fine's wife and didn't bother telling police about it, detectives who blew off Bobby Davis the first time around, the police chief who actively tried to block the DA's investigation after Mike Lang came forward...

Sadly, the list goes on and on. Imagine how life might have been different if even ONE of those people had the guts to do what was right. Other boys might not have been abused.


TYLER PERRY, you are amazing for telling your story, and for your wonderful letter to the 11-year old Penn State survivor.


MALESURVIVOR.ORG, thank you for being there. Men who have been abused, there's a place to seek some understanding.


BERNIE FINE, JERRY SANDUSKY, and every other schmuck out there who's abusing children and getting away with it, I do hope you die miserably, in as much pain as inhumanly possible, slowly. I wish horrors upon you that I can't even dream up.

Child molesters get away with their crimes because people don't want to talk about it. Let's never shut up about this again. Let's keep talking about it until we drive this stuff into the light and make it unacceptable for anyone to get a "pass." Don't be afraid to speak up because the man is a respected community member, or doesn't look like a child molester. We are responsible for people who can't speak up for themselves. Children need our protection. Let's not fail another one.


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Monday, September 19, 2011

10 Simple Steps for the Newly-Single Mom

I want to tell you the secrets I've learned, because it's taken me almost 4 years to get here and I don't want to keep this stuff to myself anymore. It's valuable stuff. Life-changing, to be sure, but not in the ways you might think.

When you first start out as a single mom, no matter who did the leaving, you think:

This sucks.

And you're right and wrong. Parts of it are going to suck, but parts of it are going to be so good that they'll cancel out the sucking. So let me tell you the important bits:

1. You don't need a new man to replace the old one.

Some newly-single moms think, "OMG! I can't do this alone! I'd better grab me a replacement man, pronto!" and others think, "I'm never getting married again as long as I live." Somewhere in between, the right answer probably exists. I can tell you that jumping into a new relationship right away will rob you of your chance to find the real goodies hidden in single motherhood, and that you probably won't make the best choices if you're wearing Eau de Desperation. Try just taking time to be with yourself and your kids because it can really pay off in unexpected ways.

2. You'll figure it out.

In the beginning, it all looks so overwhelming-- "How am I going to do this? How am I going to do that?"

You just will. When it comes down to it, you'll figure it out. Try not to freak out about things that are six or more months down the line, because everything can change in six months. Take what's on your plate now and make it work. You can do it.

3. Downsizing can be liberating.

Separation or divorce usually means learning to live with less-- a smaller home, less "stuff," a less expensive car, etc. Before resisting moving, just try looking around. Consider how it might feel to get a true fresh start in a fresh place, no bad memories lurking in the walls or under the floorboards waiting to grab your ankles and trip you up. Consider how there will be less to clean, and that you won't have to take anyone else's tastes into consideration.

4. Don't sell what you'll regret. Sell everything else.

You probably don't need half the stuff you've accumulated through the years. Aunt Edith won't notice that you sold the tea set she bought you for your bridal shower. She'd be glad to know you got a few bucks for it and used it toward something you actually need now, like, y'know, food. Use Craigslist, eBay, garage sales, consignment stores. Don't waste your time listing $5 items on Craigslist and then sitting around all day waiting for someone to show up to pick it up, but anything you think you can get $20 or more for is worth listing.

For the cheaper stuff, consider using the honor system: "I'll leave the lamp by my front door. If you decide to take it, please leave $5 under the mat." That way you don't have to wait around and schedule times, and if someone steals it, big freakin' deal.

Don't sell all the baby clothes. Keep some to make a quilt someday.

5. Instead of calling a repairman, use YouTube.

Not sure how to put in shelves, install a disposal under your sink, change a tire, or figure out what kind of wall anchor you need to hang a heavy clock? Instead of calling for help or abandoning the project, first look for videos on YouTube that will show you exactly what to do.

6. Buy these things.

Here are some things I think all single ladies should have:


  • A good cordless drill. I was lucky enough to get this Makita one second-hand. This DeWalt one's a little cheaper.

  • A ladder. (Got mine for $39 at Home Depot.)

  • A toolbox filled with nails, screws, wall anchors, pliers, wrenches, etc. in assorted sizes. And, of course, a good hammer. And I love this screwdriver.

  • Jumper cables.

  • A solid deadbolt lock.

7. Don't waste your time or energy on badmouthing.

Sure, vent a few times when you need to, but then move on and realize that (1) it's usually in the kids' best interest to have their father in their life regularly (I won't get into the situations when it's not in their best interest, but use your judgement), (2) you don't want them to overhear you and be confused about their loyalties or about what love means, and (3) negative thoughts can just weigh you down. Lighten your load and do as little thinking as possible about people who bring you stress. Redirect your focus on people and things that bring you joy.

8. Keep a daily organizer on your desk.

There are things you'll probably need to keep track of now that you might never have had to track before. Do you know when garbage days and recycling days are? Do you know when bills are due? Buy an organizer with a decent amount of room to write every day, and use the space to note everything from birthday parties to triple-manufacturer's-coupon day at the grocery store.

