Saturday, August 30, 2014

Repost: Fan Letter to a Write Star

Last night at Barnes & Noble I ran my first author event. We are a small store, and usually do one or two local author events over the course of a year. This one was a live Skype discussion with Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 24 books including Pay It Forward. The children's version of Pay It Forward had just been released, and a high school in our area had just read the original over the summer. I worked really hard to promote the event, but being the Friday of Labor Day weekend, only a few people showed. On top of that, we had Skype issues. Even though we did a test run a few weeks prior, Catherine could see us, but we couldn't see her.

Fortunately, Catherine rolled with the punches, and we had a very nice discussion ranging from how she got started as a writer, to character development, to the Pay It Forward movement, and everything in between. The participants got to ask whatever they wanted without feeling like they were taking time away from other people. It was like a handful of friends sitting around a table having coffee and talking about books, only one of those friends is a successful author.

As a thank you to Catherine, and for those of you who may have gotten to know me more recently, I wanted to share something I wrote on my old blog back in 2011.

Fan Letter to a Write Star (originally posted on my old blog in October 2011)

This is the closest I come to being a crazed fan. It is not for a Movie Star, or Rock Star, but for a Write Star. This goes back a few years, so let me start at the beginning.

Before I begin I must say that if you have not read the book Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, I highly recommend it. Even if you have seen the movie, which was fabulous by the way, you still should give the book a chance. There are more characters in the book, which makes the Pay It Forward movement deeper and more far-reaching than they could accomplish within the constraints of the film. The ending is much different, but equally as powerful as the Hollywood ending.

I forget now how I heard about the book, maybe it was on Oprah, but I remember that hearing the story about what she went through to get published intrigued me (she actually got the movie deal before the book deal if memory serves). I bought it as soon as it was available and it is still in the top five of my favorite books.* I cried through the entire last quarter of the book which I had not done in recent memory. (This was prior to reading anything by Nicholas Sparks, which do it to me every time, but for different reasons) I was so moved by the story, I felt changed in a profound way. Such is the power of words.

I did not have a computer yet, but I remember closing the book after reading the last line and saying to myself, “The minute I get a computer, I am going to find a way to let this author know how much I loved her book.” A few months later, when we purchased our first computer, the first thing I did was search for Catherine Ryan Hyde. I found her email address, and sent her a short note about how her story affected me, and asked her how she felt about the movie adaptation. If you read my post on my distaste for adaptations, you already know that I was leery of this one.

Much to my surprise, she wrote back! This was before the instant Twitter communication of today, so I was stunned that she replied, telling me that she was okay with the changes that were made, and explaining some of them. She said that she hoped I would see it and let her know what I thought.

Wait…she wanted my opinion??? But I am nobody, and she is, like, a REAL WRITER!

So I did see the movie, and I loved it. (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment? Who wouldn’t love it?) I recognized the differences from the book, but since they worked, and I knew that the creator of these characters was okay with it, I embraced it as a different entity from the book I loved. I emailed her again, to let her know. And then I read the book again.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago. Now I have hopes of becoming a published writer someday, which was not even a fraction of a thought back then, and I found and followed her on Twitter, @cryanhyde. And guess what?

She followed ME back!

I shouldn’t have been surprised, as she was so gracious towards me years ago before she had multiple books published. But now she was way more successful, and I thought I would be lost in the shuffle of thousands of followers.

One day I visited her blog and there was a contest to win a copy of her latest book, Don’t Let Me Go, which was not even available in the United States yet. High on my win days earlier of a bookmark and signed bookplate from Victoria Schwab, I entered the contest. Then I read that she had recently had a contest to give away an ARC of Pay It Forward. Oh how I wished I had visited sooner! I would have loved to win that!

But instead I wound up with a signed copy of her book, and a cool bookmark to go along with it, which was even better. I read it in two days, and it was fantastic! Once again, I contacted her (on Twitter this time) to let her know how much I liked it, and we had a conversation about the characters. Once again, I was virtually speaking to one of my favorite authors. I could have continued that conversation all night, but I didn’t want to seem like some kind of deranged nutcase who thought she had nothing better to do with her time than talk to me.

I couldn’t stop yapping about it for the rest of the night. The Husband was excited for me.

