Interview: SJ Driscoll « Live Wonderstruck

Aside

Interview: SJ Driscoll « Live Wonderstruck.

Today S.M. Hutchins was kind enough to interview me for her Wonderstruck blog. Previous interviewees include writers Carrie Daws and Shay Fabbro.

If the interview were about someone else, I’d think it was excellent. If those accomplishments had been achieved by someone else, I’d be impressed. But this is me, so nothing I do is good enough. Why is that?

Maybe I’d better go back and reread some of Louise Behiel’s series about the coping strategies of children that carry over into adulthood.

Thank you, @smhutchins!

By S.J. Driscoll

Back from Dallas

Drove home from Dallas in four and a half hours. Had a great time at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Writers’ Conference. Learned so much, and now there’s so much to digest, plan and do. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers, and all the people whose presentations I attended:

James Rollins      Jodi Thomas     Lori Wilde     Fred Campos, Jr.     Rusty Shelton      Candace Havens     Kristen Lamb     Roni Loren

Here’s proof that I was there: @alleypat caught me in a photo. At least, she caught my back. That’s me in the pink sweater.

May started out brutal, but it got better.

By S.J. Driscoll

Lizards, tea and pantslessness

Nothing extraordinary. Top o’ the world and bottom of a pit, as usual. It’s all movin’ along.

Let’s see, did anything interesting happen? A large lizard with a gray and tan diamond-patterned back now lives in the garden. I found him while watering. He tried to convince me he was a piece of rotted wood that got stuck in one of the tomato plants. Didn’t work.

He’s a much larger version of the lizards that live in my plastic garden box. I store some old newspapers in it and the lizards made themselves speckly gray to match the type.

They’re all welcome to stay since they’re carnivorous, not herbivorous. Something else carnivorous was sighted here a while ago: another mountain lion. Stay in the fenced garden, little lizards, and eat bugs.

I now hear Prudence MacLeod reiterating: “Gods, Sally, you have such an interesting life!” Continue reading

Wheelbarrows have no feet

This morning I mulched the vegetable garden again. That means I lugged four 5-gallon orange paint buckets out the gate, across the concrete path, over the foot-thick live oak limb, under the fig tree, over the stone wall (duck to avoid the branch in the eye), through the rocky gullies where the rain runs down to the creek, past the deer scat, over the limestone shaped like fingermarks dragged through wet clay, around the cactus, and past the twelve-foot spiderweb (which I did not walk into) built by the green and gray spider big as a Cadbury Creme Egg. Finally, I arrived at our waist-high pile of ground-up cedar trees.

After filling the buckets, I carried them back and heaped the cedar bits around the squash and tomatoes and blackberries and mulberries.

On my last trip, muscles taut, gut sucked in, Huck Finn straw hat damp with sweat, a neighbor driving to her retail job number two stopped her car and ran toward me. Continue reading

Da Voidick

On Monday I didn’t read. Instead, I carried around a clipboard and wrote longhand a bit at a time. On Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote like “work” and read during the in-between times of my job and meals.

The verdict? Two days with reading and with writing done during a specific period: about 250 words a day. One day without reading and with writing fit in here and there without any special effort: 650 words. That couldn’t be clearer. Continue reading

Killing Audrey II—again

Yesterday @DeidreKnight of The Knight Agency, literary agent and romance writer, held a Q&A session for Austin RWA. She was inspirational—at least I found her so. She approaches the business of running her agency in a way that’s both very creative and very directed. That’s what’s so inspirational.

Creative as well as directed… that’s what we all want to be, isn’t it?

So my question to myself this Sunday is whether I can be more creative and more directed. That’s why this time I’m assessing my goals in a different way. How do the goals affect each other? Am I letting my priorities have priority? Seems like I’m doing okay… but am I still approaching what I want to do in a self-defeating way? Continue reading

Mostly tooth

Yes, these last couple of days have been about a tooth. Nothing like visiting the dentist for a regular checkup and being told you need a crown. Immediately. So I got one. That was yesterday.

