Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I will not participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge

It's innocent, right?
This whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing?
The Ice Bucket Challenge is all the rage right now on social media. It's raised more than $70 million for the ALS Association in the past year, and the effort, which started with a couple of well-meaning average folks, has all kinds of celebrities and politicians posting videos of their sopped and freezing heads.
The level of awareness it has created for the disease is phenomenal. Just about everybody knows what ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is right now, and lots of people are feeling good about the contributions they've made toward finding a cure.
That's a positive thing.
A very positive thing.
But there is a dark side to the Ice Bucket Challenge that few people seem willing to acknowledge.
It's yet another form of cyber-bullying, a tactic I can't condone, not even for a good cause.
For those who are unfamiliar with the challenge, here's how it works:
You become involved when someone who has completed the challenge tags you on a social media venue like Facebook. Your name is now out there for everyone to see -- all of your Facebook friends and all of your friend's friends.
The expectation is set.
Now you must perform.
The least expensive option is to pour a bucket of ice water over your head and post the video for all your Facebook friends to see. Then you donate a small amount of money to the ALS Association and tag some of your other friends, challenging them to do the same.
The other option is to forgo the chilly water and simply donate a larger amount of money -- usually about $100. That option gives those who are camera shy, suffer social anxiety or who just don't want to pour buckets of ice water over their heads a way out.
All good, right?
But what if -- for whatever reason -- you decide to ignore the challenge?
What kind of person are you then in the eyes of your social media friends?
Your excuse is irrelevant.
If you suffer a level of anxiety that prevents you from posting a video, you have some kind of water phobia and/or you're too broke to make the larger donation, you're not likely to explain that situation to the entire virtual world.
If you get on Facebook and announce that you donate to a zillion other charities or that you have donated plenty to the ALS Foundation in the past and decline to give more at the moment, who is really going to care? You're simply boasting, making excuses.
No matter your reason, you're still a jerk for not accepting the challenge.
That's where the bullying comes in.
The challenge is designed to embarrass or shame those who refuse.
We can shake our heads and deny it, pretend that it's all is fun, that no one is hurt.
But I know that's not true.
I know that because I've had those discussions (in person) with those who have been hurt, people who have good reasons for not participating, but do not feel comfortable publicizing those reasons.
They feel bullied.
They feel stuck.
They feel embarrassed.
They feel ashamed.
The money and the awareness raised for ASL research is a good thing.
But I cannot condone the method.
It is for this reason that I will not accept the challenge if I am tagged nor will I indicate whether I donate or plan to donate to the foundation. The Ice Bucket Challenge has had a good run, but it's time it dried up because bullying is bullying even if it's for a good cause.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Traditional publishing and the gift of patience

A wise woman (my agent) once told me to have patience.
Publishing has changed, she said, and what once took four to six weeks can take months.
I admit.
I thought maybe that was a bit of an overstatement.
But here we are nearly seven months into the submissions process with two passes and four editors still undecided. Well, I say undecided. The reality is that as of last month, they still hadn't read my manuscript. They are busy.
Busy.
Busy.
Busy.
I understand better than ever now the pull toward self-publishing. This age of electronics and technology should have made things easier, and it has in many ways. But it has also added new layers of complications to the publishing process.
Advances in technology have made it easier to bombard editors with manuscripts. In the old days (like less than a decade ago) agents had to be more selective because each manuscript cost money to print and mail. Not so anymore.
Editors and agents are reading manuscripts on their Kindles, their Nooks and their iPads.
They are easy to receive, easy to edit and easy to read.
The savings in paper, printing and shipping costs is undeniable.
For the planet, this is a good thing.
Yeah, for the planet!
But for editors, it means this:
Bigger slush piles.
Heavier workloads.
Higher expectations.
Slower turn-arounds.
And, unfortunately, that's not so good for me.
I have options, and self-publishing is one them. But there's a huge trade-off. Self-publishing has no gatekeepers, no one evaluating manuscripts pre-publication, helping readers decide how to spend their time and money. Successful self-publishers must have more than great books. They must also excel in business, especially in the realms of marketing and promotion, and they must be willing to make huge investments of time.
Um, that's not me.
I don't want to start at the base of the publishing mountain, pushing through all the other climbers and struggling to the top. I don't mind a good promotional workout, but I'd like a lift, please. I'd like the lift to the midway point that comes with traditional publishing via the publisher's credibility with booksellers, readers and reviewers.
I know.
There is a price.
I have to pay with patience.
So here I am, trying to forget the manuscripts that sit in those editors' in-boxes, focusing instead on the novel I just finished, the one that will most certainly need revisions when beta readers pass it back to me.
Here I am, turning back to my first novel, which I shelved for a while, trying to pick up the pace in the first one hundred and twenty pages.
Here I am, thinking up characters, plots and settings for yet another novel.
Here I am re-thinking.
Maybe patience isn't a "price," but rather a gift. Without patience, I'd be out there promoting and marketing self-published novels while juggling my home life of four young kids and a traveling husband. I wouldn't be writing, at least not as much.
Writing is what I love.
So the patience that is necessary for traditional publishing is allowing me to do what I love.
Hmm.
I guess that's a pretty good trade-off.
I'll take it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why bad-mouthing Common Cores is a bad idea

