7 x 7 Link Award

My pal over at Celluloid Zombie passed along this award, which led me to revisit some old blog posts.

The rules to the 7 x 7 Link Award are simple:

  1. Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.
  2. Link to a post I think fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride Worthy Piece.
  3. Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

And we’re off.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows

If not one person knew some deep, dark secret of mine, I can’t imagine why I’d suddenly tell everyone. But here’s the thing…I’m a pretty open person. I’d offer up even the most cringe-inducing confession if I thought someone else would benefit by it. So there you go. Not nearly as exciting as the bodies under the floorboards over at Celluloid Zombie, I know.

1. Most Beautiful Piece

Without hesitation, my most beautiful piece—One Two Three Kick—is about the person responsible for so many happy moments in my childhood (even if I do shudder when re-reading the paragraphs detailing the excessive snacking. What did we know? It was the 70s.)

2. Most Helpful Piece

Felix the Cat and MacGyver inspired this post that I hope encouraged you to consider how the simplest things and a bit of imagination can take life from mundane to memorable. Check out Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong.

3. Most Popular Piece

Reading Old Journals…Yikes! struck a chord with many readers. It is my leader in Comments and what great comments they are.

4. Most Controversial Piece

Controverisal? Moi? Well, if you’re planning on hiring me sometime in the future, please don’t read Denim, the evil fabric until we’ve finalized all the contracts.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful Piece

Who could have guessed that my family recipe for Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard) would top my Most Viewed chart? When did farina, eggs, and sugar become so popular? It just goes to prove that the whole, bubbling concoction is greater than the sum of its parts. With Easter right around the corner, you don’t want to miss this one.

6. Most Underrated Piece

Apparently, readers don’t want to hear about one of the more embarrassing moments in my life or the possibility that Child Protective Services has a file on me for subjecting a minor to naked aliens. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you either, then don’t read Signs.

7. Most Pride Worthy Piece

My post Travel: Gaeta, Italy in October is the one I’m most proud of. It was a labor of love to condense two of the best weeks of my life into a CliffsNotes travelogue. I’m so hopeful that someone out there will make this very trip and then tell me all about their experience. I love reminiscing about this vacation and I often return to this post to immerse myself in a sea of memories.

My 7 Nominees

I know people are busy, so don’t feel obligated to participate. However, you are the ones that entertain me the most and it would be fun to read some of your posts I may have missed.

Altared Spaces

Finding the Humor

Girlboxing

Huffygirl’s Blog

Mostly Bright Ideas

The Fordeville Diaries

The Glowing Edge

Blogging Guilt

Bless me Followers for I have sinned. My last blog post was over one week ago.

No kidding, sometimes that thought crosses my mind as I view my Stats, see faithful followers have stopped by, and know there wasn’t new material to greet them. Those stop-by nudges usually get me back in gear.

I struggle with the question of how frequently one should post and not only from the writing end of it. As someone who reads her fair share of blogs, I am often overwhelmed by the frequency with which people post. My mailbox subscriptions overflow and there are times I can’t possibly view and comment on every post. I know some WordPress users have resorted to using the Like button as a cyber wave, a way of telling their buddies they stopped by to skim but don’t have time to comment.

When I read about WordPress’s Post-A-Day challenge, I ran for cover. If I had a choice, I’d rather read one thoughtful, well-written post by an infrequent blogger than a blog-for-blogging’s-sake post every day.

For me, a post every four days is about right. Less than that and I feel rushed, in terms of the writing and the responding to comments. More than that and I feel disconnected from all of you. That’s about where I am now…Hellooooooooooo, anyone out there?

I’d love to hear your views on this. Are you on a blogging schedule, or do you blog when the mood strikes? Do you prefer to blog every day, or do you need some time in between posts? Are you ever afflicted by blogging guilt? Do tell.

WordPress, Search Engine Terms, and a Constipated Baby

As a technical writer, I enjoy reading documentation. The WordPress people do a good job explaining options and functionality. However, I’m having a difficult time finding an answer to a question about search engine terms.

“Search Engine Terms” is one of the features on the Stats page. According to the WordPress documentation, it lists terms that people entered in search engines to locate your blog.    

So, can someone explain how the search terms “my baby is constipated what can I do” brought someone to my blog? We talk about a lot of odd things here, I know, but I don’t think I’ve covered poop or lack thereof. Yet. 😉

Constipated baby utters his first words.

 

Desperate Mother, I wish I could help you, but having breastfed my baby, I never had to deal with constipation issues. The poops of breastfed babies are soft and orange…kind of like, wait for it, pumpkin puree. (Sorry, Charles).

