Un-Social Media

Another week, another flame war on social media. This time the dust-up occurred because YA author Tomi Adeyemi thought romance icon Nora Roberts had chiseled in on Tomi’s titling turf. You can read the backstory here. Tomi apologized, Nora issued a statement, and onward we trudge, after 72 hours of misery, strife, and discord in Author-ville.

My experience of Nora Roberts is that she is kind, honorable, generous, and hard-working. I know this personally, having signed at her store several times, and seen her in action at conferences.  She couldn’t spell “petty” if the nuns wrote it on the board for her in pink chalk letters a foot high. She has no need to poach creativity from anybody.

Tomi is 25 years old, the author of one very successful book, Children of Blood and Bone, and I have never interacted with her personally. She’s probably one sorry young woman as I type this, and clearly, she didn’t have enough experience with traditional publishing to understand that Nora’s title was submitted BEFORE Tomi’s book was a gleam in any editor’s eye. The ladies apparently had a chat. Tomi’s a little better informed now.

Oopsie. I hope all concerned can get on with writing great books for very large and appreciative readerships.

What stuck with me though, is that I saw many authors piling on, and by writing this post, I am arguably doing likewise. Some authors quietly admitted, “I once posted something publicly that I thought was a in a private group…” Or, “I posted in a private group, and somebody shared screen shots even though that’s against the rules…”

Then comes the question, “How are we supposed to deal with this if/when it happens to us?” The consensus is, a published author has to be on social media, but even being exceedingly careful–Nora did nothing wrong, her PR is in the hands of pros–you can be flamed, trolled, and mobbed.

I ask myself, “Who benefits from a social media environment where bad behavior is amplified immediately and loudly, while good behavior seldom is?” I don’t think the authors involved see this as an author-win, their readers probably don’t see it as a reader-win, but Twitter and Facebook? They scored enormous upticks in traffic, and that’s a win for them and their shareholders.

I want to stay connected to my readers, and social media helps me do that, but I no longer want to support ecosystems where the human neurological predisposition to negativity is hijacked into maximizing profit for those sitting safely on the sidelines. So I have some questions for my blog buddies: How important is it that your authors have a social media presence? How do you know about our new releases, if not from social media?

I love my readers, but I want to hang out with them in flame-free environments. And because the holidays approach… to one commenter, I’ll send a Noveltea Pride and Peppermint tin (which is fun even if you don’t drink tea).


The Most Wonderful Holiday

As a kid, I sensed that Thanksgiving was a different sort of holiday. It wasn’t about piles of presents, or going away to someplace exotic and expensive. It wasn’t about a cake and candles and more presents. It wasn’t about a basket overflowing with sweets I probably should not have been eating in those quantities, or dressing up in a costume to score more sweets.

Thanksgiving involved a very good meal, true, but more to the point, it involved gratitude and loved ones. That’s it–period. That’s the reason for the holiday, to be grateful for what we have. That we follow this holiday with the Black Friday ritual of unbridled consumption strikes me as calculated to distract us from Thanksgiving priorities.

I get that some people need every deal they can find on staples, much less on discretionary purchases, but does that explain the hordes thronging to the stores to buy Mario Kart and Spiderman Games? Xboxes and Nintendo Switch bundles? We spend, on average, $5 billion on that one day, very little of it for necessities.

The average American is bombarded with 1600 advertising messages in the course of a single day. That’s 1600 times we’re told, “Buy this, and you will be happier/prettier/healthier/smarter…” Or my favorite: “Buy this and you’ll be wealthier…” Which is shouted at authors from many sides.

I see two problems with the message that buying some thing fixes a problem. First, I’m happy right now, I’m pretty enough right now, I’m in possession of enough goodies to assist me with maintaining and improving my health (waves to the tread desk and the comfy walking shoes). The implication that I should be discontent with my circumstances is a) manipulative, and b) usually a lie. Most people would consider themselves to be living the dream to have what I have–a roof over my head, some money in the bank, a job I love, good friends and dear family, as well as reasonable health. Besides peace and justice for all on a well cared for planet, what more SHOULD I want?

