Monday, January 31, 2011

Marketing Monday - Sam Gosling

Sam Gosling, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at the University of Texas. Sam's research is remarkably well known. He studies personality.

Many psychologists study personality, but Sam is particularly interested in what we can learn about people without ever meeting them. He studies people's stuff. And he has done curious people everywhere a great service by writing Snoop: what your stuff says about you. I'll have more about Sam's book in my next post, but for today, Sam has agreed to share his experiences marketing Snoop.

What did Profile Books LTD do to market Snoop?
  • [They] sent me on a 6(?) city book tour, where I gave talks at bookstores and local media.
  • They sent out books and press releases to various media, with the greatest pickup in papers and radio.
  • I did a day of radio interviews (where you sit in a room and do 20-ish consecutive interviews with regional radio).
  • They had a double page devoted to it in their catalogue
  • They sent out flyers to university professors who might adopt it.

What did you do to promote Snoop?
  • I created a webpage where I posted a sample of writing, tour dates, etc.

How has the experience played out for you?
  • There was a flurry of activity initially and there has been a modest but pretty constant stream of attention since then, with the occasional bigger thing.
  • I also did a couple of days of media interviews in the UK.

In case you're curious what the "occasional bigger thing" might be, Sam was on Dr. Phil to discuss his book. He also put the contents of his book into action by snooping into the offices of Dr. Phil and some of his co-workers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

There's no place like home...

After four (miserable) days in Budapest, we were finally going home! Caught the airport shuttle, arrived with plenty of time to get checked in. Flight on schedule. My heart soared.

Half an hour later, Beloved Husband asked, "So... why haven't they announced any flights?"

I glanced around and shrugged. "Maybe they're just clustered together."

Beloved Husband got up to look at the departure board. He scowled and returned to his seat.

"We're delayed by an hour. All incoming flights from Germany are delayed."


Great. So the big snowstorm they'd predicted on the day we were supposed to leave didn't materialize, but the one they'd predicted for our return did. My mind raced... We were going to be stuck here, I just knew it. In the airport. Overnight. With two young kids and nowhere near enough diapers for the youngest. Dear God, why hadn't we stayed home?

We checked the departure schedule every five minutes after that, but the new time held. Our plane arrived, and we were ready to board. Except for one small problem.

"Final boarding call for flight... to Milan." This was the twelfth final call, and we quickly learned that they were planning to hold the plane for the TEN people who had not yet boarded. At our gate. And we would have to wait, too.

After about 20 minutes, someone had the bright idea to open a new gate so we could actually get on our plane. We were finally on our way, long after we were supposed to have landed in Berlin.

The flight is about an hour and 20 minutes. After 2.5 hours, I started to wonder what was going on. Eventually, the pilot came on to tell us that the airport wasn't allowing any planes to land. We would continue circling and see what happened.

Ten minutes later: "We will be landing at Schönefeld. Tegel still isn't accepting any planes. We're going to cut our losses and get on the ground." Good thing we hadn't left a car at the airport!

Within minutes, the landing lights on the wings came on and the landing gear went down.

"Wow, that was a smooth landing!" my mother-in-law said.

"We didn't land yet." I pointed out the window, where a blizzard obscured the end of the wing. "I sincerely hope it doesn't look like that when we're on the ground."

And then we landed! Everyone on the plane cheered. We taxied a short distance and stopped.

"Look outside," my mother-in-law said. It looked exactly like it had when we were in the air.

"We have to wait for a 'follow me' car--I don't know where they want us," the pilot explained. Outside the window was nothing but white. No sign of anything, including the airport terminal. The follow-me car parked us right there, in the middle of who knew where.

"Well, at least we're back in the city," I said, looking at the bright side.

"We have to wait for a bus to come get us," the flight attendant announced. "At least fifteen minutes." People stopped putting on coats and sat back down. Fifteen minutes later a small car pulled up and a woman came on board.