However, let me point you to Amazon.com where you can buy the print or Kindle version of my novel The Benefactor. You will undoubtedly be up many a long night with your wailing child. What better way to pass the time than with a romantic suspense novel? You remember what romance is, right? Hmmm, probably not. Most likely the only suspense in your life right now is wondering when romance will return to your life…and when that damn kid is gonna poop.

Desperate Mother, rest assured it gets easier. I promise.

Why Do You Keep Coming Back?

Conversations with your dentist have nothing on conversations with your gynecologist.

I had an appointment today for an annual check-up. My doctor remembered that I had a novel published and asked how that was going. Then we talked about blogging. Several people had told her she should blog, but she didn’t know what to write about. The obvious answer was medical topics, but after a long day at work, she needed a break from that. Doc asked if my blog had a focus. I laughed. Lack of focus is my focus. She laughed and related, I think. And then she asked the $64 million question:

What keeps people reading your blog if there’s no focus?

I thought for a moment about what makes me return to a blog. A particular post draws me in initially, but the personality of the blogger and the relationship we develop keep me coming back for more. It’s no different than the connection I feel in person when I meet a kindred spirit. I guess for me, a blog and its comments are like conversations I might have with my non-cyber friends. Those are not on just one topic, right?

So, what do you think? What keeps you coming back? Enquiring minds and one gynecologist want to know.

Those Pesky Spammers

Do you ever wonder if spammers make money on the products they hawk? Does the huge volume of annoying emails and links they put out into the world result in hits and sales? I can’t imagine how.

I’m no expert at selling (and maybe I’ll tell you that story of woe in a future post), but it seems to me that when you barge into someone’s world uninvited, scream “I’m here,” and then start unpacking your bag of goods, you’re not going to make friends or influence people.

Spam filters are pretty good these days. I give a quick glance at my Junk Mail folder and delete most of the contents unread. But with blogging, a bit more care is required. You don’t want to delete a legitimate comment.

The other morning it was easy. My post “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” got a cheery “Hi, all!” followed by a link to some site, which went unchecked by me. Delete.

I’ll admit it left me scratching my head. Knowing that many people subscribe to comments, why would someone who wanted to lure potential customers to their wares pick a post with 5 comments rather than one with, say, 41 (Typical Day in the Life of a Writer)?

Sometimes, it’s more difficult to determine whether the spam software overreacted.

Your ideas profound and enjoy me much.

There wasn’t a link in the body of that comment. Could my spam filter be discriminating on the basis of English proficiency? I copied the link that identified the commenter and pasted it into Google. Judging by the long list of hits, other people’s profound ideas enjoy my commenter much, too. Isn’t that special? Delete.

By far, the oddest spam I’ve received is this recent email:

Hi Margaret,

I think I have a great feature for your website that is free and will enhance your site with an interactive element. It takes a minute to implement and it is 100% free. You just put a link on your site like, “Live Wrestling Chat” and we host the chats. You will also earn money while your visitors are talking. There is really no downside. Also, if you think you do not have enough visitors to keep a chat busy we are working with other wrestling sites so users from each site can talk to each other.

Say what? Wrestling? Have you seen my website? I guess I didn’t make it clear that The Benefactor is the name of my novel and not my wrestling nickname.

The crowd goes wild as Margaret “The Benefactor” Dempsey takes the ring.

In an attempt to write as general a message as possible to appeal to the largest audience, you pick wrestling as the type of website most people are likely to have? What was this guy thinking?

I have no more words. Just a great big sigh.

Did you hear? I’m stylish.

This morning, Charles Gulotta of Mostly Bright Ideas nominated me for the coveted Stylish Blogger Award. No one has ever called me stylish. [Stop snickering, Mom!] It’s understandable. I live in pajamas most days when I’m at home writing. If I have to leave the house, it’s jeans, boots, and a sweater. Not too exciting, I know. So, imagine my surprise when I got the news. I feel whole now. [sniff] Special. [wipes tear from eye] Stylish for the first time. [sob] In fact, I must change into pajamas that are more appropriate for this occasion.

[snip, snip, snip] There, I’ve cut the back out of my favorite sheep pjs. Backless outfits are always more appropriate for awards ceremonies, don’t you think?