But when you’re told 1600 times a day that your life can and should be better? How long can you even hear the evidence of your own contentment, much less trust it? Now consider that you’re a seven-year-old kid, trying to sort out what matters in life, and turn those 1600 missiles of manipulation into nuclear warheads. And maybe you think,  “I just ignore all the ads,” but the ads are designed to ensure that even when we don’t realize we’ve seen them, they impact our behavior and our moods.

The second problem I see with the swamp of consumerism is that while we’re busy getting and spending and laying waste our powers, we’re not creating relationships, building communities, or devising public policies that protect our privacy and peace of mind. We’re not doing the things that have been proven to result in true contentment and health, in other words. You can probably think of a better use for $5 billion than hand-held games that will be mostly gathering dust (or made obsolete) in a few months.

So here we are, facing the time of year when we’re most heavily besieged to buy, buy, buy… What one addition to or subtraction from your life would you really like to find under the tree next month? I’d like to find more time with my friends, and you know what? I know exactly where to get it. This week, I’m not doing a giveaway. I’m doing a donation to Heifer International for beehives and trees in the name of my blog buddies.



Setting the Table for Breakfast

I recently watched a writing master class given by Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame (and fortune). Dan writes suspense/thrillers, but his books also have a strong mystery element. I’m toying with a mystery premise (Miss Fisher meets Jane Austen), so I wanted to hear what he had to say.

The class was interesting, and also a good review of some basic writing wisdom: Try to write in an internet-free zone, or at least during internet-free times. Know when to ease up on the research because before you can sell those books, you have to, um, write them. Find a process that works for you, and then work that process without getting too hung up on tropes, fads, software, trends, or spiffy new equipment.

Dan writes in the early, early morning hours, from 4 a.m. onward, and one of his suggestions was to “set the table for breakfast.” He did not mean to literally lay out a place setting for the first meal of the day, rather he meant that before closing the document for the day, add a few lines about where the scene is heading or what needs to happen next. Leave yourself some questions or clues that will get your mind moving into the story when you first sit down.

I know one writer who purposely stops her words for the day in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a paragraph, in the middle of a scene. If defy anybody, writer, reader, or neither, to sit down in front of that document and ignore that incomplete sentence. Anthony Trollope wrote for three hours every morning, with his pocket watch open on the desk before him. If he was in the middle of a word when the clock struck 8:30 am, he stopped writing.

What stands out for me about these writers is that they are all successful. I suspect the “setting the table for breakfast” habit not only closes a writing session with the subconscious noshing on the next scenes, it also begins the writing session with all kinds of creative compression. I set the table for breakfast the way Dan Brown does, with a trail of bread crumbs into the next scene. I also try to read over my pages for the day last thing before bed.

Before I get out of bed in the morning, I turn my waking mind to the writing objective for the day and ask myself: What about this scene makes it essential to the book? How can I make this content surprising to the reader rather than predictable? I try to not be in a hurry to get out bed (luckiest woman in the world, that’s me), but to be patient with my imagination, until I can feel the ideas beginning to flow in a direction I want to capture in words.

Then I scamper downstairs and get writing. I do though, pause long enough to punch the microwave start button, because part of my setting the table for breakfast routine is also to prime a cup of jasmine green tea, so that all I have to do in the morning is hit start, and I can get to the writing.

How do you, mentally or otherwise, set the table for breakfast? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card, because cyber-everything will soon be upon us, and we’ve all been good this year.

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (Dec. 18, 2018)

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: She starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading among the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins–sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous–a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, he will have to earn Freya’s trust…by whatever means necessary….

Freya laid her hand on the doorknob and carefully turned it without making a sound.

Well. A sound a human could hear.

It wasn’t until she saw the eyes at hip height reflecting back her candlelight that she remembered Tess. Harlowe kept his dog in his rooms.