"There are several planes that had to land here," she explained, "and we don't have many buses. It will be at least 40 minutes before a bus can come get you." The flight attendants immediately brought out food and wine to prevent a riot.

Just as they finished serving our row, someone said, "The bus is here!"

Crap! I was holding a full glass of wine in one hand, with no place to put it because I had to put the seat tray up to get Snuggle Monkey. So I chugged it. We carried the boys down the steps, through about ten inches of snow, and onto the bus. We'd made it. We were officially back in Berlin.

Rrrrrrrr! The bus lurched a few inches forward. Pause. Rrrrrrr! Another lurch. Giggles and guffaws came from all around us. Again and again, the driver tried to get us going, but the snow was too deep. Then he tried backing up. Rrrrrrrrrr! Nothing.

"Would everyone please move to the back of the bus?" More laughter as everyone crammed together in the back half of the bus (good thing we'd been on a small plane). That did it. We started to move.

And then we were in the terminal. The cold air clung to us, and we wondered whether we would get our luggage, or if it would be left out there in the middle of the snow field until the plows had cleaned things up.

"Take the boys home," Beloved Husband said to my mother-in-law and me. "I'll wait here either for the luggage or to fill out lost luggage forms." Brilliant idea!

We led the boys outside, through the snow, in search of a taxi. Found one, got everyone buckled in and followed four plows home on the Autobahn. It took forever. Oh, and we had to pay for a second taxi, yet again. But we were home!

What do you think? Fact or fiction?
Last week's story? Fiction based on fact. Snuggle Monkey did not plunge us into darkness; the rest was true.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adding a touch of realism

Setting is hugely important, and I think we owe it to our readers to make the setting as realistic as possible. Why provide details that are inaccurate? It's sloppy writing. It happens all the time in movies (monkeys giving chimp calls drive me crazy); the prevailing opinion seems to be that no one will notice. But the people who know will notice. And they won't like it.

Given that people learn historical and scientific facts from media (movies and books), we owe it to our audience to at least teach them something that's accurate.

Unless you're writing fantasy, chances are you want to lend a hint of realism through your setting. Something as simple as a cardinal singing in a jack pine can help bring a scene to life. But what if cardinals don't actually live in said location? Or jack pines for that matter? Well, now you can find out for sure, without booking a plane ticket, driving all day, or pestering your facebook friends who live kinda-sorta near there.

Discover Life is a fabulous site to use to research plants and animals of all kinds (something you may need to do whether you write fiction or non-fiction; I found the site while researching a non-fiction article). The site has a mapping feature that allows you to enter the type of organism and search for places where it has been recorded.

The easiest way to use Discover Life is to search for the plant or animal on their home page. (If you have trouble, google the species by common name, then copy and paste the genus species epithet—e.g. Cardinalis cardinalis for cardinal—into the search box.) Most of the species pages come up with a map of locations. Each point on the map is the location where a specimen was collected by a scientist; all are registered with various official museums and collections, so you know the information you're getting is accurate.

If you've got a cardinal singing in the jack pine, let's hope your story isn't set in Idaho. Neither cardinals nor jack pines can be found there. This resource can save you from an embarrassing email from an Idaho-based fan one day.

Northern Cardinal
Jack Pine
How do you think you might be able to use Discover Life to bring some realism to your work?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marketing Monday - Jody Hedlund

Chances are, if you're a writer and you blog, you know Jody Hedlund, author of the historical romance The Preacher's Bride. Jody's blog is always full of terrific advice about both writing and blogging. And Jody is just as helpful and delightful to work with in person (okay—via email) as she is on her blog.

Today, Jody is here to share what Bethany House (publisher of The Preacher's Bride) did to market Jody's book, as well as what she did as an author. She's got lots of great ideas, so be sure to read to the end!

What did Bethany House do to help promote The Preacher's Bride?