 As Charles mentioned in his post, the award comes with four basic tasks to be completed:

  1. Present seven things about yourself
  2. Name about a half dozen bloggers you think deserve the award
  3. Contact those people
  4. Create a link back to the person who gave you the honor

Here’s seven things you might not know about me:

    1. I think PEZ taste better when eaten from the dispenser rather than from the wrapper.
      .
    2. I have an overly developed sense of smell—a blessing when the flame blows out on a stove but the gas is still pumping, a curse when I get stuck in a cramped train under the armpit of a tall, unwashed man with a passion for Ralph Lauren’s Polo. You all say ugh to that, right? But when your nose is like a bloodhound’s, you find yourself praying for a quick death.
      .
      The first inkling my parents had of my super-sensory condition was in the pig house at the Flushing Meadow Zoo when I started to cry, grabbed my nose, and ran for the door when I hadn’t even learned how to walk yet. I should mention that there had already been some trauma that day when they looked away for a second and I leaned over to pet a cute little goosey. The weight of my giant, toddler bobblehead toppled me head first into the pond. Afraid of water to this day and hating nasty smells. All true.

  1. I despise overly restrictive rules, regulations, practices, and laws that are just plain ridiculous or that don’t take into account individual circumstances. So there!
    .
  2. I love food. I love to eat it, think about it, talk about it, write about it, you name it. I never mind if someone asks me what I’m eating in a restaurant. Great relationships have been struck up with strangers over the back of a diner booth, stopping just short of the exchange of a fluffy, silver-dollar pancake for a bite of a skillet omelet.
    .
    Growing up half Italian, I quickly internalized the message “Food is love.” I have such great memories of meals with my extended Italian family. And past events are easily remembered in the context of what we were eating at the time.
    .
    “Don’t you remember when Zia Anamaria announced that her brother-in-law’s sister’s son’s wife left him to pursue her dream of working at the buffalo mozzarella factory in Gaeta, Italy?”
    .
    “Oh yeah, that was the day Uncle Tutti choked on the string from the braciole.”
    .
    Okay, some of that’s not true.
    .
    .
    .
  3. Nature at once soothes and energizes me and feeds my creativity. My Muse lives outdoors, sipping nectar from trumpet-shaped flowers. If I’m lucky, I catch her with a butterfly net and bring her indoors for a few hours while I work. I thank my grandmother for fostering my fascination with nature. And I am grateful to my parents for taking us on month-long camping trips across North America every summer. There’s no hotel that compares to a sleeping bag in a tent under the stars, in my opinion.
    .
  4.  I am an ENTP on Myers-Briggs, an 8 with a 7 wing on the Enneagram, and a Gemini. Take a look at those descriptions and you’ll know more about me than you ever wanted to.
    .
  5. I am a champion of the underdog. And come to think of it, Underdog was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid.

 I’d like to thank the Academy, um I mean Charles for nominating me. His blog is one of my new favorites. I read his moving post Zabaglione and felt like I’d known him forever. Parts of it were so familiar to me. Give it a read.

Before I list my six nominations, I want to say the list would have been longer but Charles already nominated Jessica Sieghart of Surely, You Jess! Similarly, Val of Absurd Old Bird was nominated earlier in the week. And Richard Lamb of Celluloid Zombie would have eaten my brains if I nominated him, busy as he is with a new job.

Drum roll please. My nominees for the Stylish Blogger Award are:

The Fordeville Diaries – Her tagline reads “On a mission to turn the ordinary into the memorable.” She succeeds with each post. Whether she’s fretting about the ugly wall sconces in her hallway or lamenting the loss of her fingerprints (I kid you not), she always gets a good chuckle out of me.

Girlboxing – This 50-something female boxer manages to inspire me exactly when I’m in need. If you want some motivation to get up offa that thing and get that body moving, but you’re not interested in a drill sergeant-like trainer screaming in your face, make a stop at Girlboxing’s place for some quiet but powerful inspiration.

Julie Compton – This blog reflects the multi-faceted qualities of its owner. Julie is a two-time published author, a devoted mom, a female biker, a Dave Matthews fanatic, and a former practicing lawyer. If her blog is a bit quiet these days, it’s because she’s at work on her third novel. (Shhhhh, writer at work.) I can’t wait for her to finish. Her first novel Tell No Lies is a legal thriller that has been compared to Turow’s Presumed Innocent. In her second novel Rescuing Olivia, also a thriller, “a Florida biker sets out on a search against time to find and save the woman he loves when she mysteriously disappears after a suspicious motorcycle accident.” What I love about Julie’s thrillers is that her characters are deeply developed and her themes really make you think.

Earthquakes and Rattlesnakes – Zahara blogs about life, food, and travel and posts some gorgeous photos of the scenery and wildlife in Northern California. The photo in her recent post “After the Rain” took my breath away.

Huffygirl’s Blog – Huffygirl’s light-hearted musings about wellness and life keep me coming back for more. Her recent posts and photos about winter birds and how to set up a bird buffet in your backyard were of special interest. I love birdies.