I wanted to share this today, to illustrate how writers can connect to their fans through Twitter and other social media. We as writers and as fans, have an obligation to be nice to one another. Maybe not an obligation per se, but we should, because it is the right thing to do. The publishing world today relies a lot more on word of mouth than it used to, and if we can help each other out by Paying It Forward in the way of encouraging each other, and reading and reviewing each other’s work, it makes that world a little more fun to live in. Also, being able to communicate with people who have navigated the often scary and brutal business of publishing makes it seem less daunting to someone that is not yet in print. I am just one person who seriously had my day made by someone I considered to be an idol taking the time to connect with me. It only takes a minute, only 140 characters at a time, but it made a difference to me.

So to Catherine Ryan Hyde, I say THANKS! And to the readers out there, I ask you to take the time to let your favorite authors know that what they are doing is appreciated. Write a review, tell a friend, but mostly, tell the writer.

Even if you think they already know.

*FYI, the other four are: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving; Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, The Bridge Across Forever, by Richard Bach; and Left To Tell, by Imaculee Ilibigiza

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Crying

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Crying by Carol Leifer should really be shelved under Career Planning. Just yesterday a customer asked me where our career books were, and before I brought her to Business, we took a detour to Biography so that I could tell her how freaking awesome this book is for the job hunter as well as the ladder climber.

The story of Carol's life as a female comedian who never gave up was fascinating and inspiring, and the tales of her interactions with comedy legends were laugh out loud funny. (Excuse me, Carol, but it looks like you dropped a few names...) I read parts of it aloud incoherently to my husband, laughing so hard that all the words came out as "bleerhaHAHArghxchHAHAefh". Hilarious anecdotes aside, the thread that ran through the whole book was about how the way you treat people throughout your career will ultimately decide your success or failure in any business. That, along with hard work and determination, of course.

I love the fact that she started with the basics of the interview, even specfically reminding the guys to "shower the day of the interview. Not the night before. Not a week before". She then continued through getting the job, handling rejection, keeping the job, et cetera, using stories of things that had either worked or not worked for her, depending on whether or not she had practiced what she was preaching. This was a unique way to give excellent career advice without being a dry, boring business book.

This is perfect for anyone just starting out in the world of employment, those wanting to advance, or anyone who is taking a fresh look at following a dream career path on which they had given up. If you don't take away at least one career-changing tip from this book, you probably won't be hired for that dream job anyway, but at least you would have had a good chuckle in the process!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Funny Thing About Alzheimers...

(Tomorrow is the 7th anniversary of my Dad's death from Alzheimer's, and this week, my Mom had to move to the locked memory care unit of her assisted living facility. Seemed like a good time to repost this blog, originally posted on August 16, 2012.)

Okay, I know there is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, as anyone dealing with this affliction can attest, but in hindsight, I’ve been able to lighten up my memories of watching my dad suffer through it. I deal with difficult situations with humor, which usually causes me to say the wrong thing when trying to raise someone’s spirits. These good intentions often are not so well-received. For me though, humor is the best defense mechanism.

Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of losing my father. For the last six months of his battle, my husband and I moved in with my parents to help my mom with the caregiver duties. Being so close to the situation was stressful, overwhelming and sometimes scary, but now when we think of my dad, we often laugh at some of the things he did and said during that time. Like putting butter on his salad. And putting salad dressing on his steak. And talking to the stuffed animals my mom kept in the living room. One day he had moved the chairs and tables around so that they could all have a little party. At the time, these things were worrisome and weird, but now, they are kind of funny.

One morning was particularly frightening for the husband. I was at work and my mom had gone mall walking. She had left dad a note in dad’s cereal dish telling him that she would be back soon, but since he had no idea what that note said, he was crashing around the house, swinging his cane around, and swearing (which he never did) about “Where the f@$% is everybody?!” The husband was in the shower, not sure when or if dad would come busting through the door and think he was an intruder. Visions of being beaten to death by the cane of his father-in-law, coupled with being the only one home and not really knowing how to deal with dad when he was like this was terrifying. Fortunately, my mom came home minutes later and was able to calm him down.

