What I’m reading

I grew up reading Anne books. My mom gave me her worn copy of “Anne of Avonlea” when I was young. The book was a Christmas present to her in 1944 from my mom’s cousin according to the inscription inside the cover.

Soon I was buying my own Anne books by L.M. Montgomery beginning with “Anne of Green Gables” and ending with “Anne of Ingleside.” I love these books. I read them over and over. I loved the countryside of Prince Edward Island. I loved Anne’s friends when she went off to college. I enjoyed her children’s adventures after she married to Gilbert.

“Chronicles of Avonlea” and “Further Chronicles of Avonlea” were collections of short stories where Anne played a small role, but the stories focused on characters in her small town. I remember feeling like I knew these people.

I discovered the biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery through a blog post. I ordered the book and have been waiting to read it as soon as I finished my assigned book club book, which I did over the weekend.

“House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery” is a YA biography and an easy read. I’m finding it fascinating how many of the characters in her book were taken from her life. If you’re an Anne fan, you’ll definitely enjoy it.

Inside the book “Anne of Avonlea” that my mother gave me when I was young.

I’m sticking with book club for the time being. June’s book is called “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell” by Robert Dugoni. At first I wasn’t interested in reading it and I was annoyed it was so long. I gave it a try and it was an enjoyable book with short chapters. The story is about a boy growing up in California, going to an all boys Catholic school. He was discriminated against because he was born with red eyes (due to Ocular albinism.)

Were you an Anne of Green Gables fan? What were your favorite books to read when you were growing up? What are you reading now?

Motivated by bloggers

cat on SwimSwam magazines
Olive hanging out on top of magazines with my stories inside. She doesn’t want anyone to read them.

I literally dusted off two picture book manuscripts that I wrote 20 years ago — thanks to my blogging community.

I was motivated again by blogger LA for her leap entering a writing competition. In her comments section, I lamented that I had not fulfilled my dream of having a book published. Another blogger along with LA encouraged me to keep going.

Although I’ve won contests, been published by magazines, websites and newspapers — that elusive book deal hasn’t happened.

I realized that it won’t happen — because I quit submitting to agents and publishers two years ago.

When I said I dusted off two picture book manuscripts, it’s because I discovered they aren’t on my laptop, nor are they on icloud. They’re on backup devices that no longer work with my current system. It has been 20 years since they were on my computer or backed up. That’s a lifetime in nano years.

I wondered if I had thrown out all my manuscripts when we moved? If so, my work would be lost. After searching the house and garage, I found two notebooks that I used to keep copies of my manuscripts, a spread sheet of submissions and a bevy of rejection letters. It wasn’t sad to look at the rejection letters, some had personal handwritten notes and were encouraging.

Long gone are the days of the snail mail submission with an SASE (self addressed stamped envelope). I won’t receive hand written notes or form letters in the mail. Everything is done online and many publishers and agents don’t send rejections. If they aren’t interested, they don’t respond. Fortunately, some do reject via email, so I’ll know from those agents and publishers if my submission got lost in the ethers — or not.

I quickly typed the two manuscripts into my laptop and I’ll be off pursing my dream once again.

What are your goals or dreams? Have you stuck with it or did it go by the wayside?

Question for fellow bloggers

Waffles the pug
Waffles the pug when he lived in Arizona.

Do you receive solicitations by people or companies who ask to collaborate with you? I’ve been getting a few each week. What they want mostly is for me to post something they send me or for me to write about their company.

It’s interesting to see what they are proposing. Sometimes they are off the mark. For example, one woman sent me a link to their website and asked if I’d like to post their article about healthy pets. I clicked on the link and it was a parenting article. Oh well. I passed.

Once I was asked to add a link to a certain post and I did that. But I’m not comfortable with posting a company’s press release.

Once I posted a guest blogger. It was a friend of mine who I love his writing. It was a fellow swim dad and swim parents was the main topic I was writing about. It was nice to get his perspective. Also, I thought it would be a welcome break for my readers.

What are your thoughts? Do you get solicitations by email to include articles or links on your blog? What type of collaborations do they ask for? Do you feel that your blog should only be your own content? What do you think about bloggers who post other people’s material?

The ups and downs of blogging

sunrise in the desert
Sunrise from the back yard.

I have never posted about stats before. I’m talking WordPress numbers. But after I posted Party time! something weird happened. It’s only happened once before.

My stats boomed. I was up 1,427% !!

The question is why? Wouldn’t I like to know that secret.

The other time my stats skyrocketed was when I wrote about a Darlene Love concert I attended with my husband, dad and son. We had a venue in Palm Springs called The Follies. She was the headliner for their last few shows that included dancers in their 60s and 70s who look amazing!

I figured out why those stats boomed. I shared my blog post with Darlene Love through social media and she posted it!

But Monday’s post? Maybe it’s because our son’s sister-in-law Alexandra Simpson has a following or Chuck Prophet, the musician she’s playing with in the Youtube video for newly released song “Meet Me at the Roundabout.”

If you don’t know who Darlene Love is, I highly recommend the Oscar-award winning movie “20 Feet from Stardom.” Heck, I recommend that movie because the stories of the backup singers are so powerful and it includes many big stars like Sting, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones.