Working Tech Mom – Techy has managed to balance a demanding career in the technology industry and family life. Recently downsized, she is blogging about the experience in an honest and upbeat way. That’s what I admire about her so much. I have a feeling her future posts on the topic will become a popular reference guide for job-seekers. You can’t go wrong with Techy leading the way.

1st Anniversary of My Blog

Today is the first anniversary of this blog and I’ve been thinking about all that’s happened over the course of the year. It reminds me of the importance of being open to people and reaching out to others. Nothing good happens if you sit alone in your home day after day. Read on to see what I mean.

In May of 2008, I was reading my Washington University in St. Louis Alumni Magazine when I noticed a blurb about a fellow alum who had just had a book published. Her name was Julie Compton, and though I didn’t know her at school, I was really excited about her news. I sent her an email congratulating her (this is the reaching out to others part), which set off a chain of events I never could have predicted.

  • Julie responded and we began an email correspondence.
  • I visited her blog and was inspired to start a blog of my own.
  • It was either on her blog or website that I noticed a link for Inked-In, a social networking site for writers, artists, and musicians.
  • I joined Inked-In and that site became the outlet for a lot of pent-up creativity, not to mention the exciting exchanges with other crazy, creative types.
  • In the meantime, I bought a copy of Julie’s book, Tell No Lies, and started reading. I enjoyed it so much, I sent her an email detailing my thoughts.
  • After several emails back and forth, Julie asked if I would be interested in becoming her beta reader. Hell, yeah!
  • Shortly thereafter, I found out that my novel, The Benefactor, was being considered for publication. I needed to get it in as good shape as possible before submitting it in its entirety to the requesting editor. Guess who helped me out with that. That’s right–Julie’s advice and editing tips were invaluable and will provide a foundation to make my next book better than it would have been.
  • Meanwhile, I was making lots of new friends at Inked-In. As a result of joining, I met a fellow novelist (and screenwriter) from the UK, Richard Lamb, with whom I am now collaborating on my next novel, a romantic comedy.
  • In his previous life, Richard was a graphic artist and he generously offered his assistance in coming up with the cover concept for The Benefactor.
  • As if things couldn’t get more exciting, I was talking to Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor, a new friend and one of the founders of Inked-In (along with Joseph Reed Hayes), and by the end of the conversation we had decided to book a trip to Scotland with some of our other writer friends. For ten days in August, I’ll be living in a former 17th century church that has been converted into a beautiful residence. It’ll be great to meet everyone face-to-face (Skype isn’t quite the same thing) and we’ll also do some planning and scouting for a possible group writing venture.
  • The months were quickly ticking by, and I suddenly realized I needed a website for my book launch. Once again, Richard stepped up and offered his assistance. I’m hoping to announce the new site by the end of the summer.

It has been a whirlwind of a year–a year that would have been radically different had I not met Julie Compton.

I’ve always been a bit envious of aggressive networkers. I just don’t have that in me. But sometimes a simple hello is all it takes to make new friends and spark a chain of magical events.

Eat My Words

My mother always said “be careful what you put down on paper; you’re creating a lasting record.” I suppose it proves how much of a rebel I was that I became a writer.

I’ll admit there are a few letters I wish I’d never sent and a few emails I wish I could recall. That’s for reason of content. But in written correspondence there’s also the problem of absence of intonation, inflection, facial expression (especially the very useful wink), that can make something you intended as a joke seem like a serious insult.

And God forbid we forget to put that crucial piece of modern punctuation at the end of the sentence–that clarifying smiley face–then there’s no hope of averting disaster. I can imagine the friendships that have been ruined with that one omission, and I pray that major discussions between world leaders do not take place over email. Consider the difference between:

We’re launching our missiles at 3 PM sharp.

We’re launching our missiles at 3 PM sharp 🙂

(For added security, I might even add an LOL to that second one.)

On the other hand, as readers of written correspondence, perhaps we should take some extra time to analyze what someone might mean before jumping to conclusions. After all, why would someone who just wrote 14 lovely lines of correspondence want to stab you through the heart on line 15? It’s just not done. With the truly evil ones you usually find yourself impaled by line 2.

Then there’s the whole blogging thing, which basically has the same risks as other forms of written communication. Except you get to unintentionally insult many people at once. Quite efficient, actually.

I wonder if other writers are as paranoid as I am or if that childhood message just did a number on my brain. (Note to self: Send email to mom complaining about childhood issues. Be sure to end with a smiley face.)