9. Take what's offered.

Pride is expensive. You can't afford pride. Plus, pride is idiotic. Look, if you need stuff and people are willing to give you stuff, take the stuff.

No one needs to go hungry in America. There are food pantries and soup kitchens that you can go to, no questions asked and no judgments passed. There are community centers and churches that can point you to places to get clothes and school supplies, free or cheap health insurance, and even temporary shelters. Before it gets desperate, look into these programs and don't be embarrassed to need them. That's what they're there for. Use them as long as you have to, then move ahead with your head held high and pay it forward when you're able. You'll get there, too.

10. Bask in your amazingness.

You are SuperMom. You are so capable and smart and strong. You can do this. Go ahead, let it get to your head. Fix that darn leak in the sink yourself and then brag to all your Facebook friends about it. This is where the goodies come in... if you let yourself be single, you'll learn that you are capable of more than you imagined. You'll be more whole and at peace. It's not about giving attitude and saying, "I don't need a man!" It's about feeling great about yourself and choosing to share your life with someone else only when and if you feel really good about it and ready to do so. But by then, you'll have learned so much more about yourself that you'll be an even better mate. And if you choose to stay single, that's okay, too!

Allow your priorities to change. Allow yourself to make new friends, aside from the ones you shared with your ex. Find things that make you feel good about yourself and do them. Exercise, knit, play guitar, whatever.

But mostly, treat yourself with kindness and know that you're doing the best job you can for your kids and yourself. What they need from you more than anything else is love, and you've got that. Even when all else fails, you've got that, and no one can take it away from you.

You're amazing, Mom. You can do this.


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Monday, May 23, 2011

Dear New Writer (Who Probably Googled 'Book Publishers for New Authors' to Get Here)

This just landed in my inbox, and I'm going to publish it here because I get a variation of this letter at least once a month. It's starting to make me a little loopy.




Dear Jenna, I've completed my first manuscript a few months ago and have since received 7 acceptance letters, however 5 are from "self-publishing" companies. One from PA and one from Dorrance. PA has already sent me a sample contract and an Aug. 1st deadline but after reading your comments, now I more confused then ever. Bottom line, I have no funds for Publishing law firms nor Self-Publishing companies. I'm looking for the name of a legit company that can help me without costing an arm and a leg.


Okay, new writers, this one's for you. Let's dissect what's wrong with this question:

He says has received 7 acceptance letters, but five are from "self-publishing companies." (Which are not actually "acceptances," but rather sales pitches.)

Our first dilemma is that he sent at least five self-publishing companies his manuscript.

Why?

Unless you are seeking to self-publish on purpose, and you have a good reason to do so (we'll get to that in a minute), then there's no reason to send your manuscript to any of them. However, many, many writers think it's a good idea to find publishers by Googling things like "publishers that want new writers" and "book publishers for new authors." Even just Googling "book publisher" is a very bad idea. You know who works really hard on search engine placement to attract never-been-published authors? Vanity presses. (Or "self-publishing companies," whichever wording you prefer.) Real book publishers are not trying to get themselves on top of search engines to attract writers-- they have plenty of submissions as it is, and their business is to sell books, not to attract more submissions from inexperienced writers.

If you spent the time writing a manuscript, then do right by yourself and spend time doing the research necessary to find it a good home.

It's not difficult. It's moderately time consuming, but isn't your book worth a few days of research?

Okay, so onto our second dilemma. He says he has 7 acceptances, but 5 are from self-publishers. Am I to take it to mean that he has two offers from legitimate commercial publishers, but he's still trying to figure out who to trust among the self-publishing firms? Sorry, I don't buy it. I just plain don't.

But I'll skip over that. Here's the thing: PUBLISHERS ARE SUPPOSED TO PAY YOU.

You are not supposed to pay a publisher for anything at any time.

You're not supposed to worry about costing "an arm and a leg"-- you're supposed to worry about how to spend your advance money. If you're a nonfiction writer who can't get a real publisher to pay you a real advance, something is probably wrong with your submission.

Nonfiction is sold on the basis of a book proposal. I've written lots and lots about proposals; I won't get into it here except to say that even if your whole manuscript is complete, you STILL need to show a proposal first. It contains information that's not in a manuscript, such as your target audience, your marketing plans, an analysis of competing books, your qualifications, etc. Some agents will look at a book proposal unsolicited, but most prefer that you first submit a query letter the summarizes it first, then if they give you the go-ahead, you submit the proposal.

For fiction, you'll need to write the whole manuscript (but submit a query letter before submitting the manuscript or sample chapters). And I don't judge things the same way with fiction, nor am I an expert in this arena-- I know there's quality fiction out there that doesn't find a publisher for reasons unrelated to quality of writing. But I digress.

I suggest sending out your query to a small group of agents before anything else. This way, you'll get a little feedback before sending it to your next group. If your first group all reject the query, you'll know to rewrite it. If they reject the proposal/manuscript, try to learn from any feedback you receive and move on.