Not that this was unexpected. And my dentist is excellent. But having even an excellent dentist hammering away in your jaw for an hour could ruin your day, or your next couple of days. And that adrenaline rush that comes with the local anesthesia? I crash every time.

Lucky for me my goals were set up a couple of weeks ago. They’re just about habits by now, and I sure needed my new habits. No stressing about what to do next—I just look at the list. Continue reading

Overture, curtain, lights? Live it.

One of my greatest pleasures in high school was when I’d go with a bunch of friends to see a Broadway show on a Saturday afternoon.

We’d take the Long Island Railroad in to Penn Station and walk to Times Square, to the trailer in a little grassy area where last-minute tickets were sold. We’d wrangle with each other about which show to see at which price. One of my friends, who now reviews for Variety®, usually had the last word but, as I remember, we usually chose whatever looked good at $2 a seat.

My friends and I went to some of the grand old New York theaters, like the Helen Hayes, the Schubert. The feel of those red velveteen seats and the scent of theater dust alone were worth the $2.

The best moment was when the curtain came up and the lights went on. I always experienced that electric sense of anticipation: something wonderful was going to happen.

The play itself might turn out to be bad, but I always took away that wonderful feeling of anticipation. It kept me alive through the train ride home, through the rest of the weekend and through the long, boring weeks at school.

This morning at seven, I sat on my back steps. The sun came up behind me, shining into the dark forest deeps, highlighting individual tree trunks, vines, branches, the way golden footlights pick out the set on a half-lit stage. The first songbird trilled, another answered, then the valley was full of music.

I felt a wonderful sense of anticipation, the same feeling I’d had just before the curtain came up in the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Do we voraciously consume books, movies, television, music, video games, not for themselves, but for that wonderful feeling of anticipation as the entertainment starts? Are our lives so constrained and boring that we need that artificial jolt to feel alive? This one will be great. This one will fulfill, justify, empower me.

We think the feeling comes from the media, when it really comes from the dawn.

It’s the feeling of a new start. The feeling of the birth of one of the wonderful days of our life.

Take it back.

By S.J. Driscoll

Changes

Guest post by Prudence MacLeod

I have seen a lot of change in my lifetime. This was brought home to me the other day as I was sitting on the boat, waiting for inspiration to strike. It wasn’t happening so I went back to my default, people watching. There weren’t a lot of folks on the boat that trip, so not much was going on. K was knitting and I was re-thinking my decision to leave my knitting behind. Oh, wait there we are.

A big man, mid thirties maybe, walked down to the observation window and stood gazing out at the water. He was careful to stand close to a young girl sitting near the window. He was also careful to keep his gut sucked in as he tried to look cool. “Dude, the girl is about twelve or so and far more interested in that phone in her hand than in a guy older than her dad.” I didn’t say it, but I wanted to. Eventually her indifference caused him to lose interest and walk away.

I returned my attention to the young miss, her pony tail swaying gracefully as she watched her thumbs dance over the phone in her hand. Hmm, the phone; I remember when I was her age the phone was securely attached to the wall of the house. When my daughter was that age we had the magic of cordless phones. Wow.

Ok, what else I wondered. Music. When I was her age I had a record player. As a teenager my daughter had a CD player. I’ll bet this girl has an I-pod with a play-list thousands of songs long.

Cars. When I was a teen we didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford one. Folks who did have them would sometimes get one with a radio in it. Luxury. My daughter’s first car had a CD player in it. Now they have cars with phones, computers, I-pod docking stations, TVs, movie players, and the damned things can parallel park themselves.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Change has happened more swiftly for my generation than any other in history, and the pace is accelerating. I cannot begin to imagine the wonders this young miss will witness by the time she reaches my age. Awesome. I hope I’m still here to see it.

So, how about you? What changes have caught you by surprise, stuck in your memory, or just messed with your calm?