Nothing funny there, right? You would think so, until we were in the car later that day and heard the song “Rock You Like A HurriCANE” by the Scorpions. And just like that, dad had a new nickname, and we were laughing like hyenas. Since then, he was ‘The Hurricane’, and now we think of him every time we hear that song.

Those of you who have had a parent with Alzheimer’s are familiar with the fact that they keep trying to escape. They want to go home, which they think is the house they grew up in. At this point, they have forgotten the recent years of their life, and think it is 20 or 40 years ago. So since dad had gotten out a couple of times and tried to walk from East Hartford to Wethersfield where he grew up, we had to hang some jingle bells on the front door. It was interesting to see when we noticed him planning his escape. He would sit quietly in the living room for hours until the second my mother would go downstairs to put the laundry in the dryer. As soon as she was out of earshot, he would tiptoe to the door and try to open it without anyone hearing him. We would hear just one little tinkle of the bells and we would jump to our feet and race downstairs before he could get too far. For a guy with two paralyzed feet and a cane, he could move pretty quickly when he wanted to. I once caught him at the end of the driveway, and had to try to coax him in by telling him the Yankees were on. “They might be on, but they’re not doing anything for me”, he grumbled as he begrudgingly followed me into the house. He didn’t know who I was, but he came back inside anyway. To him, we were his jailers, forcing him to stay somewhere, when all he wanted to do was go home.

Okay, that story didn’t have a funny part, but if you think about it, if they don’t find a cure soon, in 20 years, there will be jingle bells on every door. People will be fitted with tracking devices on their 65th birthdays so that in the probable event that they get Alzheimer’s, they can be tracked. (Call it Alz-Jack, maybe?) We may even have to adopt the nametag policy from that Seinfeld episode, since so many of us will have the disease that we will need to be re-introduced to everyone on a daily basis. And inside all of our clothes will be tags that say, “If found, please return to ___________.” (Hmmm, I see the makings of a sci-fi novel here.....I’ll never get around to writing it, so feel free to run with that if you’d like. Just mention me in the credits.)

Dad was super funny with our little daschund, Jaws. Jaws is a girl, but dad would always call her “little guy”. He’d laugh at her clown-like antics, and when she was running around entertaining him, he seemed like he was there, in the moment. He wasn’t confused, he was just happy. So happy, that when we were all having ice-cream cones one day, he was sneaking Jaws licks off of his cone whenever I wasn’t looking. People thought it was weird that in his obituary we mentioned how much he enjoyed Jaws, but if they could have seen the change in him when she was around, they would have understood. Now when we have ice cream, we always tell Jaws, “If Grandpa was here, you’d be having ice cream too!”

Of course the worst times were when he was in the hospital. It was awful to see him wasting away because he wouldn’t eat. All of us tried to get him to eat something whenever we could. This was probably the hardest thing we dealt with, but it also presented us with the funniest thing that happened, which we still quote to this day. If you knew my dad, you would know that he was always in a good mood, even if he was sick. He would joke with nurses and was the life of the hospital party. He was in one of these moods one day when my mom asked him if he wanted to have something to eat. He said quite innocently, “Can I go to the bathroom first?” Before she even had a chance to answer he continued, “Aaand, I’m going!” He knew he was messing with her, even if he wasn’t sure who she was. He always loved to push her buttons, especially if he had an audience. I think that was the first time we actually laughed out loud at the hospital. Even my mom had to crack an exasperated smile at that one.

There were some nice moments also towards the end. One day my husband came into the hospital room, and my dad looked up at him with the biggest smile like his favorite person in the world just walked in. This moment of recognition meant so much to my husband. I had a similar experience another day when I standing by the bed saying goodbye before I went home. I know I won’t be able to describe his expression even with a thesaurus, but it was a look of awe and wonder and happiness. I swear he was seeing me with wings and a halo. That is the only way I can explain it. Still, five years later, when I think of that moment, I am filled with joy and warm-fuzzies. He knew me in that moment and he wanted me to know that he knew, even if he couldn’t put it into words.

So no, there is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, but it is such a difficult thing to watch a loved one go through, that if you can find anything to laugh about, I say LAUGH OUT LOUD! It will ease the pressure of your situation, if only for a moment. In that moment of laughter, Evil Al doesn’t win.