Monday, October 29, 2012

What's the best start to your day?

How about with a herd of deer watching you frantically push buttons on your phone camera to take a shot at them?

As we rush out to the garage this morning, I go about my normal routine of running to the car, jerking open the door, shoving the key in the ignition, all the while yelling at Tornado (my sweet but glacially slow-moving 5th grader) to grab her crap and GET IN THE CAR before we're late!

She saunters out with her daily, universe-sized smile, not a care in the world, and her arms loaded with bags, bunnies and bowl of oatmeal (yes, she eats in the car when she's late), and then exclaims, "Mommy look!"

Our suburbia neighborhood tends to see wildlife from time to time because we are so close to the Rocky Mountains.  We have lots of rabbits and red fox, the occasional bear and once a year, I see deer.  This morning was our annual visit by the herd, so close I could smell the earth on their hides.

When I look up with one leg in the car and one still dangling on the carport, I gasp and reach for my phone, which of course gets tangled up in my fingers.  I push buttons and repush and flounder out of the car.  

Finally, I just stop.  

The daddy deer paused in our driveway and eyeballed me, and as the head of the household paused, so did the rest of the family.  Their deep brown eyes take in the whirlwind of morning rush.  Their amusement obvious in their observation.  Suddenly, time stopped and the sunrise warmed my face.  Simultaneously, the brown noses of four deer shake their heads and then meander toward the backyard.  Straight out of Northern Exposure.

As a bunny bounced behind the deer and Tornado's smile got even bigger, I knew today was going to be a good day.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

GO Team

Finding out about the death of a spouse or other loved one is agonizing.  I know.  I lost my father when he was very young.  Already older and on my own with my own family, his loss, while agonizing, was not the loss of my way of life.  But what if you are the dependent of a military service member?  When you are told of his or her death, you've not only lost a member of your family, but you have now also lost the life you lead.  

The military is pretty clinical about how it deals with death notification.  There is a prepared and required speech from the commander.  There is a chaplain immediately available, the assignment of a casualty assistance officer, and a couple of other spouses to take care of business immediately following the notification.

A GO team is usually two women who follow the chaplain into the house of a woman just told about her husband's death in Afghanistan.  Of course, the spouse could be a man but generally it is not.  

So what happens after all the food is gone?  Or after the passing of six months and now the spouse is required to move off post, away from her friends?  And in moving off post, now the children must move to a new school -- again.

From a new member of our critique group comes the story of a military widow struggling not only through the five stages of grief, but also the stages of Army separation.  I've only read the first 15 pages but I can tell this is going to be an incredibly powerful story.

Do everyday Americans need to read it?  Yes.  Because everyday Americans who want to "support the troops" need to understand it includes the troop's family.  And that family needs to be able to move on from one of the hardest moments of their lives.

If you want to know more about supporting troops, please see the links to the left.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo for VFW & Education

Wanna help me support Veterans and Education?  

How about win a NY Times Bestseller or a Kindle?

National Novel Writing Month is coming up -- 30 days to write a novel -- and I've decided:

  • To write the second in a series of romantic thrillers on Veterans, and; 
  • To dedicate my novel to two of my favorite causes: the VFW and Education.  
For each dollar someone donates, I'll put his/her name in the hat and at the beginning of December, I'll draw 5 names -- each for a NY Times Bestseller.  Then, the person who donates the most money will win the Kindle.

Money can be donated the entire month of November to keep me motivated to finish the novel.  I'll donate the proceeds to the VFW and the Woodland Park Elementary School in Sparta, Tennessee.  Why?  

EDUCATION -- my parents live in a small, rural and frankly, economically poor county in Tennessee. While my husband and I were deployed to Afghanistan last year, our daughter stayed with them and attended Woodland Park Elementary School in Sparta, city population around 4800.

From the principal to the teachers to the students and parents, they were just wonderful to her.  Everyone made her feel part of the community and accepted her so much that when we return home, her play dates and visits take up most of the date book.  What a wonderful experience that gave her lifelong friends!

For their kindness, I want to help them for helping us during a tough time for our family.

VFW -- is one of the leading organizations for advocacy of Veterans.  The first VFW I ever went to was in Songtan City, South Korea, right outside the Osan Air Base gate.  A man, easily a hundred years old smoking a stogie and driving a cadillac, signed me up.  This man was a WWII and Korean War Veteran with a wonderful personality and a goal to show the benefits of VFW membership by active duty.