Freya froze…or she started to in any case. A large, masculine hand seized her arm and dragged her into the bedroom.

She gasped as the door was closed behind her and she was shoved up against it.

Her candle was plucked from her hand.

Harlowe set the candle on a table by the door. He propped his hand on the wall and leaned over her, smiling a very untrustworthy smile. “Had I known you were coming to visit me tonight, Miss Stewart, I would’ve called for a tray of bonbons.”

What a maddeningly capricious creature he was.

And that was not excitement rising in her breast at the realization that he was awake and ready to spar.

She put both hands on his chest and pushed.

Nothing happened.

“Let me go,” she snarled at him.

“Oh dear, I am sorry,” he said with patently false concern. “You must’ve mistaken the room. Were you looking for Lord Rookewoode? Or was it Lord Stanhope?”

Her nostrils flared with rage. “I—”

“No.” His smile disappeared and what remained on his face was an expression that made her shiver involuntarily. “Whatever lie you were about to tell me, darling, don’t.”

For a moment he simply stared at her and she stared back, her breaths coming faster and faster.

Tess sat down and whined under her breath.

“Now,” the Duke of Harlowe said, “why are you in my rooms?”

She raised her eyebrows and said in a voice made steady only through great will, “You’ve already guessed, Your Grace. I find I’m overcome by a sudden tendre for you.”

His mouth twisted into something ugly and for a second—just a hair of a second—she thought he might strike her.

Then he straightened. “Tell me, Miss Stewart, do you loathe all men or am I special?”

“Oh,” she whispered, and this time she couldn’t still the waver of pure hatred in her voice, “you’re very special.”

His brows drew together. They stood only inches apart. Every time he inhaled, his chest nearly touched her unbound breasts beneath her chemise and wrap. They were so close, she could almost hear his heartbeat.

They might’ve been lovers.

Or enemies about to kill each other.

“Do I know you?” he murmured. “Have I caused you harm in some way?”

She couldn’t afford to have him recognize her.

She should apologize. Let him believe whatever he wished so long as he let her go and she left.

That was the smart thing to do.

The responsible thing.

Rings, memories, and revenge shouldn’t matter at all.

She reached up and placed her palm gently—so gently!—against his hard cheek, feeling his bristles, and widened her eyes. “If you can’t remember, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”

His eyes began to narrow, but she rose on tiptoe, wrapped her hand around his fingers, and jerked him toward her in a single movement.

She ground her mouth against his.

His lips tasted of betrayal and wine. Night and childhood memory.

Love and loss.

The emotion he aroused in her was so profound she almost lost herself in the embrace.

She opened her mouth, licking across his bottom lip until his own tongue came out to tangle with hers.

Then she bit him.

Fuck!” He stepped back, blood beading on his mouth, his face twisted in confusion and outrage. “You’re insane.”

The dog was on her feet, whining in distress.

“No. I’m not.” Freya opened the door and all but ran down the corridor, her breath coming in shaky gasps. When she reached her own room she shut the door behind her and pushed a chair under the doorknob.

She sat on the side of her bed, trying to calm her heart.

Perhaps she was insane.

For five years she’d been nothing but dull and circumspect, polite and utterly forgettable. She’d served the Wise Women well as the Macha. Every step she took, every word she spoke, was considered carefully so she would not be revealed. She had a mission that was vitally important to the continued existence of the Wise Women.

And yet in less than twelve hours she’d thrown all that away.

Freya opened her hand. Nestled in her palm was Ran’s ring. She’d wrested it from Harlowe’s finger when she’d bitten him.

She held it up, studying the worn gold of the band. It was a signet ring with a carved onyx meant to be used to seal wax. The intaglio was of a bird of prey. The bird, worn about the edges, might’ve been a falcon or even a hawk, but Freya knew that it was a merlin.

The de Moray family symbol.

Merlins were the smallest of the falcons. Swift and ruthless, merlins caught other, smaller birds on the wing before landing and devouring their prey.