I’m fortunate to have a contract with a larger publishing house who has an excellent marketing and sales team. They did an incredible number of things to help promote my book. Here are just a few of the top things:
  • They sent out advanced reader copies ARCs (to major book buyers, book reviewers, etc.).
  • They provided me with free books, bookmarks, and other items that I could use for promotional purposes.
  • They provided free books to a list of people (influencers) who agreed to read and help promote my book.
  • They helped arrange an interview with my local newspaper which ended up being a full page in the Sunday paper.
  • They got my book in all of the major online bookstores, book catalogs, and numerous bookstores (including Sam’s Club, Barnes & Noble, Borders, most Christian bookstores).
  • On release day, my publisher did a big Twitter giveaway.
What did you do to market your novel?

Because my publisher did so many of the bigger things, I could focus my energy on things that I really enjoy. Here are just of the few of the ways I worked initially to promote my book:
  • I did a “countdown” on my blog the month before the release date. Each week I posted a trivia question and did a giveaway drawing for those that participated.
  • I had a “first-sighting” slide show. I encouraged readers to send me a picture of them with my book, and then I posted all of the pictures in a slide show on my blog.
  • I did over 40 blog interviews (often with book giveaways) in a variety of different settings, and I posted each interview and link on my website.
  • For anyone who reviewed my book on their blog, I also posted the review and link on my website.
  • I planned an enormous local launch party at a privately owned bookstore in town.

How do you see your online presence contributing to the promotion of your book?

My online presence helped in many different ways. In my post The Snowball Effect of Social Media, I list many of the ways that social media directly and indirectly helped in the promotion of my book. Here are a few of the points I mention in that post:
  • Many of my followers on the various social media sites supported me by buying my book, even if they weren’t huge fans of my genre.
  • The connections I’ve made opened the door for other promotional opportunity (like the blog interviews I mentioned above).
  • Followers who didn’t want to read my book, bought it for others they thought would be interested.
  • Interestingly, my book made it to the CBA best seller list about three months after its debut. I’m convinced that my web presence helped contribute to that.
Be sure to read Jody's post on The Snowball Effect of Social Media for more insight into her experience as a debut author.

Thanks Jody, for taking the time to share your experiences! 

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lost in the Labyrinth

All Christmas day, we were stuck inside the hotel. Outside, the winds howled, blowing rain sideways past our window. Just above freezing; not the best kind of weather for sight-seeing. So instead of experiencing the wonders of Budapest, we sat inside. Thank goodness Santa had brought the boys some new toys to play with.

On the second day of Christmas (December 26th—Christmas is a two-day affair in much of Europe), we ventured outdoors. The temperature had dropped and the sidewalks were now covered with drifted snow. We had packed according to a weather forecast that predicted zero precipitation, so we were utterly unprepared. The boys couldn't keep out of the snow. Within ten minutes they were whining about their cold, wet feet.

We trudged up to the castle district, hoping to at least see something before we left the next day. Naturally, the castle was located at the top of a hill, so the winds were stronger than ever. After a few stiffly posed pictures at the Fisherman's Bastion, we searched for the Labyrinth. A dank underground tunnel system never sounded so inviting.

We arrived as they were setting up the annual Christmas candle-lighting event. Once a year, on December 26th, 1,000 tea candles light the inside of the Labyrinth, a series of caves beneath Buda Castle.

The tiny lights lined the passageways and made them seem almost cozy. And they were beautiful. I was really enjoying our trip for the first time.

"I wonder if there are any bats down here,"  Boss Man commented as we looked around.

"Bat! I'm a bat!" Snuggle Monkey said.

And then his little hand was no longer holding mine. He grabbed both sides of his unzipped jacket and held them wide, flapping his "wings." He looked like a tiny dracula flitting among the candles. I worried a bit that he'd get too close to the candles, but he seemed to be staying away from them. I let my guard down.

"I'm a super fast bat! The fastest bat in the world!"