Recently the VFW is pushing for more benefits for Women Veterans -- rightfully so when women make up more than 20% of the force and have distinctively different medical needs from men.  Additionally, they spotlight homeless and unemployed Veterans (with rates as high as 24%) as well advocating more resources for those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (1 in 5 military service members suffer from PTSD).

The last eleven years has torn apart individuals and families, and I have seen some ugly things.  The price of war has been these selfless people and their wives, fathers, brothers, mothers, husbands and especially, children.  Because we as a nation ask volunteers to go to war for us, I wholeheartedly support this incredible organization that volunteers for them. 

I hope you join me in this endeavor!  To support, please click Google Wallet and don't forget to sign up to follow my blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Making Your Characters Scream

Don't you love a protagonist who isn't afraid to deliver a gut blow?  To scream in a situation where you yourself may just walk away to avoid it?  Readers love head-on and multidimensional characters ... if they are too perfect or too evil, they are not real.  Think about your favorite character and your favorite villain.  What makes you love him?  What makes you hate her?  What makes you sympathize with both of them?

Traditionally your good girl would love to dance naked in the rain or your bad boy loves his momma.  There is a quality in them making them more human and more likable.

To help you to that with your own characters, start by looking at your main character and ask yourself these questions:

1- What does he want most in the world?  What else does he want that is diabolically opposed to the original want?  

2- What is her best trait?  Her worst?  

3- In a tense situation, what is his normal reaction?  What is the opposite of that?

4- What is something she would NEVER think, do or say?  

Once you've answered all these questions and truly had that conversation with your character, have it with another character.   Then have each of those characters at one point or another, or several points, exhibit the trait that is out of balance with his normal reaction or desire.   Do it with all the main characters and your novel will be richer than it was before.  Readers love a character who isn't afraid to say or do the thing we all think of later.

(I'd like to attribute some of this to Donald Maas and Writing the Breakout Novel ... and thank him for helping me expand my characters.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who is Jacqueline Marshall?

The newest partner of Sweet Gypsy Books is also the daughter of senatorial candidate Paul Marshall Jr as well as a Veteran's advocate.   I sat down with her today to discuss her background and her future.

Q1:  Ms Marshall, news travels fast in a small town and we're wondering what brought you back to Sweet Gypsy after being gone for so long.
A1:  News does travel fast down here (*smiles).  It's true I left Alabama right after college.  Adventure called me from an early age.  It probably started with playing hide-and-seek right here on the lake in Sweet Gypsy.  When I met my husband Charlie at (the University of) Alabama, it was like looking in a mirror and finding my inner soul, my partner for life.  As soon as we threw our graduation caps in the air, he took my hand and away we went.  The Army provided just the adventure we were looking for.  (pauses and looks at her wedding ring).  But like all good adventure stories, ours had to end.  When it did, I needed my home.   Home is the best medicine. So, I'm back. 

Q3:  Would you like to tell me how your marriage ended?
A1:  For more than ten years, our country has been at war but that war has affected less than 5% of the population.  Unfortunately, that 5% has endured a nasty burden, and I've seen it have a very ugly effect on some people. Families have been torn apart.  Strong, proud service members have been reduced to shrunken images of dejection and inconsequence.  My husband is a prime example.   Charlie deployed six times over ten years.  Each time was at least a year, and two or three were for 18 months.  Each deployment changed him.  He became more withdrawn, yet explosively angry.  Not the sweet, fun guy I knew.  Not the one who laughed at everything.  After the last deployment, he became violent.  

Q3: And that's when you left?
A3: Not at first.  I truly didn't understand he was physically abusing me and our daughter, who was seven at the time.  After the first time he hit me, he was probably as shocked as I was and couldn't stop apologizing.  But one day, I was cleaning up the dinner dishes and watching Olivia play with her dolls. The cast on her arm was bright pink.  For some reason, the color screamed at me. It was then I realized I wasn't protecting her; I wasn't doing my job as her mother.

Q4: I know this is tough to talk about, but thank you for sharing your story with us.  Why don't we move on to a lighter topic.  What are your goals now that you're back?
A4:  (*laughs) Sure.  Well, I'm finishing up my prolonged exposure therapy, which I recommend to anyone who has been through an awful experience.  Honestly, it has been a godsend because it forced me to look at what happened and through repetition, gave me freedom from it.  So, talking to folks about prolonged exposure is one goal.  