The Beginnings of a Blog

My first blog entry and it seems there is nothing more appropriate than a few paragraphs on finding the time to write. I can find so many reasons for not starting now, whenever now may be. Bills to pay, desks to clear, books to read. You know how it goes. But whenever I take the time to write and throw away the phone and any other distractions, I’m always amazed by what I end up with. Today was one of those days. I printed out what I had on my novel-in-progress to refresh my memory, applied sunscreen, and headed outside with a cup of coffee and my Neo (more on the Neo later—for now, just imagine a portable word processor that is smaller than a laptop).

There is nothing more inspiring to me than being in nature, and today was certainly the day. Even the tree cutters and landscapers couldn’t get me down. I was in my own little world, doing my thing, typing away out front on the driveway. My neighbors still look at me strangely when I do this. I’m originally from Ozone Park, New York where everyone sat out on their front stoops. On Long Island, people don’t do that. (In fact, you rarely see your neighbors except when you ring their doorbell to politely ask them to refrain from feeding the half dozen feral cats that have decided your front yard should be their litter box. Geometric progression nightmares keep me awake at night, but I digress) I figure when I get published, the neighbors will no longer look at me strangely, but will nod knowingly, aware that they had been witnesses to a minor miracle in progress.

Needless to say, I got tons done in my novel. And the creative energy generated by just taking the time inspired me to complete the tasks I left behind in order to write. Writing must always be the priority. I’ll never create anything good if I first sit down to write after a day of mind-numbing chores.

So, more on the Neo. But first let me say that many years ago I invested in a popular laptop, one of the first models that had a full-size screen. The thing weighed a gazillion pounds and put off heat like a sauna. I thought I would cozy up with my laptop and write the great American novel in my bed at night. How many times do you think I attempted that? How about not once. The thing was just too clunky. So, I continued with my notebooks and pens. I am a sucker for supplies. My husband tells me I get an eerie gleam in my eye whenever we drive by a Staples store. I buy college-ruled spiral notebooks with colored covers and perforated pages. In the past, I used to write with a fountain pen, but lately I’m into those blue and white barreled Bics with the four colors of ink. I use the blue and black ink for writing my drafts and the red and green ink for editing my drafts.

I always feel much more creative when I am writing longhand than when I am typing. Typing is too mechanical and detracts from my creative flow. I have written entire novels longhand with no problem. My issue is when it’s time to type them into my computer. I HATE that part. It is the most tedious thing I have ever done. And I can’t pay someone to do it because they wouldn’t be able to read my handwriting. I tried bypassing the longhand stage and just typing into my desktop computer, but the distractions were a hindrance: email, stock quotes, Webkinz, Amazon, you name it. And then, I found something called a Neo by Alphasmart. I don’t quite know how I stumbled upon it. Probably in a frenzy of web surfing to avoid typing my manuscript. But there it was, a tiny little device, smaller than a laptop and under 2 pounds that offers a full-size keyboard and a screen that displays three to six lines of text at a time (I prefer four). That’s it. No email, no games, no Amazon, no stock quotes, no instant messaging, no distractions. It’s so small I can sit anywhere and type away and when I’m done I plug it into my computer and all my info gets put into a Word file. What more could I ask for? And with only four lines of text displayed at a time, I’m not tempted to constantly edit my work as I am writing (the worst form of writer’s constipation). With three batteries, I get something like 700 hours of juice. It automatically saves my words and shuts down when inactive. When I press the on button again it takes me right back to where I left off. There is room for 8 different files. Some of the techies out there will complain that it isn’t enough. But that’s the point, it’s simple. All you do on it is type your words.

Oh, and it offers a typing tutorial for those who are still using hunt and peck. In fact, at $200, I bought one for my eight-year-old son who is a budding writer and he has been learning how to type with the proper fingers. He also uses it to record the play-by-play of the Islanders games. It comes in a lightweight carrying case, with the cord to connect to your PC when you’re ready to upload, and a user manual that is very clear. Originally it was marketed to schools for students. But I have to say, it is one of the best gadgets I have ever seen for writers who want to get back to the basics and just write. In closing, let me say that I was not paid any money to say any of the above. I really do love it. In fact, I am writing this first entry on my Neo.

It’s got to be after 7 PM and I’m still sitting outside, although I’m wearing a sweatshirt now because the wind has whipped up a bit. It’s time to go in. But the creative energy is still high. I’m zapping some to all of you writers out there who are looking for a bit of inspiration. Just get outside or wherever you’re most creative and start writing whatever pops into your head. Before too long, the juices will be flowing. If anybody out there has any good tips on getting down to the task of writing, I’d love to hear them.

Nitey nite.