Whoosh, he ran, down one side of the cavern. Candles flickered wildly in his wake. He wheeled around and came racing back toward us. Whoosh! Behind him, the candles went out, like a series of dominoes falling. He raced around us, as we stood in our dead-end section of the cave, which was rapidly getting darker with each flame that died. The last tealight, over to my left, sputtered and went out.

They turned off the electric lights after they lit the candles. In the utter darkness, I noted the warm, damp air against my face. And then the wails broke the silence.



The shouts ricocheted off the walls in a deafening din. I reached one hand out in the general direction of one of the wails.

"I'm here," I said, trying to keep a steady voice as I searched for my son in the darkness.

"Don't move," Beloved Husband said. "We'll find you. Just stay where you are. Keep talking."


I'm here... I'm here... echoed all around us.

"In a quiet voice please," Beloved Husband said. Wow, he was staying really calm!

Sweeping my arms in front of me, I started up a constant stream of quiet chatter. I wasn't sure if I was trying to calm my kids, myself, or my mother-in-law (who has since decided she won't be joining us on any more family trips to explore the cities of Europe). Or maybe, like a bat, I was trying to echolocate my way to my kids.

After a few moments, I located Boss Man, and my husband found Snuggle Monkey. Both were sniffling.

"What about me?" my mother-in-law asked.

"Take my arm, Mom," Beloved Husband said. "I can see a faint light down that way."

"You do?" I looked in what I thought was the direction of the passageway but didn't see anything. I did, however, hear feet shuffling away from me.

"Wait!" I said to my husband as he led us to what I hoped would be a way out.

"We're going to have to stock up on night lights after this," I muttered as we crept down the passageway.We seemed to be moving at a snail's pace—literally. I felt as if I could only go a few inches at a time, and Boss Man's grip threatened to permanently cut off circulation from at least two fingers.

"Wait, I hear someone," Beloved Husband stopped walking, and I ran right into him. Boss Man stepped on Snuggle Monkey's foot, which elicited a wail.

I peered into the darkness, hoping I might see that faint light he'd mentioned. And then I was completely blinded by a bright white circle of light that was right at eye-level about three meters away. Pain shot across the back of my eyes and I squeezed them shut. The afterimage lit up green and orange against my eyelids.

"Mi folyik itt?" came a voice out of the darkness.

"What? Sorry? Do you speak English?" Beloved Husband asked.

Beloved Husband explained as the worker pulled out his lighter and set about re-lighting the candles. Then he escorted us to the entrance. Apparently they didn't want us in the Labyrinth during their special once a year candle-lighting event. Sadly, I can't really blame them

What do you think? Fact or fiction?
Last week's story? Fact.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


On Monday I had just finished rewriting the opening chapter of my MG mystery (and realizing it wouldn't work) when I got the call. Snuggle monkey was running a low-grade temperature and really out of it. Could I please pick him up?


Nothing like the unexpected to completely derail progress. If you can call rewriting eight pages for nothing progress. But it made me realize how great it's been this year: everyone's been healthy!

During the last school year, we spent eight solid months with one of the two boys home for one or two days each week. I had three weeks last year during which I had a whole five-day work week to get things done. Yep, three weeks.

This year, they've had about five sick days between them.

*knocks on wood*

*stops to appreciate just how wonderful it's been that we've all been healthy*

*knocks on wood again*

I can't begin to express how grateful I have been for that time.

It even makes up for the dreaded email that landed in my inbox on Friday: lice. At the school, in the rooms where Boss Man's been lately. The same rooms where I recently found him wearing a crown.

Saturday involved a fine-tooth comb, a bright light, a magnifying glass, and a lot of time with the kids in front of a movie and me inspecting every inch of their scalps and hair.  We got lucky—no need to shave their heads.

*knocks on wood some more*

Now, back to that chapter...

