Friday, March 30, 2012

When the Orchestra Wears Jeans

Or shorts, tennis shoes, sandals, or cowboy boots. That's how the Charlotte Symphony showed up for rehearsal today, creating an amalgam of orange jeans, pink sweaters, turquoise pants, and bright scarves as a colorful background to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Symphony No. 4.

I've lived in Charlotte for over 25 years and for the first time took advantage of attending a rehearsal for the inexpensive price of $14.00. What took me so long?

On top of having a prime seat at a discount price, I also was able to watch the symphony up close and personal. They were experimenting with live video feeds of the performance and from my point of view, it was a great success!

There is nothing like watching a tuba player's cheeks puffing, the deep breaths of a flautist, the cellist's concentration, the percussionist playing the castanets against his knee, the drummer hitting the drums with gusto, or the synchronized ballet of the violinists' pizzicato--to make you appreciate an orchestra. But beyond that, it was wonderful to watch (from the front!) Christopher Warren-Green's face and arms as he danced his mighty conductor's dance. 

The soloist was Joshua Roman, featured here, and demonstrating that he is indeed, comfortable playing in jeans: 

I hope you don't wait for 25 years to attend a classical music or drama rehearsal near you. I can't wait for the next one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This n' That

Every once in awhile I want to pass along noteworthy items. Here are a few for this week:

  • As a follow-up to last week's blog on humility, I found John Rosemond's recent column on teaching children humility interesting. Although not written from a distinctly Christian point of view, I think that Rosemond's advice is often sound and helpful. In this column he wrote:
            "Society is strengthened and culture is moved forward by the efforts of people who think of others before they think of themselves, not by people who think they are the cat’s meow. In that regard, one of the most foreboding things about contemporary American culture is that today’s young people regard the narcissistic, self-promoting celebrity as more of a role model than George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  That, in fact, may be our ultimate undoing." 
The Charlotte Observer, 3/26/12

Read more here:

Read more here:
  • Homeschool educators might be interested in checking out this link that provides interesting statistics about homeschool vs. public school education. 

  • Have you ever wondered how to determine your child's reading level? Here is a great post on ReaderKidZ that can quickly help you figure it out.

Graphic by James Larson

  • NPR has recently launched a new radio segment called "The Backseat Book Club."  Readers have the opportunity to read selected books and send in their questions for the author. A great way to encourage reading and discussion with authors!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Humility in the Marketplace

As a Christian writer I have struggled with the tension between Biblical instructions to be humble, and the publishing world’s advice that I should promote myself. As a result, when Jean Hall, Write2Ignite’s founder, asked me to be a keynote speaker at this year’s conference I thought I’d tackle my own quandary.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who wrestles with this issue.

I opened the keynote by asking the audience to consider the following questions:

Which is most important:
  • To learn humility?
  • To practice writing skills?
  • To promote yourself through social networking?
  • Or perhaps, some combination of all three?

I then asked participants to probe their motivation by considering:
  • Why do you write?
  • Who do you imagine telling when you get an assignment or get a piece published? (Why this person? What will you say?)
  • Would you still write if there was no hope of getting published?

One of the principles that I believe should guide Christians, comes from 1 Corinthians 4:7:  “What do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Just as salvation is a gift from the Lord (Ephesians 2:8), writing and teaching abilities are also gifts.  I encouraged my audience to pray as I do, that they would glorify the Lord in the use of their gifts (1 Corinthians 10:31).

After discussing five examples of Biblical humility: Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Paul, and Jesus, I suggested that there were three tools that provide “humility training.” The Bible shows us our sin; trials show us our need to look to the Lord for wisdom; and the editor’s red pencil shows us our writing weaknesses.

In the final analysis, I admitted that I didn’t have any easy answers. Instead I emphasized that humble thanksgiving for the Lord’s gifts will help Christian writers develop the right attitude about self-promotion.

Afterwards, several people came up and thanked me for the presentation.  Cheryl Reid, a songwriter said, “If I take credit for a song that I write, it takes away credit from the Lord and doesn’t matter eternally.”