This ring had been worn by generations of de Moray men, including her own papa before he’d given it to Ranulf on his eighteenth birthday.

Freya closed the ring in her fist again. No doubt Harlowe would soon realize his ring was gone.

Too bad.

He might be a duke now, but she was a de Moray woman, small, swift, and above all ruthless.

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Making It Work

So last week, I maundered on about the joys of working from home. For a little old introvert like moi, the benefits are many. But how did I get onto that topic?

Welp, I’m researching the causes of depression, in part because Ash Dorning told me to. In his day, depression was called melancholia, and the most frequent prescriptions were to hang out in beautiful nature, move the heck around (walking, fishing, riding, “taking the air,”), and stick with caring, upbeat people who read good books (I did not make that up).

In my research, I came across some studies of the British civil service done by Sir Michael Marmot several decades ago. The purpose of the inquiries was to look at how work impacts our health, and the general theory going in was: The guy (back then it was always a guy) in the corner office has the most stress, the most visibility, the most accountability beyond his department. That’s where the heart attacks, anxiety, depression, and stroke rates will be highest.

Nope. Sir Michael found a straight-line correlation between how far down the pay scale your position was, and how HIGH your risk of physical and mental misery was. All of the civil servants were making a solid livable wage, all were fairly well educated, all were doing “desk” jobs in a society where higher education is affordable and health care is easily accessed. What varied was a) whether they felt they had control over their in-boxes, and b) whether working harder meant more recognition (promotion).

Then the researchers took it one step further: They looked within pay grades for the jobs that had some autonomy and compared them to the jobs that required passive acceptance of whatever was assigned. No surprise, the passive jobs were much more prone to depression and ill health, and yes, we can screen out the causation argument: People with no history of depression became depressed working those in-box jobs. People depressed in the in-box jobs lost the diagnosis when they switched to a more self-empowered position.

The methodology for this research was rigorous, in part because the stakes were high. In one tax inspectors’ office, the suicide rate was four times the national average. Pills might (that’s a big might) ameliorate symptoms of depression, but the cure was to restructure the work place and the means by which people were recruited to it.

We’re told depression is a result of “brain chemistry” run amok, but in Ash Dorning’s day, nobody would have accepted that as a reasonable explanation for melancholia. The logical inquiry would have progressed to: But WHY is the brain chemistry amok, and most often in fairly predictable segments of society? I will do more research on the not-very-cheering topic of why depression happens (thanks, Ash), but this research about work struck me as important and under-reported.

We just set the clocks back, and in the northern hemisphere, we’re approaching the cold, dark, don’t-go-outside season. If you get down, what are your coping mechanisms? Have you spotted factors that make the blues more likely to come around? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of My Own and Only Duke.


Full Time Writer and More Time Happy

After months of travel, it’s beginning to sink in that I work at home full time now. Patterns and trends are emerging, and they are mostly positive.

First, I’m on nobody’s clock but my own. If I had a bad night of sleep, I don’t have to show up at 9 am pretending that I’m hitting on all eight cylinders. I work according to my circadian rhythm, which means there’s a slump right after lunch which is best used for walking, puttering, or doing admin work. The post lunch slump is a universal human characteristic (with some individual variation), but I defy you to find the traditional US employer who acknowledges it.

Second, my work environment is set up to accommodate me and what I do for a living. When I hit the end of a scene, I can walk a thousand steps on the tread desk, play a couple games of hearts while I do, and then get back to work. That’s a ten minute break that feels like a break, and yet, is good for me and my productivity. Out in the big world, many employers will penalize people for “idling,” (Amazon’s term, as if we are engines rather than people) or even taking too long to use the jakes.

Third, I am set up to be at my most productive. I do better creative work in play clothes, not courtroom attire. Comfy socks are a must for me, and I do not like to fuss with my hair, ever. At the law office, I was always compromising between “you are judged for your appearance, counselor,” and, “I’m just as qualified in flats as I am in heels.”