What unexpected events have derailed your efforts of late?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Marketing Monday - Toby Speed

It's Monday! And wouldn't you know? Today I have the first book marketing case study.

Toby Speed is the author of six picture books and one book of poetry for children. Two Cool Cows was a ABA Pick of the List and won an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Award. Brave Potatoes was on The New York Times Extended Children's Best Seller List and the Publishers Weekly Children's Bestseller List.

Toby published her picture books before the days of the online platform, but some aspects of marketing and promotion don't change. Read on to see how the process worked for her.

What did you or the publishers do to get your books reviewed?

I did nothing to get any of my books reviewed. Besides the reviews listed on my website, there were many others that appeared in newspapers and magazines around the country. My publishers (Stewart, Tabori and Chang for ONE LEAF FELL and Putnam for most of the others) did all the legwork. In those days, I looked forward to stuffed-looking envelopes coming in the mail that contained newspaper and magazine clippings. I'd call my mom, celebrate quietly, then file them away! I believe that initially both publishers sent me questionnaires asking me to identify local media.

How did you market your books? Did you use the same general approach for all, or did you pursue different avenues for each one?

I called or stopped into every single Borders and Barnes & Noble on Long Island, the Nassau and Suffolk County Library System, and many independent bookstores, and I connected with their community relations person. I handed them a press kit consisting of a press release I'd written myself about my book, a sample book that they could borrow, background information about me, and the type of program I was offering. For each one of my books I created a program that combined a reading with a craft for children, followed by a book-signing. I often requested that they put my books face out on the shelves (or I turned them that way myself!).

What did the publishers do to market your books?

Putnam did a great job of creating displays for several of my books that were used in bookstores—racks that included not only my current book but others they'd just published that they were trying to push. Putnam also had agreements with third parties that allowed them to market my books in various ways. For instance, a restaurant chain in California called Carl's Jr. asked to use TWO COOL COWS as part of a promotion. Jigsaw puzzles were created to give away with meals to customers, and they had posters in their windows showing the book cover. For BRAVE POTATOES, Putnam made postcards and sent me a supply, and I handed them out everywhere. For future books, I'd make my own bookmarks or postcards to use as giveaways. BRAVE POTATOES was also performed as a musical in Chicago. [wow!]

What other kinds of activities did you pursue that helped with marketing and promotion?

I did many arts-in-education programs in elementary schools throughout Suffolk County (where I live) and in parts of Nassau County. Occasionally I'd get a request from the city or farther away, but I accepted those only occasionally. In schools, I'd do poetry or story-writing workshops with the kids. Sometimes I'd do an assembly, too, which was more of a talk about the life of an author. And I joined the Long Island Children's Writers and Illustrators (they weren't called that back then, but were more of an informal group) and went to Author Illustrator evenings in the public schools. They run about 35 of these each year in my region. A bookseller is on hand to sell the books, and we just sit at tables and sign. I also spent summers in northeast Pennsylvania, so I did library programs there as well.

You recently finished writing a novel. If/when it gets published, how do you envision marketing it?

Ahh, here's where things get very different. First of all, I'll be spending a lot of time looking for an agent to represent me. I never had an agent for my children's books. So I'll be going the query route and persisting until something good happens.

I'm now blogging, which offers myriad possibilities. I already have an "interview" on my website with one of the characters in my book. I plan to post a series of interviews and guest posts with my characters and use social media and networking to draw people to the site. I am already using Facebook and Twitter to connect with people in the industry. I plan on attending some mystery writers' conferences, also for networking, and will set up as many bookstore and library appearances as I can.

It is so wonderful that we have all the resources of the Internet now and can get to know people halfway around the world, as in the case of you and me! I enjoy using social media and making friends in the creative communities out there, so I'll just keep that up and continue to hope that my work will steadily grow to reach a wider audience. Certainly, if I'd had these resources back when my picture books were being published, I'd have been able to get the word out about them much more easily and maybe help to keep them in print. We need to rely on our allies and supporters in the online world, plus it's so much fun to be a member of the community.