***

Prudence MacLeod is a spiritual seeker, dog trainer, official Reiki Master and interior designer, and a writer with two dozen books available. “I have roamed far and wide for over sixty years in this realm, and I have seen much; some I wish I had not, and a great deal that I would love to see again. Some days I feel like Bilbo Baggins, for I have been there and come back again. No, I haven’t written a book about my wanderings, at least not yet, but much I have experienced, observed, learned, surmised, or imagined, is woven into the tales I have written.”

See books by Prudence MacLeod on Smashwords

Thanks, Prudence!

Two for Wednesday: Novels by James and Kobras

Kristy K. James: The Daddy PactJess Bentley’s husband is murdered the night they return from their honeymoon. Soon she discovers that she is pregnant, and married to the murderer’s brother to protect the baby from her vengeful father-in-law.

Available on Smashwords and Amazon

Kristy K. James‘ first goal in life was to work in law enforcement, until the night she called the police to check out a scary noise in her yard. Realizing that she might someday have to check out scary noises in other dark yards if she continued on that path, she turned to her other favorite love… writing. Since then, her days have been filled with being a mom and reluctant zookeeper (7 pets), creating stories and looking for trouble in her kitchen.

***

There’s nothing like finding a letter on your breakfast table informing you that you have a teenage son you knew nothing about. That’s what happens to international rock star Jon Stone. Jon drops everything to find the boy–and the boy’s mother, the girl he loved so many years ago. She left Jon when his rock ‘n’ roll life became too much for her to bear. Seeing her is like falling in love all over again. Everything seems perfect–until someone sets out to destroy their idyllic life.

Published by Buddapus Ink   Preorder on Amazon   Publication date Jan. 12, 2012

Mariam Kobras is the author of the soon-to-be published book The Distant Shore, a contemporary romance with a twist of suspense. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she lives in Hamburg with her husband and two sons. After studying American Literature and Archeology at Giessen University, she spent several months in Toronto, Canada. Mariam has worked as an English tutor, served as a lay Judge in Juvenile Court and managed the rookie Hamburg Blue Devils American football team. Most recently, she founded the Theater Project at a local Hamburg high school, where she wrote and staged plays. The success of this venture gave her the courage to try her hand at a novel. Mariam is currently writing the second book in The Stone Trilogy

The Devil Made Me Do It

A response to Colin Falconer

Historical author Colin Falconer brought up interesting yet disturbing points in his November 13 blog post, “For Evil to Triumph.”

Colin comments on the recent Men’s Health article by Bill Phillips, “Why Joe Paterno Didn’t Call the Police,” about alleged child abuse at Penn State. The article draws parallels between the failure of people to report the alleged abuse and the controversial psychological experiments of Stanley Milgram at Yale University in 1961.

As Colin describes:

“[Milgram’s] tests were designed to measure the willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure who told them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

“[This] was inspired by [Milgram’s] curiosity about how millions of people in Nazi Germany could go along with horrors of the Holocaust, even when it violated their deepest moral beliefs.

“A volunteer was given the role of teacher, and separated from the learner; they could communicate but could not see each other. The ‘teacher’ had a list of word pairs to teach the ‘learner’. If the answer was incorrect, the ‘teacher’ would administer a shock to the ‘learner’, with the voltage increasing in 15 volt increments for each wrong answer.

“The ‘learner’ was an actor; but the ‘teacher’ did not know this. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Though clearly uncomfortable about it, most continued after being assured that it was necessary and that they would not be held responsible for the outcome.

“How many continued to the final, potentially lethal 450-volt shock?… 26 out of 40. Even with their ears ringing with the screams of their ‘victims’, authority won over. They listened to the man in the white coat before they listened to their own inner voice. Ordinary people, good people, thus became agents in immoral and destructive behaviour.”

Phillips notes that “humans are programmed to not question authority…. And men are even less likely to rat out an authority figure when that person is also a mentor.”

Colin suggests, “It seems to me that as human beings we all have a higher authority that we surrender our scruples to.”

My question is, why surrender?

My question is, were these people good?