Over and over, I get e-mails with some variation of, "I'm a new writer and I don't know who to trust. Can you tell me the name of a company to send my work to?"

First, no. I've done my homework for 14 years and I'm not about to do yours for you, too. (Not you, of course. You wouldn't ask me to. I know.)

Look, here's who to trust: THE PUBLISHERS WHOSE WORK YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE ON BOOKSTORE SHELVES, AND AT WAL-MART, AND AT CVS, AND IN LIBRARIES.

Google is NOT the place to look for a publisher. Think about your goals: If your main goal is to get a book published and actually see it in Barnes & Noble, then go to Barnes & Noble. (No, I'm not speaking metaphorically. I literally mean: just go there. It's the least you can do if this is your big goal.)

Once you're there, look for books that are similar to yours in content or theme. Now write down the names of the publishers who published them.

Then look at the acknowledgments pages and write down the people you see thanked inside: editors and agents.

You now have a list of who to trust. How hard was that?

Those are the people who actually managed to get a book published and on bookstore shelves. Self-publishing/vanity publishing companies are not going to do that for you.

I'm not opposed to self/vanity publishing. I think there's a place for it and that it can peacefully coexist with traditional publishing. I think which way you go depends a lot on your goals...



  • If you just want to have something in print for friends and family, go for it. (I've used http://www.lulu.com/ for this.)


  • If you know you have a very limited market and publishers aren't interested, but you want to get it out there anyway, fine.


  • If there's a reason you need to get something out very quickly, it may be your only option.

  • If you're a published author who wants to get your out-of-print books back in print and you can't find a publisher to reprint them, it's probably better than nothing. (I say "probably" because poor self-publishing sales could hurt your chances of a new contract.)


  • If you have a built-in audience that you know you can sell to, then it may work out great for you. If you do a lot of public speaking or performing and you just want to have a book to sell from the back of the room afterwards, or you have a dedicated online following, then self-publishing may be the thing. It offers a higher profit margin per book, meaning that you need to sell fewer books total to make the same money as you would publishing with a commercial press.



But keep in mind that with companies like iUniverse, Xlibris, PublishAmerica (don't... just don't... whatever you do, don't go with this one), their average authors sell about 75 copies.

75 copies. In total. Ever. And all authors think they'll be the exception.

I can point to a growing number of self-publishers who did it right and have been successful at it, but it's nowhere near as simple as, "Write a book, send it to Xlibris, sit back and watch royalties come in." There's no way for me to even summarize all the relevant editorial, production, marketing, and distribution steps here. I'm not going to try, because what I really want to say is:

Slow down. Don't expect others to give you all the answers. It's awful finding out that you just signed over the rights to your manuscript to a company that's going to do nothing for you, that your book will never see the light of a bookstore, and that you're not going to get a second chance because a real publisher isn't going to look at your "Oops, I made a mistake" book that sold 75 copies.

You probably have one shot with this book. Get it right. Slow down.

Once you have your list of agents and editors, then is the time to run things through Google, and http://www.publishersmarketplace.com, and http://www.agentquery.com. Find out who's selling what and who's buying what. Find out which of those agents and editors have moved around since you read those acknowledgments. Find out their submission guidelines and follow them.

And our last dilemma from the letter: "I'm looking for the name of a legit company that can help me without costing an arm and a leg."

He's looking at it wrong. Publishers are not in business to "help" writers. They're in business primarily to sell books and make money... which, in turn, does help writers, but not in the way I suspect he means.

Legitimate publishers cannot afford to be do-gooders who pick up unknown writers' works just to be sweet and kind and make someone's dream come true. If they did, they'd all be out of business and those of us who've actually made writing our life's work would be furious. New writer, your work has to compete. If you can't compete with experienced writers, then you're not ready to submit yet. Publishing is a business with small profit margins, and publishers need to make smart investments. "Hey, this writer has potential" is not good enough. Publishers have to believe that your work is going to have an audience, and that audience is going to spend their hard-earned money on your book in sufficient numbers to warrant all the work and money that's going to go into producing it.

The cold, hard truth is that most new writers who are running around submitting like this don't have a chance of actually getting published. Whether they can change that with hard work, study, critique groups, etc., I have no idea. Some can, some can't. But many newbies overestimate their readiness and expect publishers to have some kind of soft spot for them. It just doesn't work this way. Most editors and agents are thrilled to help someone get their first big break-- but only if that person has earned it. You earn it by writing something great, and editing it until it's terrific, and submitting it to people who are appropriate for it.

And not PublishAmerica. Ever.

Are we at least clear on that?

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Friday, April 01, 2011

In Search of Zzzzs: A Review of the Tempflow Mattress

Like most people, I lead a very busy life. Sleep is a precious commodity that I don't get enough of on a regular basis. I could tell you all my reasons, but I bet you have your own. So when it comes to sleep, I want to make the most of every minute of it-- and that starts with having a comfortable bed and pillow.