Brian Keay thought that our desire to promote ourselves has deep roots: “We all come from painful backgrounds so that we yearn to be significant, to gather attention to ourselves.” He added, “When we are doing what is right we are a reflection of Christ’s glory.”

As I was walking out the door, a woman came over to me and thanked me. “I’ve attended many SCBWI conferences in Virginia and the D.C. area,” she said, “and have never heard a talk on humility.”

That same weekend, the Lord used my own words to remind me of my tendency to “think too highly of myself” (Romans 12:3).  I was both thankful and humbled to receive the Lord’s gentle chiding.

How about you? If you are a Christian writer, how do you handle this tension? I welcome your comments and dialogue on this topic. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From Book Idea to the Book Shelf: The Process & Business of Publishing

From left to right: (standing) Susan Walker, Quinlan Lee, MaryBeth Whalen, Carin Siegfried
Angela Harwood, Amanda Phillips, Nancy Clare Morgan, (standing) Sally Brewster
photo courtesy of Daniel Coston
Recently the Charlotte chapter of the WNBA hosted a soup-to-nuts panel on the publishing industry. The panel was moderated by chapter president, Susan Walker. 

Quinlan Lee, an agent with Adams Literary, serves the children’s and young adult market. She defined her job as a matchmaker. “I dig for gold all day long,” she said. She finds authors and illustrators and matches them with editors. Despite the fact that the agency receives 7000 manuscripts a year, and each agent only signs about ten new clients a year, she encourages writers to “beat the odds!” In her spare time, Lee goes into the local Barnes and Noble store and re-shelves Adams Literary books so that their covers are facing out.

Marybeth Whalen, author of She Makes it Look Easy and The Mailbox, advised writers to “work on your hook!” In her book, the mailbox was an inanimate object that drew people together; an idea which editors latched on to. When asked how much an author can estimate to earn she said, “Authors can figure they get about a $1 a book. For me, it’s either this or WalMart. I feel blessed to be writing from home rather than taking on a part time job.” 

Carin Siegfried is a freelance editor with Carin Siegfried Editorial who also has worked at St. Martin’s Press. She shared how many professional readers and editors, as well as members of the marketing and sales departments, weigh in on manuscripts.  Books are often shopped around to several publishers before acquired. Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber made the publishing rounds for four years before being purchased by Carin at St. Martin's. It went on to become a NY Times bestselling book and a television film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Joey Lawrence. 

Nancy Clare Morgan
brought her expertise as the former Publicity Manager with Random House, Inc. to the panel. As a publicist she always thinks about how to get free media attention for a book. A publicist asks the editor, “What make this book stand out?” She asks the author:

  • What inspired your book? What are its talking points?
  • What pre-marketing work have you done?
  • What is your media profile?
  • Who are your contacts?
  • Do you know any bookstore owners?
  • Do you have an Internet/social network presence?
  • Who should get the galleys and review the book?

Morgan advised authors to be involved, respond to all fan mail, and be ready to create a “Media fire storm” the week your book comes out. 

Angela Harwood, the VP of Sales and Marketing at John F. Blair Publisher spoke about marketing. Her days consist of working on databases and Excel worksheets; she typically works on a book six to twelve months before it is scheduled for release. “We have hoops to jump through to make a book available; we want to make sure that it’s for sale everywhere there’s a potential audience.” She works with the author to develop a marketing plan and agreed with Morgan about the importance of an online presence, a significant fan base, and potential readership before a book comes out. 

Amanda Phillips is the MarComm Manager at wholesaler Baker and Taylor. This well-known distributor buys books from publishers and resells them to schools, stores, and libraries. “This streamlines the ordering process for the buyer,” Phillips said. “We also offer collection development service, e-commerce solutions, as well as additional advertising.” The company also generates preorders, which helps publishers decide how many books to print. Distributors such as Baker and Taylor also foster relationships with niche stories such as Michael’s or other specialty markets. 