Another is to help my father with his senatorial campaign.  As a retired Marine, Veterans hold a special place for him. Together I think we can bring a bold awareness to Veteran's issues and hopefully more support.

And lastly, as the new managing partner at Sweet Gypsy Books, I'd like to bring books into the lives of children.  Veterans from my support group at the VA are helping me put together a children's authorfest.  It's a way for me to marry two issues I'm passionate about -- reading and Veterans.

(Jackie Marshall is the newest citizen of Sweet Gypsy Springs, Alabama, and we thank her for taking the time to interview with her author today).

Monday, October 8, 2012

What's in a Name?

This week I've been thinking a lot about names, particularly as a writer and developing a good brand.  My platform is writing on Veteran's issues.  I feel strongly about the need for folks to understand what Veterans face and how they can help.  Since Romance and Spy Thrillers are my two favorite genre, I combine them and create a story to entertain and hopefully, educate.

So, what's in a name?  Does HazelnutLive sound like a platform that discusses the deep problems of Veterans in a fun and entertaining way?  Since this used to be just a place for me to write whatever I wanted, the name was fine.  Now, though I'm not so sure.

Since the majority of my Facebook friends are people I served with, I went on and asked for name ideas.  Tons came my way -- from the quirky and cool jargon to the unmentionable in polite company.  Interestingly, most of the jargon I've found to have a negative connotation.  Even when saying "outstanding" or "interesting," there is a certain amount of sarcasm accompanying it.  But I'd rather the name have a more positive, kick ass vibe to them.  My favorites after one day are below, let me know what you think:

1- Sierra Hotel:  in military lingo, that means Shit Hot

2- Bravo Zulu: in naval terms, it means Good Job

3- Easy Day: in special ops terms -- "Of course we can" or "No Problem, why are we even talking about it?"

4- Check Your Six: aviation talk for watch your back

5- Go Pound Sand:  response to indicate you aren't going to do whatever you were just told to do

6- Point Blank Range: where you don't want to be 

7- Kickin' in Doors: making stuff happen

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Denver Debate

I love politics.  Really.  The West Wing?  My favorite show for 7 years.   For the record I am a registered Republican but have not always voted that way.  But here's the thing, I am not thrilled with my current choices of presidential candidates.  So unexcited that two months ago, my mother was lecturing me on my decision to support a Libertarian third-party candidate.  A vote for the other guy and all that.

Fundamentally I disagree with how the Democrats want to run government.  Being from Alabama, I'm proud of my southern heritage that is staunchly sided with state's rights (which also includes small government, low taxes & a big military -- you know, walk softly but carry an armored tank division).  But I am in awe of the blatant ninny-ness of the Republicans.  Really old GOP, you can't let the new guys play?  You gonna take your toys and go home?  Ridiculous.  And a great way to split the vote so the other party wins,  *hand clapping* that brilliant strategy from Colorado.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, regardless of the good in it, and there is lots of good in it, offends me because it denies me the liberty to choose for myself.  On the other hand, I watched the president makes decisions in Afghanistan that were as ballsy as any President Bush would have made.  What he has done to advance the cause of Veterans is also impressive.  In the last four years, when I applied for a civilian position with the US Air Force, of which I am a 10-year Veteran, I couldn't make the list -- even for jobs I once held on active duty.  With the VEOA and VRA, I'm showing up on lists right and left.  This has been the story with lots of folks I know -- an great effort to lessen the Veteran joblessness rate of well over 15%.
Governor Romney's jaunt through Europe and Israel this summer made me cringe with embarrassment. I'm not sure what makes you ready to be a diplomat but I would have thought the CEO of a major international corporation could do better.  On the good side, I firmly believe that a business man has better prospects for changing the economy than a lawyer.  Then again, I'm not totally convinced he'll implement policies to help folks like you and me. 

All that being said, the debates last night showed a prepared Mitt Romney who did articulate a plan.  Not really a detailed plan but enough of a plan with enough statistics and data to show he knows what the heck he's talking about if the topic is the economy.  And face it, with unemployment at 8% and in some counties in Alabama, it's above 20%, no one cares about social issues when they can't put food in their bellies or the bellies of their children.