My parents bought me a new mattress for Christmas in 2009. It was a fancy pillowtop one from Sleepy's, fairly high end. I liked it in the store, but when it came to actually sleep on it at home, I woke up with a stiff neck the first morning. I thought that maybe I just needed to get used to it, so I gave it some time... but it just wasn't comfortable for me. I was planning on returning it, but then my daughter crawled into bed with me one night and had an accident. My waterproof mattress pad had melted in spots in the dryer, so it failed me. Big stain. There went my ability to return the mattress. I was seriously bummed.

What I'd wanted, but was afraid to try, was a memory foam mattress. I adore memory foam toppers, so I wondered what it would be like to sleep on an entire mattress made of foam. Enter the good people at Relief-Mart, who agreed to send me a Tempflow mattress and pillow to review. I was thrilled because the Tempflow promised some solutions to typical problems with memory foam.

One of the complaints people often have about memory foam is the initial odor-- it can give off a chemical smell that makes it unpleasant to sleep on for the first week or so, and when a topper or mattress arrives compressed, you have to wait for it to "plump up." Not so in this case-- it arrived in its "fully plumped" state and with no chemical odor, so I was able to sleep on it the first night.

Now, I haven't done any in-depth research on the chemical properties of memory foam, but it seems pretty common-sensical (yes, I made that up) to me that something that smells toxic can't be healthy to sleep on. You're breathing that in every night, in addition to having it right up against your skin. Anecdotally, I've heard people report respiratory and neurological problems that they traced to their memory foam, so I did a quick Google search and found articles such as this overview that explains what kinds of chemicals may be present in memory foam and how they can affect us.

The Tempflow line of mattresses offers uses a special Biogreen memory foam that's been independently tested to be free of VOC (volatile organic compounds).

I used the white glove delivery service, which meant that two delivery guys came and literally took my old mattress off and put this one on for me. (Hey, thanks, guys.) It was a freezing cold day when they delivered it, so I was initially worried... I plopped right down on the bed and it was hard."Don't worry," they told me. "It's just because it was freezing in the truck. Give it a few minutes."I did, and they were right... it softened right up while we were talking, to the point where I sank deeply into it when I sat on it. It hasn't been hard ever again, even when my house has been cold, so it appears that it hardens up only in extremely cold temperatures.

It comes with a bamboo cover, which is wonderfully soft, hypoallergenic, and environmentally friendly.

The other common complaint about memory foam is that it can make you overheat, and I do tend to overheat at night, so I was worried about that. I read an article that showed the Tempflow transfered heat less than the Tempur-Pedic mattress, but I had to find out for myself. As it turned out, my body temperature was no different on this memory foam than it had been on the pillowtop mattress. The Tempflow line comes standard with a patented airflow system (small holes through the memory foam that vent out the sides of the base foam so body heat doesn't get trapped).

It was strange to me to order a mattress without being able to test it out in person, but what's so terrific about Tempflow (a Relief-Mart company) is the level of customer service-- they ask detailed questions to determine what kind of memory foam bed will be right for you. I like really soft, plush beds, so that's what they sent me. But you can have a free personal consultation with their mattress expert, Dr. Rick Swartzburg, D.C. to go over what your needs and tastes are; they can actually custom design a mattress just for you, in whatever size you want, whatever thickness you want, whatever feel you want. That's what blew me away-- you're dealing with the manufacturer, in the United States, so it's completely different from ordering something from a store and having them place a bulk order to import from overseas. In this case, Tempflow uses a proprietary formulation that is made specifically for them by a U.S. foam manufacturer and Tempflow creates the mattresses in their own factory in California.
So if you're a connoisseur who knows the difference between 4 and 5 pound density visco-elastic memory foam, you can be as specific as you want about your needs. Or if you're more like me, you can just say, "Um, soft, please," and let them handle the details.

The other tremendous benefit is their in-home trial policy: you get four months to try out your mattress. If you don't love it, they'll ship you a new one or refund your money, less shipping fees.

Now for the pillow.

It's awesome.

I've never felt anything like it. The darn thing is heavy. I mean, you wouldn't want to get into a pillow fight with this one because someone would wind up unconscious. It's called the Ultraluxe. It's filled with shredded memory foam, which provides a really supportive but soft feel. It's meant to feel like a down pillow, without the downsides of allergies and their tendency to flatten out over time. I've slept on down... it's similar, but this is a feel of its own that I can't say is just like anything else. Kind of like sleeping on soft clay. Wait, that doesn't sound all that appealing. You're just going to have to go with me on this. Soft clay, but in the good way.

It's wonderful for me as a stomach sleeper-- I have problems trying to adjust a pillow "just so" so I can still breathe with my face angled downward. This one alleviates that problem because it's so moldable. I can adjust the shredded foam just how I want it (I can even remove some if I want a less-stuffed pillow). My only problem is that my daughter keeps trying to claim it for herself.