Independent bookseller, Sally Brewster, hosted the event at Park Road Books. “Book publishing is the weirdest industry in the world—but we do it because we love it,” she said. She encouraged writers in the group to keep writing and to remember that publishers don’t want to publish just one book; have at least two or three ideas ready. Her store is one of the few in the country that carries self-published books. “I want to give writers a chance.” Although she agreed with other presenters that traditional book tours might be dead, an author who takes the time to talk to a bookseller will find that her books will be more likely to be recommended and sold. 

The next meeting of the Charlotte WNBA chapter is on April 9 and will feature SCBWI Crystal Kite winner, Monika Schroeder.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Souls of White Folks

Participants & Teachers
Several months ago I received an email advertising the class, "Souls of White Folks" sponsored by Mecklenburg Ministries. Since my sister had challenged me to understand how white privilege might impact my work-in-progess Half-Truths, I enrolled. 

Along with my classmates and teachers, we have explored the following topics:

  • choice and access to services
  • divisions caused by race and economics
  • awareness of who we live, work, and socialize with
  • white shame 
  • the difference between patronage and partnership
  • safety in private and public places
  • the cost of racism
  • differences and similarities
  • fears and assumptions
  • cross-cultural connections
Last week we were encouraged to write a prayer, a personal response to the class, or to record what we hoped to remember. One of my classmates, Tom E. Bowers, wrote this:

I am a racist. When we meet, I always notice color.

I am not a racist. When we connect, I don't notice color because I care about you and what's happening in our world.

A young thin white male store clerk handling a return asked unanswerable questions required by the store. The nearby middle-aged, heavyset black employee keyed in what the store system  required and instructed the clerk how to proceed. I was surprised. Shame on me.

I am a racist until we connect at a level of sharing thoughts and feelings with interest and caring for each other. 

I wrote this poem:

who you are,
and where you have come from.
You have gifts
that you have not even recognized as gifts.
You have taken for granted your skin
your privilege
your heritage
your safety in coming and going
your lack of fear.
You have not had to fight
or work,
for these gifts.

those who have
lived without a battle
because they were born
shades darker than yourself.
Brown, at times,
was not beautiful.
But was mocked
discriminated against.

Is that history in each
black person you meet?
Maybe yes,
Maybe no.
But know that
somewhere in their family
a mother, father
aunt, or grandfather--
did not have the
same gifts as you.

For a thought-provoking article on white privilege, read Peggy McIntosh's article, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reading for the Fun of It

A student lent me her fun hat!
Today I celebrated Read Across America Day along with third and fourth graders at Olde Providence Elementary School. In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, I had the pleasure of reading The Bippilo Seed and Other Lost Stories (Random House, 2011).

The students enthusiastically appreciated Dr. Seuss's imagination, rhymes, and the lessons he cleverly taught. 

I know next week students will be fighting over who will check this book out of the library first.

I read the book's introduction between classes. The book was compiled by Dr. Charles Cohen (a dentist--believe it or not!) who loved Dr. Seuss books as a child. He found seven stories that had been published in magazines between 1950-1951, but had since been "forgotten." Cohen provided a brief background into these stories as well as some insights into Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). One time a three-year-old boy recited one of Geisel's stories. After his initial astonishment, Geisel realized that the child had memorized the words because he loved how they sounded. 

With that insight under his belt, Geisel went on to write prolifically with a crusader's passion to make reading fun. As reported in an article on today's TIME website:

"Geisel considered his greatest achievement to be killing off the Dick and Jane books, which he said weren’t challenging enough for children, and were boring. Dr. Seuss’ books became the new standard in children’s publishing—expanding the imagination through brilliant illustration, social issues, and clever rhymes and vocabulary."

I think these students would agree that reading is fun!

While I read today, I remembered how much my father enjoyed reading silly poems like these to his children. My father inspired my own love for reading and writing. And in that spirit, here is my mini-tribute to Theodore Geisel:

I thank Dr. Seuss
and the Cat in the Hat
for happy kids reading
and that is a fact!!

How about you? What was your favorite Dr. Seuss book to hear as a child, or to read to your own children?


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