Ordinary, maybe. Good… maybe not so much.

They may never have been in a situation like this. It was unfamiliar, uncomfortable. The guy in the white coat assured them nothing was wrong.

Things like this didn’t happen in their normal reality. They’d entered an alternate reality, a sort of fairy tale. The guy in the white coat would protect them through this Twilight Zone.

Under these circumstances, I disagree that their “inner voice” told them to stop. I believe it may have told them it was fine to murder.

Those 26 of 40 may have felt they could distance themselves from the result of their action. They could do this by hiding behind someone else. In return, they granted that someone “authority” over them.

By sleight of mind, responsibility could have been mentally transferred to the leader. The authority figure could have become a buffer zone between themselves and the reality of their decisions and actions.

“Obeying” was what the leader received in return. The leader had “power”—to do what? To set up the rules of the fairy tale. And once reality exploded the fairy tale, the result was the leader’s “fault.”

In reality, outside the fairy tale, wasn’t this what happened instead: the followers sacrificed the authority figure to the action they themselves decided to take.

That sort of authority figure is not a leader.

In circumstances like this, the person who’s set up as the authority figure is nothing but a scapegoat.

By S.J. Driscoll

Inspiring Blogger Award

Many thanks to children’s book author Lynn Kelley (Curse at Zala Manor), who granted me the Inspiring Blogger Award along with fellow writers Angela Orlowski-Peart, Debra Kristi, Susie Lindau and Samantha Warren.

I now pass the award on to five bloggers who inspire me:

Kristen Lamb’s Blog about writing, publishing and social media

The Passive Voice: Writers, Writing, Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe

Diekenes’ Anthropology Blog

The Art Department, a blog by Tor.com Art Director Irene Gallo

Postcards from Santa Barbara: a daily painting project by plein air artist Chris Potter

Thank you for blogging!

Transitioning From a Hobby to a Business

Guest Post by Nina Darnowsky Lieberman of Soapmarked.com

This guest post is a followup to my November 21st post, Soap? Nope: Looks Like Indie Publishing to Me, which drew some parallels between the new, wide-open world of indie publishing and the surge in farmers’ markets throughout the U.S. Independent product creators/entrepreneurs face some of the same practical problems as self-publishing authors. Both must learn to take themselves seriously, perhaps for the first time. What are some concerns that come up when you change focus from being a hobbyist to being a professional?

**

Many people get into making bath and body products because they enjoy making things. As hobbyists, we tend to be very generous. We make soap or lotion, knit socks or bake cookies because we enjoy doing it. And naturally we then have an abundance of that wonderful thing we made. We enjoy giving our friends and family that good thing we made, in many cases because it is superior to what they can purchase elsewhere. It’s made by us, we watch the quality, we tailor the item for that person’s tastes.

But then, we get to the point where we have experimented so much and still like making our wee soapies. We’ve probably spent quite a bit to get to this point and may think hey, why not try selling some? It seems like an easy way to recoup some of that money.

Here we commonly hit a stumbling point. Being used to giving away our labor and materials for free as gifts for people we know, it can be hard (in our own minds) to justify the true retail cost of our soaps. There are some magical figure-out-how-much-each-one-costs-and-multiply-by-x, but x seems a lot to us. So we make up a number that seems reasonable and stick to it because we feel guilty for charging what our product is actually worth. This guilt is something I’m still getting over myself, and feel bad sometimes for charging the sales tax (it doesn’t mean I don’t do it; I still owe the state that money and am legally obligated to charge it!!).

I have to look at my products and see that yes, if I were on the other side of the deal I’d pay that much for them… and in many cases at retail stores am getting much less value for my money than my customers are. Not that I’m saying retail items are bad; just that a larger store has larger buying power and so can get their materials for less than I do. So one of their $6 soaps in comparison to one of mine has more profit built into it. Yes, they have larger overheads, but they also have waaaaaaay larger sales volume than me!