If you've tried the Tempur-Pedic mattresses, but have been put off by the price, you can just tell the folks at Tempflow which model you liked, and they can recreate the same feel, using the same quality and density memory foam, for less. It's not a bargain shop, but they don't have the same overhead that Tempur-Pedic has.

I feel confident recommending Tempflow.


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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Publishing and Me, and the Great Freakout of 2010

When I started writing, older writers would often say things like, "The publishing world has changed! It's not like it was when I was starting." I'd wonder what publishing was like for them; they painted utopian pictures of editors who spent lots of time nurturing writers who showed promise but didn't have professional polish. They described bookstores giving "fringe" authors a chance, and not giving up on authors whose first books didn't sell well. They described publishing as a kind, gentle world where promotion was left up to the publishers and writers had nothing to do but work on their craft.

I don't know how much of that was factual and how much was romanticized. My guess is about 50/50. It's true that when I began writing professionally in 1997, the publishing world had become more competitive, more prone to the chain bookstores' "bestseller" mentality (leaving less space on shelves for books with smaller audiences, regardless of how well-written they might be), and more likely to give up on writers who didn't sell well out of the starting gates.

Probably the most important shift was to "platforms." No longer was publicity something we got to leave to others-- we had to get in there and stomp on those grapes ourselves and get our feet all stained purple and red if we expected to get some wine out of the deal. (Speaking of which, guh-ross!)

Although there was talk of platforms in '97, it's overwhelming now. Agents and editors want to hear your book summary in the first breath, and your platform in the second. Your great book idea is unlikely to sell unless you have something to back up the marketing of that book-- speaking engagements, a radio show, a popular blog, a zillion Twitter followers. Which means that authors today are busier, and less focused on just the writing. We have to be skilled not only in writing great books, but also in making online "friends" and fans, speaking to the media, and generally drawing attention to ourselves. That suits some people fine, and others (like me) wish we could just write and leave the sales to someone else. There's a reason I switched majors away from advertising, you know.

Most of my books are published by large and medium-sized presses. Some are small press books, and I've self-published a few niche titles and one anthology for charity. I wrote a few e-books back in the 90s and early 2000s, and I recently released one exclusively for Kindle. So, in short, I've published books in pretty much every way one can publish books. When I say I've written 19 books, I'm referring only to the ones that have been published by real publishers. In reality, I've probably written more like 26 or 27, but I don't count the others, just because I don't.

If you were looking at a graph of my career as a writer, you'd see a nice steady upward climb, for the most part, since 1997. And then came 2010. What the hell happened in 2010? In my view, publishing collapsed.

It didn't, of course. Books were still being published. But I went from being so in demand that I could pick and choose from a variety of great book offers to having to send out missives to every editor I ever worked with begging for assignments, and those assigmments paid less than they did a year earlier. I had to drop my "minimum" book fee and still couldn't find work. I second-guessed myself. I wondered if I should take up a career better suited to my strengths, like professional basketball. When my daughter told me she wanted to be a ghostwriter when she grew up, I just said, "Awww. That's sweet. Also, no freaking way."

(I didn't say that. She was 3. I would have fired myself as her mother had I said that.)

I confided in my writing friends that I was worried. Did I actually suck as a writer and it just took 13 years to catch up with me? "It's not you," they assured me. "It's everyone."

The publishing world as we have always known it was and is in trouble. At least one major publisher put a moratorium on new submissions, saying that it was not acquiring any new books indefinitely. Bookstores closed. Chain bookstores focused more and more on their cafes and DVDs and gift products and less on books, and still are in trouble. Amazon began selling used books on the same screen as new ones. As the economy tanked, people bought fewer "luxury" books.

One bright light in the well has been the emergence of popular e-readers, which was a long time coming. It took a lot of flops before we saw the Kindle and the Nook. But early evidence suggests that people who use e-readers buy a lot of books-- more than they would buy in print. And that's great, mostly. There's a new article out about how the vast majority of e-reading people claim they still buy almost as many paperbacks and hardcovers as before, but frankly, I don't believe them. And I don't believe that trend will continue if it is true. We're becoming an e-culture, and I, at 35, am already a dinosaur. I love my print books. Moreover, I love writing print books.

Several of my books would not work as e-books. The Marilyn Monroe Treasures and Celine Dion: For Keeps are the most obvious-- they're gorgeous, oversized gift books filled with beautiful photo layouts and removable memorabilia in vellum envelopes. How am I going to get a removable marriage license into a Kindle? I'm not. And I'm not even going to make many sales on Amazon of books like that-- those are books that people have to see in person to appreciate. They have to walk into a bookstore and notice the gold foil cover and open the pages and feel the textures and be delighted at the beauty of the layouts and the intimate feel of the memorabilia. I love writing those books. A culture dedicated to e-reading will kill those books.

A culture dedicated to e-reading will kill bookstores.