Thanks for the terrific overview of your experience, Toby!

What aspects of Toby's experience do you think might be useful in today's market?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fact or Fiction - Santa edition

Christmas eve eve. Otherwise known as December 23rd. I sat on the bed of the hotel room, trying to conjure up some Christmas cheer in the absence of anything festive. Not even a mass-produced painting adorned the pale yellow walls that loomed over me. At least the kids were entertaining themselves...

"What's this?!" Boss Man popped up from the far side of the bed, hands waving in the air.

I squinted, trying to make out the objects he clutched. Oh crap! The stocking stuffers! He'd been entertaining himself by going through the suitcase, and now he held some of the precious few gifts we'd brought with us.

"Put them back," I said, trying not to pounce on the suitcase to prevent him finding anything else.

"But what are they?" he asked, as he shoved the toys under the flap. His eyes were enormous and the corner of his mouth twisted up. He knew, absolutely knew, he'd found something he shouldn't. Something that heralded fun.

I shook my head and shooed him into the other room.

Within two minutes, he was back, climbing onto my lap.

"Mama," he whispered with a giggle. "Mama, I really want to know what those things were."

I looked helplessly at Beloved Husband. Do we tell him? I wondered. Boss Man had come home from school two weeks before and casually asked, "Who puts the presents under the tree?"

"I do," I had replied.

"Aha! YOU'RE Santa Claus!" he had shouted.

"Er, Santa puts presents in the stockings," I had said. "We put the gifts from each other under the tree."

"Oh. Okay." Boss Man had happily accepted my explanation.

But now, here we were, evidence in his hot little hands. My husband either avoided my eye or was busy doing something else, and I was left scrambling for a solution. I didn't mind telling Boss Man that there's no Santa, but I knew he would ruin it for Snuggle Monkey, who was excited about Santa for the first time.

And then it hit me, the words coming out of my mouth even before I had thought them through. "They're presents for Santa's elves."

Boss Man looked at me, one eyebrow raised.

"They work all year making gifts for children, and no one ever gives them anything. So we brought a few toys we thought they might like."

He frowned for a moment, considering this, then grinned. "Yay! Can we write a note? I want to write it!"

I helped him write a note to Santa, telling him the gifts were for the elves. And on Christmas morning, Santa left a note for us, thanking us for the presents and saying he thought Snuggle Monkey might like the same gifts. Boss Man thought that was very considerate of Santa to give the same gifts we did.

What do you think? Fact or fiction?

Last week's story? Fact.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No, I'm not delusional

In case anyone thought I was delusional when I said I've decided to make writing my new career, I'm not. I know it will take hard work and dedication. To get started, I am focusing on non-fiction: magazine articles to build up my CV. I have also started writing up proposals for educational publishers. I do not think my MG novel will be the next Harry Potter (although that would be lovely).


Writing non-fiction for magazines is actually a terrific way to get your foot in the proverbial door to publication. And yet... I have found very few resources that focus on writing non-fiction for children. Information on writing for magazines is targeted to an adult audience; information about writing for children is usually geared toward fiction writers. What I'm trying to do is somewhere in between.

How then, to begin? Well, I've been diligent about reading my Children's Book Insider and SCBWI Bulletin when they come out (this is one of my resolutions for the year—to make use of the information while it's still fresh and relevant).

I've written several articles on topics that are listed under "current needs" for their magazines. And I have done my homework by (1) reading every last letter of the submissions guidelines and (2) checking out old copies of said magazines from the school library. The latter has helped a great deal in terms of writing style, and the former I somehow failed to do for one of my first submissions (either that, or Highlights changed their submission requirements after I submitted; I suspect it was my error and the form rejection was a nice stinging reminder to pay closer attention).