And the most defining thing for the debates last night was the clarity with which  Mitt Romney wants to be president and how President Obama is shocked by that.    Mind's not changed yet but at least I have something to think about.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creating a Writer's Platform

This week I'm thinking about writer's platforms and how to build one.   You don't have to be an expert on anything other than your book to have a platform.  It is simply what you care enough to write about and how to market it.

My books deal with Veterans issues wrapped in a suspenseful romance novel.  First book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Second book,  Veteran homelessness.  Third book, Women Veterans.  So my platform handles Veterans Issues.

Bob Mayer spoke at the Sangria Summit for Military Writers a couple of weeks ago and said, frankly, he gave up his traditional book deal because he was doing all the writing and the marketing and all the profit was going to a publisher.  Now, he's an indie, still does his own writing and marketing but gets to keep a majority of the profit.  The bottom line is that in today's super-saturated fiction world, writers will have to market their work.

So, here is a platform plan -- hopefully it can help other writers with theirs.

SOCIAL MEDIA - this is a given.  For now I concentrate on the top three with a couple others thrown in when I have time.  The thing is to not waste all your time on social media because then you aren't writing.  Set a schedule -- I like Mondays and Thursdays -- and that's it.

     1- GET ON TWITTER, follow other writers and readers and those in your field.  But only follow those who engage.  Social media is "social" and if your followers aren't commenting, following or retweeting, then they aren't going to help you get your stuff out there.  The same is true for you.  It's a give-give game.  I really like Molly Greene's take on building Twitter (click here).

     2- FIRE UP FACEBOOK.  Until you have a book out, you can use your personal account and create a Group to project all your ideas, news, and information.  Again, this doesn't have to be just about your writing, it can also include whatever you are writing about.  If it's spy thrillers, start loading up on quirky, interesting international news.  If it's romance at a cupcake factory, help the local bakery advertise.

     3- BLOG. If you are a writer and you produce a book, you will be asked about your blog and you will be asked to guest blog.  This is another way agents, editors and publishers see you are getting out there.  What to blog about?  The same thing you tweet, Facebook and write about.  Writing, of course and because you love it.  But also what you are writing about.  Is your book about a child with autism.  Start blogging about autism.  Is it about a girl who can't stay out of antique shops?  Tweet about antiquing.  The thing about a blog is that it can change with each book.  The tie that binds is you the author.  (Blogger and Wordpress are the two most common blog sites)

     4- OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA.  Google+ is up and coming and a cross between Twitter and Facebook.  Goodreads is Facebook for readers.

     5- KEEP IT ALL ORGANIZED WITH A DASHBOARD.  I use Hootsuite to help me.  It lets you monitor up to five social media feeds for free.  This way you don't have to visit every single social media site, just this one.  You can pick and choose which feeds to upload.  This is a must if you are going to have more than a couple of sites.

VISIT AND TALKS - this is truly dependent on what you are writing.  Because I write about Veterans Issues, meeting with Veterans groups makes sense.  But here are other ideas:

     1- RESTAURANTS -- If you are writing a book with an Italian restaurant in it, head to your favorite and take pics, post them up and write about why you like it.  Call it a restaurant review.  Owners love free advertising.

     2- SCHOOLS/CHURCHES -- If there is a moral anywhere in your book, talk to kids about it OR talk to their teachers OR a women's/men's group at church about it (depending on genre).

     3- BOOK CLUBS -- If you aren't already in one, get in one because the more you participate, the more likely they will be to read your book.  Once they read it, word of mouth is key!

     4- CIVIC CLUBS - like the Rotary.  Whatever issues you are dealing with in your book is probably something the local civic group either has dealt with or will.  Give them a reason to talk about your book.  The VFW and the American Legion want to hear about your war memoir but so do regular Americans who want to support the cause (whatever the cause is).

     5- LIBRARY - Local libraries are always looking for authors to talk about books.  Become best friends with your librarian.

     6- MOVERS AND SHAKERS - Are you writing about a powerful CEO who seduces women for fun?  How about talking to a group of powerful CEOs?  Or young college graduates?  You get the idea.

     7- THEME PARTIES - Hold a book progress party.  One chapter done?  Invite 5 or so friends over for a party and let them read it for a quick beta test.   Full draft done?  Same thing but send them the entire manuscript.  Food is always a good excuse to get together and chat about books.

No matter what outlet you choose, be creative.  Anything can be talked about at any time to anyone.  Groups tend to be pretty open to discussions and newcomers.  Try anything and if it works, try it again.  I wish you lots of luck as you build your platform!