It's something I didn't even want to acknowledge as a possibility before, so this is kind of a step for me, typing it out loud. Here's the trend I see as inevitable: as people are more able to buy books online and on e-readers, they are less likely to walk into bookstores and even book sections of megastores like Wal-Mart. As bookstores' profits continue to dwindle, they will have less money to invest in books that aren't guaranteed to sell. That means publishers will publish fewer books, focusing their efforts on books by celebrities and politicians and authors who have already hit bestseller status. Fewer options in bookstores will make readers even less likely to walk into a bookstore, considering that-- at this moment-- everything they want is at their fingertips on Amazon.

"At this moment" is the key, because the cycle hasn't caught up with us yet: as publishers publish fewer books, consumers will no longer be able to find new books on every conceivable topic that are published by "reliable" publishers. That will shift toward self-publishers and e-presses. A major publisher is unlikely to publish a book with a small intended audience, so an author who wants to write that book will be foreced to either self-publish or forget the idea. But self-publishing means there are fewer guarantees for readers: the quality of self-published books is, at best, a risky gamble. Self-publishing authors often don't hire editors (or if they do, they don't hire qualified editors-- partly because they don't know any better); they don't have their work professionally copyedited and proofread and typeset and designed. In short, they don't go through all the same steps that are meant to ensure quality control in commercial publishing. (Again, let me emphasize the word "often," because I'm not trying to tick off the small portion of self-published authors who do actually follow all these steps.)

And I'm not even judging the authors who don't follow those steps... it's expensive! Hiring all those professionals and paying for an ISBN and copyright and whatnot is expensive. Add that to the fact that you're not getting an advance and there are no guaranteed royalties, and you're talking one heck of a leap of faith for those who don't have a lot of money to begin with.

So, end result, readers who buy self-published books are probably going to have a bunch of bad experiences with writers whose work isn't vetted, fact-checked, or properly designed. They may or may not get fed up enough to cut back on their book-buying habits altogether.

And where does that leave us career authors?

Again, in my Great Freakout of 2010, one of my other author friends who was previously very successful and had become... not so successful... told me that she had branched out. Now she was mostly taking on private clients for editing, consulting, and teaching work. She suggested I try that, too, but I was uncomfortable consulting and teaching when I was currently not succeeding at the very thing I would be teaching. I knew I had to get back on top before I could feel okay about telling others how to be a writer.

I swallowed my pride and took on assignments I wouldn't have taken since my earliest freelancing days-- articles for local publications, cheapie articles for websites-- because this is all I have and my daughter and I need a place to live. But I felt miserable about it. Then I pulled out all the stops and began trying things I'd never done before: I took out some Google ads, put out an ad on Publishers Marketplace, joined ASJA, started handing out my business card to people who spoke at seminars, asked for meetings with a couple of great agents.

And then the miracle happened. It wasn't just one thing or the other. I don't know how to pin it down, other than to say that I do believe the economy is rebounding a bit and people are more optimistic, but in the course of a couple of months, I got work... more work than I have ever been offered before in my entire career.

The swing was phenomenal, from scraping by to having to turn down multiple projects each week because I was just too busy. They aren't all the same caliber I had before; whereas I had gotten very used to having editors and agents come to me with their best projects, now I'm taking on more private clients who don't yet have an agent or publisher. But I'm taking them on only if I believe they have what it takes to get commercially published, because I can't stand letting people down. And the advances are still down; an editor who might have offered me a $40,000 advance a few years ago now offers $20,000, and I'm supposed to split that with a ghostwriting client. But at least the assignments are there.

When I mention that I have an overload of work now, I get a deluge of responses that say, "Give your extra work to meeeeee!," which shows me that not everyone is out of the woods, and that bums me out. When I first saw my work picking up, I hoped that meant that everyone's work was picking up and that the whole publishing world was coming back to living color again.

I'm trying not to let all these offers get to my head, though. I hope that this means my career is permanently back on track and that I can look forward to decades of smooth sailing where I'll never have to freak out again, but I still feel the publishing trends of tomorrow breathing down my neck. I still fear that, long term, we're going to lose most of our bookstores and many of our publishers. I fear that the genres that are best suited to e-readers (like romance, fantasy, and practical nonfiction) will do well while the books that are more often "bookstore finds" (memoirs by unknowns, gift books, graphic novels, pop-up books, etc.) will fade away. I fear that talented authors who aren't skilled at interacting on Facebook or speaking at conferences will lose their place in the publishing world. I fear the sky is falling, and I want to get all of us to help hold it in place.

I know I'm long on fears and short on solutions today. And I hope I'm wrong about most of it, and that e-readers really mean what the optimists think they'll mean. What I know is that for today, I'm okay, and my shelves are still full of wonderful books. My editors haven't lost their jobs, and the agents I work with are still getting by. There are a few new authors who are achieving stunning successes in the e-world in addition to the print world. For today, that will have to be enough, while we figure out who's in charge of holding up the sky.


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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Normalizing The Insanity

First, thanks to CSNStores.com, where you can get anything from a dollhouse to an Eames lounge chair, for inviting me to do another review-- which is coming up soon. But I have something else I wanted to talk about first.