I must say that the Children's Book Insider and the SCBWI Bulletin are essential tools for the children's author. If you write for children (or want to), you need them. I recommend both, since publishers advertise information in one, but typically not in both, at least not at the same time.

How have you found writing opportunities?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Marketing Monday

One of the reasons I took a break at the end of last year was because I was feeling disillusioned. I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted out of my blog or the whole online platform experience. I had this sense that I'd been swept up in a tornado, the winds dragging me along, forcing me to spend more and more time on blogging (both writing and commenting) in order to gain more followers. A large number of followers seemed to be the point, given the number of posts dedicated to "how to gain more followers" I encountered.

And yet... as much as I like the blogging community, I wasn't sure I understood the point of it all. I have noticed that most writers' blogs are followed by other writers. If the point of building an online platform is to help market your work, are we really targeting our intended audience? Are we all buying each other's books?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with the blog/twitter/facebook triangle. I think it's a terrific way to make connections with other authors and professionals in the publishing industry. I was simply trying to figure out what role it should play in marketing and promotion. Some authors use social media to terrific effect, but it's not the only marketing tool out there.

My thoughts were reinforced by posts like this exerpt from  Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice for Writers, Mary Kole's thoughts on Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?,and Jody Hedlund's thoughts on blogging blunders. (She has a recent post about whether fiction readers read authors' blogs that's worth reading, as well.)

During my hiatus I began researching marketing ideas, with a focus on marketing books for children (since they are most definitely NOT reading our blogs, following us no twitter, or friending us on facebook, and their parents probably aren't, either). I have also started interviewing published authors to find out what they have done to promote their books. These "case studies" include authors who have successfully used social media to reach their audience, and those who use other methods to promote their books. The first one will be up next Monday.

I hope the case studies will provide ideas for others, so when you get that contract and your book debuts, you, too, will be able to get it out there more effectively.

If you are a published author and would like to contribute a case study, please email me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com.

 Why do you blog?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fact or Fiction - taxi edition

This is the first of a new series of posts: Fact or Fiction Friday. Writing non-fiction as an engaging story is essential, and I also write fiction, so I'm going to post bits here that either recount actual events or are complete fiction. Can you tell which?

I rushed out to finish last-minute shopping. I wanted to get everything crossed off my list before the snow hit and public transportation went from every-10-minutes to unreliable-if-it-runs-at-all.

The online weather forecast continued to predict heavy snowfall. Secretly, I prayed for it… hoped it would cancel our flight the next morning. Every time I walked through the doors of a shop onto the street, I inspected the sky. Low, dark clouds; very promising. And then I spotted the first snowflakes.

It begins! I rubbed my hands together in glee. No Christmas travels this year. No stress of wrangling two energetic, loud boys in a foreign country while trying to simultaneously enjoy the sites and soak up the culture. We could kick back and relax at home.

Into another shop I went, giddy with thoughts of staying home. A few minutes later I came out, fully expecting to find a growing blanket of white. No such luck. No more flakes, just clouds again. Well, maybe it will start up again soon. Maybe it will snow all night.

By nightfall, no snow had fallen. I checked the forecast every 30 minutes to no avail. Finally, my husband and mother-in-law persuaded me to order a taxi for the next morning.

I grumbled but did it: a large taxi for the five of us, plus our luggage. They knew we were headed to the airport, knew exactly what we needed and when. I went to bed still hoping to wake to a blizzard.

In the morning, I glanced out the window, devastated to find that no new snow had fallen. Not so much as a centimeter. We finished packing and lugged everything out to the curb at the appointed time.

The boys chased each other around their grandmother while we waited. We had budgeted just enough time to get to the airport and check in, given that the roads were not well plowed.

After several minutes, we started to get fidgety.

“Call them,” Beloved Husband said.

“I don’t know the number.” I was stalling, and he knew it. He was also prepared: he rattled off the number, so I had to call.

“Hi, I ordered a large taxi but it’s not here.” I gave the address and she found my order.