What are your thoughts about stats? Do you think spikes happen because of key words, SEO, tags? Or just luck?

Blogging Along Through Life

My daughter with her relay celebrating in the pool.

When I started my blog in 2014, my focus was financial news for women. I had a short stint as a financial adviser working with my husband. At that time, I thought I had lots of knowledge to share. I had passed all the exams and went through training by two big firms.

One fact that stood out to me was that women own the majority of the wealth in our nation, yet they have less knowledge about investing than men. I thought I found a perfect niche to blog about. Funny thing, nobody wanted to read those posts. Maybe it was because I was new and didn’t have an audience — but when I wrote about other topics, I got way more views and comments.

My next niche was parenting — particularly sports parenting. I submitted one of my blog posts to the most read swim website, SwimSwam, and got feedback from the owner/founder Gold Medal Mel, Mel Stewart. He asked me to start writing parenting advice. He wanted me to write once a month for three months. After that trial period, I wrote every week. You can check out those articles HERE. I continued with that for six years, mostly basing my articles on my past mistakes. I didn’t want newer sports parents to go through the drama and issues that I had. I was thrilled when parents would email me and ask for advice. I started an “Ask Swim Mom” column from those emails.

My other favorite topics to blog about were about college admissions and being the parent of college kids. I learned a lot during those years. But as my kids grew, I felt I had less to offer in the parenting arena. In fact, I think my swim parenting articles put pressure on my daughter or made her feel exposed. I realized I’m far from an expert. Who am I to give advice?

Now, my blogging is me slogging through this phase of life trying to figure it out. What I enjoy most about blogging now is the community of bloggers I read every day. It’s more satisfying and supportive than before.

I’m curious how you see your blog evolving or changing through time. Do you feel you have a niche and what is it? What are your favorite topics to blog about?

An unexpected gift

Gary Gruber photo of pigeons.
Pigeons.

After we picked up Olive from boarding and unloaded the car, I went to the post office. That was Thursday after a nine-hour drive from Christmas in Santa Barbara. I was exhausted because I have anxiety on freeways and we started the trip home at 5:30 a.m. in the dark in the middle of storm. I could tell my husband, who is normally cool, was having a tough time with the drive until we left Los Angeles freeways and headed towards Palm Springs and the rain subsided. Nine hours of driving and riding in the car is bad enough without bad weather.

I was bleary-eyed at the post office and I discovered four slips for packages in my P.O. Box. I was surprised to see a flat package from Gary Gruber. He’s a photographer who I worked with during my PR career in the 80s and 90s. His wife was my boss and we shared an office for several years. She became one of my close friends and is my daughter’s Godmother.

Pool hose photo by Gary Gruber showing beautiful patterns
Pool hose photo by Gary Gruber.

When I got home, I tossed the mail and packages on my desk, but opened the flat package. Inside were three incredible prints. I’m going to take them to the framing store later today. I called my friends to thank them! Gary had included a letter to update me about his work and a gallery showing next week. He also sent me a link to his blog and his photography site. Check out his photos HERE. Be sure to go through all his tabs. The photography is stunning.

Bob Hope Classic girls, photo by Gary Gruber.
Bob Hope Classic girls.

I especially enjoyed the PR and Still Life photos. Above is a PR photo from the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament. I worked for the PR firm that put on the Classic in the 1980s. I love the photo because it reminded me of how the Classic Girls — who were ambassadors to the tournament — were selected. A group of old men affiliated with the Classic and Eisenhower Medical Center (the beneficiary of the charity golf tournament) would meet in an auditorium at the hospital. The girls one by one walked across the stage, turned round, etc. while being ogled by the old geezers.

My boss asked if I’d like to try out. I was an account executive at the time in my mid twenties. He commented that I could wear the “Bob” shirt. Chrysler became a sponsor of the tournament and the old geezers joked about the young lady they’d pick to wear all the letters of “Chrysler.” You get the drift? If not, it’s all about breast size.

Wouldn’t fly today, would it?

These prints are truly an unexpected gift that I’ll treasure. Also, I loved reconnecting and hearing about Gary’s success with his artistic photography in a gallery and in Palm Springs Life magazine. You can check out Gary’s blog here.

What are your thoughts about unexpected gifts? Are they more special than ones you know are coming?

This is one of Gary’s street photos from Italy.
Child photo with cat by Gary Gruber
A photo by Gary Gruber taken decades ago. I swear this is my Olive the cat.

Needs and Wants Add Depth to Characters

I’m finishing up my NaNo Prep and psyching myself up for November 1 when I attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.

I got some writing advice from my son who graduated in Literature from UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies

He told me to add depth to my characters I should explore their “needs and wants.”

baby crawling and peeking out behind door.
My son a few years ago peeking out from his bedroom.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level. It was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards, I answered smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they always believed it was something they needed.

Here’s how my son ended up giving me advice on needs and wants in fiction writing:

Several years ago, I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy Definitely one dimensional. My son suggested I look at their “needs and wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, and in literature, he explained, needs and wants takes on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids. They both continue to amaze me with their wisdom and good advice.

mom and toddler son sitting on the beach
Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? Have you used needs and wants to develop your characters in writing? What are your needs and wants in blogging?