Or rather, that I don't want to talk about first. Namely, I don't want to talk about Charlie Sheen. And so I'm blogging about it. I realize the irony of this...

I stopped caring about Charlie Sheen at precisely the moment he held a knife to his wife's throat and threatened to kill her. A guy who does that should not have a TV show. A guy who does that should not have the world record for the quickest rise to 1 million Twitter followers. But people love crazy. We love to watch people go off the rails. I'm not sure exactly why, and I'm sure not above it all-- despite that I have no sympathy or positive feelings for Sheen, I've watched the interviews, too. (At least, parts of them, until I got frustrated enough to stop.)

I want more attention to be paid to the real role models. People like this guy who's out there feeding the hungry and tending to the sick and trying to make people feel human, just because it's the right thing to do. Could you help bathe a homeless stranger and give him a haircut? I can't imagine it, but maybe that's what needs normalizing.

As it stands, in this culture that rewards celebrities behaving badly, what we have done is to normalize sin and crime. Politicians are expected to cheat on their wives. Athletes who get women pregnant and deny they're the fathers? No big deal! Musicians who use drugs? They might as well shoot up on stage... we don't care. Teen role models who pose nearly nude? We'll reward them with bigger contracts. Kleptomaniac actresses, movie stars with DUIs... we may act outraged for half a second, but look what happens. Paris Hilton gets paid tens of thousands of dollars to show up at a party. Linday Lohan gets offered a million dollars for an interview when she gets out of jail.

When something happens that's big enough to still really make us sit up and take notice-- like Tiger Woods and Jesse James and the way they slept with everyone-- even that helps to normalize the "lesser offenses." A guy cheated on his wife just once? Oh, no big deal-- at least he wasn't like Jesse James. The fact that Hugh Grant got caught with a prostitute mattered for about three seconds, and then it seemed okay.

It's not okay!

Look, I know that no one's perfect and that we've all done a few lousy things in our lives, but I wish we could find a way to elevate the status of the people who are out there quietly doing great things rather than focusing so much attention on the people out there who are loudly doing horrible things. Imagine if, instead of spending a week listening to Charlie Sheen mouth off about his tiger blood and how much better he is than the rest of us unworthy peons, we spent time learning about Timothy Jaccard, a Long Island police department paramedic who devotes his life to rescuing newborn babies who have been abandoned or are in danger of being abandoned or killed. I'd even be satisfied with paying more attention to celebrities like Matt Damon, who loves his wife and kids and is trying to do some good in this world.

Let's stop getting jaded by the crazy, bad things celebrities do. Let's instead get so inundated with acts of human kindness that they become the new normal. Let's normalize goodness.


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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

To My Daughter on her Birthday Eve



My sweet Sarina, tomorrow you will turn 4. I know you've been afraid of turning 4 because-- as you put it-- "my whole life will change." But I want you to know that that's not always a bad thing. When you were born, my whole life changed, and I could spend forever telling you how grateful I am for that.

I had heard about this magical moment from some women, but things very rarely happened for me in those fairytale ways... people said things like, "You'll never know how much love you can feel until you look at your baby for the first time," or "It's the greatest joy you'll ever have!" and I only half-believed them. I mean, I really did want a baby more than anything, but I still thought they might be exaggerating this supposedly magical, indescribable, otherworldly love. They weren't.

When I first laid eyes on you, I cried. I said, "She's perfect!" and I meant it. And I still do. You, my mess-making, candy-sneaking, bedtime-avoiding girl, are the perfect daughter for me, and I still can't believe I got this lucky.

I thought I knew what mattered before, but I had no idea. You came along and everything that came along before you suddenly seemed inconsequential. The primary function of my life became looking for silly things to stick on my head to make you laugh. Pretending to drop stuff? Sheer genius. Some of the best accomplishments of my life have been: figuring out that you were doing the sign language for "thirsty" and not "I have a thing in my eye," getting you to eat carrots, sewing your Halloween costumes, and getting you potty trained (now THAT was hard!).

Your heart is so full of love, and I get to see it in every little thing you do. When you were off playing yesterday, I saw a little boy fall, and I also saw you rush over and touch his face to ask if he was okay. You didn't know I was looking, but I didn't even need to... the minute I saw him fall, I knew you were going to be the first one to check on him. And when the little girl was afraid of the costumed character, you took her hand and asked, "Do you want to come with me?" Never mind that you're not even six months older than she is; you wanted to be her protector.

You have a wonderful way about you of making everyone around you feel loved. We read a book the other day that had a fill-in-the-blanks exercise at the end, and here's what it looked like:

My name: Sarina
My age: 3 1/2
I feel excited when: my whole family comes to our house to visit
I feel happy when: I am with my mommy
Some of the things I like to do are: Go to Dave & Busters, the library, ice skating, and anywhere else as long as my mommy is with me
I like to learn about: love
My favorite place is: snuggling

We read a Sesame Street book of safety tips next, and you made me read the same Grover line over and over and over, at least 20 times, and you cracked up every single time: "Always wear your safety helmet if you are being shot out of a cannon!" Then you wanted to call Grandma so you could tell it to her, too.