Fourth, the balance of meaningful and unmeaningful tasks has shifted toward the more meaningful. The taxpayer’s coin should never be wasted, but all those time sheets I filled out were virtually un-auditable. I could put any old thing down I pleased (in theory), so the exercise was one of appearing accountable while in fact not being accountable. That strikes me as not only stupid but misleading.

At home, the work I do supports me and my loved ones, and–I hope–it makes my readers happy. That’s really meaningful in a direct, immediate way. It’s not busy work dumped on me to keep the whole food chain looking more honest than it is.

Fifth, I have much more control over who is in my day. I’ll just leave that one there…

What strikes me about these gains is that they used to be normal. Most of us worked at or near home until the industrial revolution. We didn’t jump in the car to battle traffic so we could spend most of our waking hours far from loved ones, working by a rulebook we did not help write. What we think is normal now–working away from home, following the rules in the employee handbook, accommodating somebody else’s clock, thermostat, dress code, and calendar–isn’t set up to get the best out of us.

And for most of my working life, I questioned none of this. I was just grateful to be able to pay my bills and sleep in on a rare Saturday. I can see now I wasn’t as smart, productive, happy, or efficient as I could have been.

But I’m happier now. How have you bent the rules, colored outside the lines, or applied creativity to make the work-life work for you? If you are retired or working at home, are you happier? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of My One and Only Duke (which launches TUESDAY!!!!).

Skimpy Reading

I have long marveled at what wonderful company other authors are, and what delightful people my readers are. Every reader I’ve met or interacted with on the topic of my books has been gracious and considerate, even when they are disappointed with a story, or informing me of a boo-boo spotted in the text.

This might be because my reading demographic (the whole historical romance reading demographic) skews older, and thus developed literary habits before the advent of “smart” phones or even computers. We know these devices are eroding our capacity for memory, focus, and analytical thinking–they make us dumber in other words–now it turns out they might also be making us meaner and more forgetful because they have changed the way we read.

In multiple studies of reading habits, the findings increasingly point to screen-reading as costing us the ability to absorb complex material (such as the deliberately convoluted referendum questions we find in the polling booth). The way we read now–scrollity-scroll-scroll-scroll–is also making us less empathetic (anybody lamented the loss of civility in public discourse lately?), and delivering a hit to our recall. Turns out that holding a physical book, turning real pages, and having a physical object that we associate with a specific story (rather than a device that holds untold quantities of data) makes remembering what we’ve read and even reacting to it easier.

On a device, we skim-read, not from left to right, but down first lines, from keyword to keyword, or link to link. The damage, in terms of lack of recall, comprehension, and empathy, shows up as early as age nine or ten, just as a tween begins to face the mounting challenges of peer groups and cyber communities.

I’m reminded of the Victorian’s approach to cigarettes, viewed as a healthful way for a man to relax at the end of his hard day. A huge industry rooted in all manner of labor evils depended on convincing that guy he was entitled to smoke and that smoking was good for him, even as he developed a chronic cough, his clothes began to permanently stink, and cravings became a nuisance. He was in fact, being sold an addiction that rotted his lungs, affected the air quality of everybody around him, and gave Jim Crow wings.

I make a lot of my income selling ebooks, so this question is not idle for me. I suspect the ebook fiction reader might have a different relationship with e-reading than the fifth-grader who’s bored with history class, but I’m concerned nonetheless. I continue to prefer print reading for my recreational reading, or when I’m trying to absorb substantial material. Maybe someday, we’ll read differently for different purposes, just as we printed newspapers on lightweight, easily disposed of paper, and wrote letters on beautiful stationery.

If I had to decide between losing my e-readership, or giving up print books, the choice would be hard. I do know though, that as of this week I am putting the blog on hiatus until later this fall, because I’ve come back from travel with a yen to sink into some great reading.