Keeping careful track of your expenses is a MUST if you’re turning yourself from a hobbyist into a business. Detail is key. I know how much each ounce of each item costs from each supplier. I know how much I use in each recipe and what the yield of that recipe is, so I then know how much the bars cost. Don’t forget to factor in your time for the labor.There’s a myriad of little details you need to know. Say the materials for one bar of your super special banana bar cost $0.48. That’s not much, right? So you could sell it for $2.00 and make a profit… right?

Nope. Don’t forget about packaging. Oh yeah, that’s another $0.12 per bar. And it takes time to design the label, don’t forget that. Then there’s the wrapping the bar, more of your labor. Researching where to sell it can take a while. Don’t forget about the supplies you need to sell at a market, your own canopy is a great thing to have, and tables, and tablecloths, and then little baskets for displays, or trays, or do you want to invest in wood display boxes? Well, that’s another $100. Then of course there’s your booth or table fee for being a vendor, anywhere from $10 to $200. So that little bar of soap needs to make you enough profit to pay for itself, pay for the labor you put into making it, pay for materials to make the next bar, pay to send your cat to college….

Deductions are also key. Here, more careful record keeping is in order. Do you plan to have a home office? You’ll need to have the space qualify. What about storage of your bulk materials–you do plan to buy in bulk, right? You can sometimes count that space as part of your home office deduction. And mileage, don’t forget mileage. It’s now July 8, and so far this year I’ve driven over 500 miles for markets, to buy supplies, etc. That’s another deduction, and with the way gas prices are going it could be more for 2011 than it was for 2010, which was around $0.50 per mile. For me so far, that’s a pretty hefty deduction. Add mortgage insurance, mortgage interest, and utilities multiplied by the percent of my house that qualifies as a home office and the deductions just keep adding up when tax time rolls around.

Don’t forget your equipment! All those molds and spoons and cool containers can be claimed differently than your raw materials in some areas. Of course, you use them over a period of time, so in some countries you can claim depreciation on them and even spread the aggregate you spent on them into deductions over more than one year in some cases. No, I’m not an accountant but that’s another expense you need to look into.

And please please do not forget to look into whatever business licenses you will need in your area to stay legit. You reallllllllly do NOT want to pay any fines for selling items without charging applicable sales tax, or even inadvertently selling illegally because you needed a license and didn’t have one but were selling away merrily without a care.

Don’t even get me started on insurance! In some areas it may be part of your homeowner’s (or renter’s?) insurance but don’t assume it is. You don’t want to lose your house because of a lawsuit which you didn’t have the insurance to cover.

A business bank account is not a must just yet when you’re very small, but will become one as you grow. Some states may require you to have one. And what happens when you receive a check made out to the name of your business and not you directly? I guess you could just not collect on that money, but being a former banker, I like cashing checks and getting the money from them!

Banks are going to require a DBA (Doing Business As) name from you in many cases, though in some states (a small number) you won’t need a DBA name to open a bank account in the name of your business if you include your last name in your business name, or in some cases your full name in your business name, i.e. Mary Smith’s House of Waxy Buildup or Smith’s Floor Removal Service. I don’t really want to call my business Nina Consuela de Nada Santa Cruz’s house of Soapy things (names have been changed to protect the innocent) and for now am being naughty and using my personal sole bank account as my main business account. Yes, I am advocating using a business account… but for now, I don’t take checks 🙂

And just a word of warning about picking your bank: if you are a sole prop and have a business account with a bank, if you are overdrawn and owe the bank money on the personal side, they can and will take money from your sole prop account to cover the owed funds. They have the right to do this any time… read your banking disclosures. It’s called the right to offset. If you’re a different type of business, like an LLC or a Corporation, they can’t since the funds are owned by the business and not you as a person.

Also, some banks will charge for processing cash in or out of your account. Usually it’s any amount above x in cash per statement cycle (look for the date your statement was cut; it won’t necessarily be the same date the next month but should be the same business day–confirm with your bank if you’re not sure exactly when it cuts). Yes, they can charge you for depositing cash into your own account. Many banks do this to discourage people from bringing in large amounts of cash that will tie up their employees in processing it. Again, check the account disclosures and make sure you understand them. It all comes down to what they give you in writing.