“Yes, I’m afraid there are no large taxis in your part of the city right now.”

“But I ordered one last night.”

“I see that but there are no large taxis in your part of the city right now.”

Good grief, can she say anything else? “We're already late for the airport. We need a taxi.”

“I’m sorry, but there are no large taxis in your part of the city right now.”

A note of panic entered my voice. “What are we supposed to do? We’re going to miss our flight!”

“I don’t know what to tell you, there are no large taxis in your part of the city right now.”

I could feel a hot little ball of fury growing in my chest. What’s the point of ordering a taxi if they don't send one? And yet, some small part of me thought: this is it! We’ll miss our flight!

“Can you send a regular taxi then? My two-year-old can sit on my lap,” I suggested, since the dispatcher didn’t seem to be able to come up with a solution on her own.

“No, you can’t do that,” she replied. “You have to have a large taxi for five people and there are no large taxis in your part of the city right now.”

I came within a millisecond of throwing my cell phone in a snow bank. Doing my best not to scream obscenities, I asked, “Well then what CAN you send us?”

“Two regular taxis.”

“Then send them! Immediately! Right this second! We're going to miss our flight!” I snapped my phone shut, fuming. A taxi that has been ordered isn’t available and their default option is to NOT SEND ONE?!?! Unbelievable.

Five minutes later, a taxi pulled up, and we loaded the luggage and started to get in, thinking we might get lucky and not have to pay for two taxis. But then the driver noticed there were five of us. No second taxi was anywhere in sight, but the driver insisted that it was coming and no, Snuggle Monkey could not sit on someone’s lap. We would have to wait.

We got the boys in, and just as the driver was about to get in the driver’s seat, he noticed that they needed child booster seats. So we all had to get out again while he got them. As he was doing this, the second taxi arrived. My husband and his mom climbed in that one while I got the boys and I buckled into ours.

And then we took off. Our driver raced along the icy streets. Initially, I was pleased—he was taking our timing problem seriously. But then he headed into the forest, where he passed cars on blind curves and careened close to snowbanks, trying to get to the Autobahn faster. Visions of my husband watching as a head-on collision killed his wife and kids in the car before him flashed through my mind.

Somehow, we made it onto the Autobahn in one piece and got to the airport in record time. In retrospect, the taxi incident was a sign that we should have stayed home.

What do you think? Fact or Fiction?  I'll reveal the answer next Friday.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I'm back!  Thanks to everyone who left me with encouraging words when I went on hiatus. I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season despite the weather.

I love the promise of a brand new year: so many exciting things that can happen, no disappointments yet to disillusion my bright, shiny vision of the future.

As I mentioned before my hiatus, I am at (or just passed through) a crossroads. I spent the last 7.5 years teaching for a small college in the U.S. It allowed me to keep my foot in the academic world, despite living on another continent for most of that time. But it never felt right. I never loved my job.

A few months ago, the college—in response to economic pressures—increased the minimum class size and decreased the number of courses on offer. Full-time faculty were assigned the remaining courses and adjuncts didn't have their contracts renewed. I was downsized.

Was I mad? Yes. Furious, actually. For about two hours. And then I realized that this was an amazing opportunity.

Over the past 18 months, I have rediscovered my passion for writing and gotten some positive feedback from agents and editors on what I write. I love writing—even rewriting—in a way that I never loved teaching. This is my opportunity to make a real go of writing as a career. And for the first time in my life, I know I'm doing the right thing.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I'm also doing something that I love. I am taking every opportunity that comes my way, even if it doesn't pay. The articles I'm working on now will result in published clips, the first rungs on the ladder to my writing career.

My resolution for this year is to transition into a career that I enjoy. And I have already discovered the benefits: I am happier, my kids are happier, and my husband is happier (or will be when a paycheck arrives; good thing he's supportive).

What do you want to accomplish this year?