What about you? Have your reading habits changed with the advent of e-reading? Does e-reading represent a step forward for you or cause you some worry? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Tessa Dare’s The Governess Game (on sale TUESDAY!!!), which will surely be among the print books I’ll gobble up this week.

Once Upon a Time Down Under

I’m enjoying my brief visit to Australia immensely. Everybody I’ve met here has been friendly, and author Anne Gracie should be given an official post as a cultural ambassador. She not only equipped me with the treasure map and compass for navigating Melbourne, she’s been my self-appointed conference-mum at the Romance Writers of Australia annual gathering here in Sydney. And THEN she gave me some of her scrumptious books…

Romance authors really, really are a special bunch of people. If I ever get stuck on a desert island, I’ll try to make sure it’s the romance authors’ desert island.

All of this travel has visited some insights upon me. The first is, daylight really matters to me. I’m not sure this was always true, but it’s true now. When I landed in New Zealand, the weather was dreary for a solid week. When the sun finally came out, it was time to stay in the hotel all day in conference sessions. In Australia, the problem has been sky scrapers.

My hotels have been amid urban canyons, such that even when I go outside, I walk streets that the sun touches only briefly at mid-day. The hotel courtyard might get twenty minutes of sunlight. The rest of the day, even if it’s a brilliantly sunny day, is shadowed. The result is that my biological clock, three weeks after leaving home, still doesn’t know when to sleep or wake up. How do city dwellers deal with this?

Another insight has to do with noise. I know I love quiet, but I hadn’t realized how dealing with noise–conference noise, street noise, construction noise–physically tires me. I drag-butt up to my room, shut the door, and suck up the quiet like a vampire let loose in a bloodmobile. Quiet gives me energy, noise sucks it away. This is a step beyond my sense that “I prefer” quiet, such that I now recognize quiet as a physical and emotional nutrient.

Third, courage is required of all of us. The New Zealanders face earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, but they have no venomous snakes or spiders worth mentioning. Australia has a lot less seismic activity, though there’s a spider here whose bite results in death in less than fifteen minutes. Back in Maryland, we get the rattlesnakes, Lyme disease, flooding, freezing… To dwell on earth is is face hazards, for most of us. I’m reminded of this, and of the fortitude we develop to cope with those hazards, even as we enjoy life and know we have it pretty good.

Despite these hazards, the planet is beautiful, most people are pretty decent and kind. Books are wonderful. Good chocolate seems to be a universal human value, and technology is amazing. I will go home very happy to have traveled, and ecstatic to be back amid the peace and quiet of my bide-o-wee.

If you could wander for three weeks, where would you go and why? Would you take anybody in particular with you? Leave anybody home? To one commenter, I’ll send a SIGNED copy of Anne Gracie’s Marry in Scandal.


The Best Time Ee-vah!

I have wrapped up my visit to New Zealand with the Romance Writers of New Zealand annual conference, which reminded me again that romance writers are a special, wonderful breed. We learned a lot, we had fun, we forged and strengthened relationships, and we probably hatched up more than a few new projects.

I really liked New Zealand (can you tell?), and pass along to you here five things I noticed that made me think.

1) On the Air New Zealand flights, every announcement started with “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…” What a concept: Children are visible people. It’s a detail, to include children in flight announcements, but a detail that caught my ear.  Very likely, every kid on the plane sat up a little straighter when they heard that greeting.

2) This is a very diverse culture (the Maori make up fourteen percent of the population, and many other minorities contribute smaller percentages), but it has no history of enslavement or genocidal polices. There is racism, there is wealth inequality, and relations between those of European descent and other cultural groups are not always smooth, but as one New Zealander put it to me: The problems NZ has finding justice amid diversity were far preferable to her than the problems they saw in places like the US and Australia where longer, more bitter history has to be overcome.

3) As an island, NZ grows as much of its food–nearly everything but bananas–as possible. The result is a very clean, locally sourced, seasonally varied diet, and every restaurant I went to offered vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options.