This is all overwhelming. After all, you just wanted to sign up for the local market day or craft fair and bring in a little income, right? Not if you’re going to be a business.

There are a lot of things I haven’t even touched on here, like using social media for promotion…. And there’s the hours and hours spent designing the website, and researching new recipes. Researching new suppliers, testing new recipes, testing new ideas…. You’ve got to love it or it’ll drive you mad in the end.

This post first appeared here on July 8, 2011.

Thanks, Nina!

Two for Wednesday: Novels by Kelley and Schulte

Twelve-year-old AJ Zantony’s world is threatened by an ancient curse that releases wicked pirates who had been trapped for centuries in his Aunt Zsofia’s creepy mansion, Zala Manor.

The pirates–a vampire count, a pegleg skeleton and a zombie–have to find a lost treasure, unleash the restless dead from their graves and settle an old score by destroying the Zantony bloodline. AJ must stop them before midnight during Aunt Zsofia’s Halloween party or the streets of Craggy Cove will be crawling with zombies.

But AJ has a problem–he’s scared to death of monsters!

Available on Amazon in hard cover and Kindle editions

BBH McChiller is the pseudonym of Southern California writers Lynn Kelley, Kathryn Sant and Maria Toth.

***

While Olivia Martin observes life through her camera, the abyss gazes back at her. Mysterious men follow her, people close to her are dying and her dreams are no longer her own as she falls head over heels for a perfect stranger. A chance encounter leads to an obsession that could destroy everything she has ever known or loved.

Olivia’s about to find out there’s a lot she doesn’t know… and sometimes what you don’t know can kill you.

Available for Kindle on Amazon

Liz Schulte wanted to be a veterinarian, then a lawyer, then a criminal profiler. To keep from becoming Walter Mitty, Liz put pen to paper and began writing. As a scribe, she could be all of those things and so much more. Liz loves all things spooky, supernatural and snarky. Her favorite authors range from Edgar Allen Poe to Joseph Heller to Jane Austen to Jim Butcher and everything in between.

Rockaway, Far Away

The best thing in the world–one of them, anyway–is to feel sand beneath your bare toes when you walk on a sidewalk.

That’s what I thought when I was a kid visiting my cousins in Rockaway in Queens, New York.

They lived in a 2-story gray house tucked behind another house a block and a half from the water. The air smelled sharp, of brine from the ocean, and popcorn and hot dogs from the boardwalk.

You could walk down the block and go straight from concrete to the fine, warm sand of a Long Island beach. Turn left, and you’d be on the splintery boardwalk wood. I must’ve been small, because I could never see the top of the vendors’ carts, only the sides. I got only a glimpse of the pink cotton candy in white paper cones and the hot dogs impaled on spikes. The open doors of the arcades and other attractions were off limits.

I must’ve been very small.

When I told my parents we should move there, they laughed. They each came from the City–Mom from Brooklyn and Dad from the Bronx. To them, suburbia meant moving on up. To me, it meant deadly, deadly boredom.

At night, the pink and yellow boardwalk lights lit up the sky. I heard music against the background of the gentle surf.

Decades later, when I lived in Northern California, the feeling of Rockaway came back to me when I walked along the beach in Santa Cruz and entered the dark arcade with its flashing neon and ringing bells. It wasn’t a feeling of remembrance, though. Just a feeling of loss.

Why are children so powerless?

My cousins didn’t live in Rockaway too long. My older cousin went to live in Japan. My other cousin, an accomplished accordianist–we used to be so close–I’m not sure where he is. Somewhere playing his music, I hope.

My Rockaway is gone. All the little single-family houses were knocked down to build high-rise apartments. At least, that’s what I heard. I’m not going back.

As long as I don’t go back to find out, the sand will still be warm beneath my toes.

By S.J. Driscoll