The biggest beef I have with  the newly implemented Common Cores math curriculum in New York State is not with the government. Nor is it with the test creators, the teachers or the administration.
It's with the parents.
I get it.
The language is new, the methods are new, the modules are poorly designed and the test designers desperately need to hire skilled technical writers knowledgeable in math who can develop on-level questions with little or no ambiguity.
Kids are frustrated. Parents are frustrated. Many teachers are going out of their minds.
That's all bad enough.
But then I hear these words expressed in front of those struggling kids:
"Common Cores sucks."
"This is bull."
"If I can't understand it, she's not going to."
"Why bother? They're going to have to get rid of it anyway."
We all want to make our kids feel better. We want them to know they're not alone and that they are not incompetent. But this stuff -- the generic condemnations often peppered with vulgarities -- accomplishes the opposite.
It sends the message that they might as well give up.
It's too hard and they are not smart enough.
It erects a wall between students and their teachers, a convenient and comfortable wall that encourages similar behavior when times are tough. Teachers are deprived of the opportunity to reach these kids and the kids are deprived of an education.
This is all new for us. We don't like that. We can't help our kids as they struggle unless we understand it and there are few opportunities to become educated in the new methods ourselves. It hurts to see a child frustrated and angry by the work and to be unable to help.
For some parents, it's personal. Common Cores is an insult to their own educations. They learned math the old way and they did just fine, so why change it? They become defensive in the wake of new methods, so much so that they can't be objective.
They can't find the good in it.
But there is good in it and there are better ways.
When kids are stuck on particular concepts or terms, use Google. Learn it with them. Make a real effort. Sure, it takes a little longer, but once they know it, they know it. They can build on it and move on. It's all there on Internet and the sense of teamwork is good for parent-child relations.
This was all thrown at teachers. They haven't had time to properly prepare. Modules that should have taken two days require four. They are behind, they are frustrated and they are struggling. Help them and hope that next year will be better.
Put pressure on school districts to provide overview classes for parents and/or free tutoring after school or in the evenings for kids. Make sure your kids know about your efforts so they can see how it's done. If they don't understand something, don't encourage them to give up. Encourage them to pursue it full-force and to discover the learning methods that work best for their needs.
Lobby the right people.
Don't scream at the teacher.
Don't blame the principal.
Don't egg the superintendent's house.
Lobby the state.
Lobby the federal government.
Ask local districts officials what you can do that will be most effective.
Finally, give it a chance.
This isn't evil stuff. There are solid theories behind the Common Cores methods and they make a lot of sense, but I think we all know they could have been implemented much better and with greater care. This is a mess, but don't wash your hands of it and walk away.
It might make parents feel better to engage in screaming matches with the school board, to pull them from final exams, to berate Common Cores, the teachers, the administrators and the curriculum in front of them, but it's a cop our.
Ultimately, our kids suffer.
So don't turn your backs.
Dig in and do your part.
Love, learn, lobby and succeed.
Learn about Common Cores and pick and choose your battles.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Make-up-free selfies: Why breast cancer awareness undermines the movement

My sister is a recent survivor of stage-four breast cancer, her second battle with the disease in eight years. During her chemo treatments -- after she'd traded her hair for scarves -- she experienced an awesome show of support from the staff at the elementary school where she works.
They all wore scarves or hats in her honor.
She was overwhelmed.
With those scarves and hats, her coworkers showed they were thinking of her, that they understood every day she came to work was a struggle and every day she missed work was a disappointment. The hats and scarves were symbolic of the strength, love, prayers and positive energy they offered.
Now imagine that, instead, they all showed up without make-up.
Let's face it.
There is a reason we feel both brave and vulnerable posting make-up-free selfies. Like it or not, we judge books by their covers, especially female books. It would be awesome if the make-up-free movement helped women become comfortable with our natural selves (I know I'm not.), and if society would become more appreciative.
But here's the trouble.
These particular selfies are not posted in an effort to affect change. Rather they are intended as a show of support for those less fortunate than us in terms of their health. We wear no make-up to bring ourselves "down" to their level, the level of people who are suffering and fighting.
We, as a society, do not accept the "natural look" as inherently beautiful. We clearly do not accept it ourselves as evidenced by the fact that we consider posting such a selfie a "brave" act -- a challenge we present to others.
It's done with a gulp and a "Here it goes!"
The intent is, no doubt, honorable.
But here's the message we unconsciously send to those battling breast cancer: "You look like crap, so I'm going to make myself look like crap to make you feel better. See how brave I am? I am even willing to look like you."
I have not quizzed my sister about her feelings on this topic, but I'm pretty sure she would have been overwhelmed in an entirely different way had her female coworkers honored her by wearing no make-up. And if she cried that day, I'm fairly certain hers would be tears of a different kind.
I'm not opposed to make-up-free selfies in general.
Not at all.
In fact, I have nothing but praise for author Laura Lippman who started the movement after an actress was heavily criticized during the Oscars for looking like herself. Laura posted a natural selfie and encouraged other authors to follow suit in an effort to take down some socially created barriers. Built self-confidence. Help females authors support each other.
It worked for me.
With my novels current under submission to publishers, I'll admit that the potential for post-publication photographic attention makes me nervous. I can't help comparing myself to photos of those always-gorgeous looking authors who seem to confident, so put together.
Then I saw this slew of selfies.
I learned that many of those women looked different without make-up, but not in a negative way. The lack of make-up drew my eyes to their smiles, something I had never put much emphasis on previously. They made me smile inside.They made me realize these other authors are just as real as I am.
And that was an awesome feeling.
They were brave to post those selfies, but brave for a different cause.
They were brave in an effort to create change.
While I am absolutely certain the intentions of those who post make-up-free self portraits are honorable and that the posts show an admirable level of braveness and humility, breast cancer awareness or support is just not the right reason.
Do it for yourself.
Do it because it feels good to be free.
Do it to free woman like me who have not yet found the courage.
Do it because you believe it shouldn't require bravery and because you want that to change.