4) New Zealand culture is gracious. This might be a Maori contribution; a legacy of colonists far from home; a result of people on an island having fine-tuned radar when it comes to the small rituals that help a society get along; or a by-product of a climate that never drives anybody indoors for too long, but it’s lovely. Driving from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay, we stopped to have a cuppa tea with another writer. Two hours later, we were still solving the problems of the known universe. I gather that’s not unusual in New Zealand, and nobody’s ever too busy to stop for a “wee natter.”

5) The most respected brand in New Zealand is Whittaker’s chocolate. This is a family owned business that set up shop in a suburb of Wellington that had few jobs. They’ve been offered many buy-out deals from the big dawgs, but the Whittakers are loyal to their workers and their product, and New Zealanders are loyal to their Whittakers. This is a much more long-term view of success than many businesses take, and it’s working well.

So… in honor of a lovely time in a lovely land, to one commenter, I’ll send a bag of Whittaker’s milk chocolates. Has anything made you stop and think lately? Some snippet of news? A line in a book? A headline or overhead bit of gossip? Is there someplace you’d like to visit, just to get a peek at the culture? (And yes, the authors whose book covers I’ve included above are all from New Zealand, and you can learn more about their books here: Bronwen Evans, Emily Larkin, and Janet Elizabeth Henderson.)

All Hat and No Comprehension

Silver Fern, national symbol of New Zealand

One of the sessions I’m supposed to present at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference has to do with how an author can keep her balance in an industry that combines the worst of big tech with the worst of the commercial arts. Writers are supposed to stay on top of a business environment that’s growing more complex by the nanosecond, while protecting a creative imagination that’s increasingly endangered, to a significant extent by the very tech we rely on to generate a product.

What’s an author to do?

Write books of course, and stick with the readers, because they support the core agenda of getting good stories into the hands of the people who will appreciate them most.

Flower from which manuka honey is made

Everybody else–the publishing houses, marketing weanies, tech giants, agents, editors, and various other support personnel–takes a backseat role to the readers. If an author doesn’t have or value readers, the circus folds in short order.

But beyond that Prime Directive, I’ve also spotted a few potholes that wait to trap the unwary author, and one of them that seems to cross many professions is the person whose receptive language skills can’t keep up with their expressions language skills.

Whazzat mean? These are the people our grandmas and grandpas said, were, “All hat and no cattle.” They can talk a good game… as long as that game is about themselves. They are articulate, knowledgeable, and even charming, but the more closely you listen the more you realize, they can’t process what you’re telling them. A basic question, “What platform do you find best suited to discovery of a dinosaur-shifter-suspense series?” gets a lot of blah-blah-blah in response.

These folks can always tell you what they want you to know, but when it comes to dishing on what you need to know… more blah-blah. They can’t process incoming information well or quickly, they aren’t good analytical thinkers. They are tapdancing as fast as they can, hoping you (and they?) don’t find that out.

I have met many receptive-language laggards in the courtroom. Attorneys, social workers, clients… as long as they are on “send,” they manage quite well. When it comes to “receive” or “acknowledge,” the speed is much slower and your message has a hard time getting through. Of course, nobody wakes up at the age of three and says, “Who needs receptive language skills? Not me. I’ll just express myself at top speed for the rest of my life and I’ll be fine.” This skill deficit that makes life hard, and I don’t wish it on anybody.

Kiwi Tree

But I also don’t wish its results on me, or one my author buddies, so in my presentation, I’m dropping a flag on people with this communication pattern, authors included. If this is your cross to bear, then you’ve probably learned to ask, “Could you repeat that?” or, “Let me make sure I understand…” or, “How, exactly, does that work in a cause and effect sense?” In the absence of compensating habits like those questions, dialogue can become monologue very quickly.

What are some communication styles or habits that drive you bonkers? Are there any skills or habits you’ve come across that are particularly helpful for keeping conversation productive? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of my laaaaasssst (I think) ARC of My One and Only Duke.