Sometimes I feel very bad that I couldn't give you the kind of family life I know you want. You so desperately want a baby brother or sister, and you're just now starting to understand what divorce means and why your parents live in different houses. It's all you've ever known, so I'm glad that at least you were spared the separation, but I'm also so sorry that things aren't just right. I will continue to work hard at being the best mom I can be for you and hope I can be someone you will always turn to whenever you need a hug or someone to talk to. No one knows what our futures hold, but I hope that wherever we wind up, we'll always be as happy as we are now.

Because that's the thing-- we are happy. No matter what, you are always enough for me. I remember looking down the barrel of being a single mom with such fear, never dreaming that I'd wind up cherishing this time. I've learned so much in these three years... I can take apart the dishwasher, use power tools, assemble "some assembly required" furniture and one giant dollhouse... I'm stronger than I ever knew, and more capable, and I've become very at peace with who I am. That makes me feel so much better about being your mom, because I know now that I'm showing you what it means to feel good about yourself.

Every few days, you tell me your latest career goal. Over time, you've wanted to be: an apple farmer, a ballerina, a gas station attendant ("Because it looks fun?" "No, it looks easy."), a veterinarian "who is always busy," a librarian, a writer, a ghostwriter, a teacher, and your latest-- a tattoo professional. (?!) Whatever you do, I trust you will do it well, and with a giving spirit.

At your preschool orientation, lots of kids cried because they were away from their moms for the first time. You were an old pro at this already, listening to the teachers as they reassured the kids over and over, "Your mommy will always come back for you." So when the time came for preschool to start, you stuck a heart sticker on me and said, "Don't worry, Mommy. I will always come back for you."

You find ways every day to make me feel great, from writing me cards ("How do I spell 'You're the best mommy and I love you more than a dinosaur weighs?'") to making up songs, to proclaiming your love in French and Spanish and "dog language." You humor my endless requests for you to pose for pictures, and you try to let me down easy when you don't like my cooking ("I sort of hated it a little").

You think that because there is an "unfortunately," there should also be a "refortunately," and I find myself agreeing with your logic, so we have added refortunately to our family dictionary, Mirriam and Webster be darned.
Here are some of the things I wish for you:
  • I wish that you'll never tire of making wishes on dandelion puffs or stars
  • I wish that you'll always have at least three true friends
  • I wish that Kira would live forever
  • I wish that you'll get that baby brother or sister
  • I wish that you'll always have just enough fear to keep you out of real danger, and never more than that
  • I wish that people will see you the way I do
  • I wish for you to know hard work, but not hardship
  • I wish that your life will be full of music
  • I wish that you will love learning, and have teachers who will inspire you
  • I wish that you won't date until you're 25

Being with you is so much fun, and I can't wait to see what you do next. I want you to know that I will love you every day for the rest of your life, and that being your mom is the best honor I've ever had. Thank you for teaching me about who I was meant to be, and thank you for being the best little person I've ever met.


XOXOXOXOX,

Mommy

Monday, January 03, 2011

iTriage App for SmartPhones


*This is a sponsored post through Mom Bloggers Club.*

I don't do sponsored posts unless I think the info is genuinely useful, and in this case, I do... iTriage is a free medical reference application for Smartphones (iPhone, Android, iPod Touch, and Palm, and coming soon to Blackberry). Here's what it offers:

■ Information on more than 300 symptoms, 1000 diseases, and 350 medical procedures
■ A nationwide directory of hospitals, urgent cares, retail clinics, pharmacies, and physicians
■ Turn-by-turn facility directions from GPS, IP address, or zip code locations
■ Nurse advice lines
■ Detailed quality reports from HealthGrades on hospitals and physicians
■ Help negotiating medical bills
■ Emergency Room wait times for hospitals in select parts of the country

I just downloaded it from the Android Market (fast, no problem) and found the app to be simple to use and full of helpful information all in one place. Were I actually away from home and needing medical care, I think this would be a very handy tool to have. I just did a "test run" by telling this app that I needed emergency care, and within seconds, it showed me the nearest urgent care clinics and hospitals with ERs.

The only disappointment was that when it showed me a link to "See a Quality Report on this Hospital," it just sent me to the HealthGrades home page, rather than supplying a direct link to information on that hospital. Once at HealthGrades, I had to navigate through the tiny fill-in boxes to type in the names and locations of hospitals I was interested in researching. And no wait times listed yet for my area, though that would be an amazing feature!

Then I told the app I had blurry vision, and it came back with the ten most common health problems that cause blurry vision. Clicking on "migraine" gave me links to find medical help, a description of symptoms, tests, treatment, and diagrams.

I'm betting this app will become more useful with time as they keep improving the features, but in the meantime, it's already clearly worth the free download.

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