She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome . . . and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.

That quote is from Maureen Johnson’s most excellent blog post on how she feels about social media.

She says something I’ve tried to say several times here, only she says it far better. If I could get away with it, I’d just post what she says here and point at it. So, that’s essentially what I’m doing. I’m assuming you all clicked and went to read it already.

Though I confess my favorite part is when she wants to whisper to herself that she’s not a brand, but decides it would be creepy.

The interwebs have their decidedly creepy aspect. People behave in odd ways, act aggressive or just plain nutty sometimes. Enough so that I’ve researched a few to try to determine if they’re really as nutty as they seem or if it’s a communication issue. That said, I’ve met far more really great people, some of whom I’ve gone on to meet in person. Which is really the point of the whole social media thing.

I confess I started using both Facebook and Twitter to pimp my blog. I know, I know – but if I was going to write the damn thing, I wanted someone besides my mother to read it and that seemed to be the way to go. It worked, too. But, to my surprise, I found I really enjoy the communities I’m now part of. There are people I talk to every day and who miss me when I’m gone – which is always comforting in a someone-will-find-me-before-the-pets-totally-consume-my-body kind of way.

But Maureen is dead-on about the shysters, the shills, the snake-oil salesmen. One author I unfollowed after less than a day because he tweeted, in all caps, to buy his book, every hour, all day long.

No no no.

It’s no fun to be friends with a brand. That’s what it comes down to, really. I might like Burt’s Bees, and expect a certain quality in the products that pleases me with its consistency and nice scents, but I don’t expect to interact with my Beeswax Lip Balm. Beyond keeping my lips kissable, of course.

Authors are different. When we love their books, we want to talk to the people who wrote them. We have this odd tendency to feel like they’re friends because we spent time wrapped in their view of the world. And man authors – certainly not all – like to interact with their readers because, well, otherwise we never really get to be part of that experience.

Storytelling is intimate. Personal. It’s not like selling lip balm.

I am not a brand, she whispered quietly to herself.

Letting Go

No, we haven’t sold our house yet.

Amazing how many people ask us that. On an astonishingly regular basis. I’m getting to the point where I want to say, BELIEVE ME, I will announce it to the world when we get an offer! I really feel for those women whose family and friends ask “Are you pregnant, yet?” We know you love us, support us, want only the best for us. But really, you are not helping.

At some point you’re doing everything you can and you just have to wait.

Here we are: waiting.

Today we stopped by our real estate agent’s office though. Dropped in on her after lunch. She’s so fabulous that she doesn’t care. She’s the best in town. I implicity trust in everything she’s doing.

“We just came to nag,” I tell her. “So you can tell us not to worry.”

And Donna hesitates at this point. I’m sure she’s going to tell us to worry. That she’s lost confidence. Maybe stopping in to see her wasn’t such a good idea.

“I don’t want you to think this is freaky,” she says, and hesitates.

Okay, “freaky” isn’t “you’ll never sell your house in this market.” I’m betting she’s going to suggest we bury the St. Joseph upside down in the back yard and I’m opening my mouth to tell her we already did, if only to shut my mother up.

“But there is no reason your house isn’t selling,” she says. “The gardens are gorgeous right now. When we show the house, it just shines. Everything is perfect. You should have an offer by now.”

She takes a breath.

“What I want you to do is think about letting go.”

She goes on to tell us a few stories: the woman whose house wouldn’t sell in the hottest market ever, until her dog died and she confessed relief, because she’d been sure the dog would never survive the move; another woman whose completely updated house could not be sold and who emailed or called Donna every day telling her how no one would want it and it would never sell.

“I can’t explain it,” she says, “but I’ve seen it happen, over and over.”

Donna, freaky theory or no, is likely right on. When we first put the house on the market, I wrote a blog about how much I hated it. We have loved this house. Loved, loved, loved it. (Note my dutiful use of past tense.) We knew it was our ideal house the first time we saw it. We loved every minute of living here. We wouldn’t sell it, if we weren’t moving away.

But we ARE moving away. Away to Canada, to British Columbia, to Victoria. To a beautiful new house that we’ll love living in. It’s time to let this one go. It belongs to someone else now — we just don’t know who yet.

To prove it, this weekend we’ll start seriously packing. We’ll take our favorite stuff down off the walls and box it up. I’m depersonalizing. Withdrawing myself from the lathe and plaster, from the original wood trim and leaded glass. The reflecting pond we made, with its carefully balanace ecosystem, will delight someone else. I’m trading it all in for our new life. My pound of flesh. It’s a price I’m willing to pay, a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

My life lately is all about cutting, have you noticed? Not my forte at all.

But I’m getting good at it. Let it all go. What remains is the best part.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Here I am waiting by the phone again.

It’s funny: even though cell phones make it that you don’t have to literally wait by the phone, they introduce a whole other level of uncertainty as to whether they’re actually working. You check the signal, make sure the ringer is on. Even call yourself to see what happens.

Technology changes but the neuroses don’t.

Once again, the various facets of my life intertwine. We made an offer on the Glacier Ridge house!! They have to respond by noon, so we’re awaiting that call.

And I’m waiting for an agent to call. Two, actually. One read my first 50 pages and wanted to see the whole thing. I’m anticipating a call or email from her. And another read the whole thing and emailed me the day before yesterday for my cell number so she could “share her thoughts.” Usually they don’t want to talk to you on the phone unless there’s something substantial to discuss. But here I am, waiting still…

It’s like two cute boys have now asked for my phone number to “discuss prom.” It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m waiting by the phone.

Oh, no I’m not. I have a cell phone. So we’re off to rent bikes and ride up the coast to Sidney.

I hope the ringer is working…

Reading Time

I’m so amused that I have to share.

I bought an ebook yesterday from Fictionwise for my Kindle. This is one of the sites that sells ebooks and emags, that ISN’T Amazon. (I know — who thought it was possible?) Fictionwise seems to be a pretty decent site, though I paid more for this ebook than I have for any so far. They promised me a 50% rebate, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and finally decided it wasn’t worth $7 to me to screw around with it any more. A little bait & switch-y there, but so it goes. Along with the traditional book information, they give this:

Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat – What’s this?]:
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) [895 KB], eReader (PDB) [317 KB], Palm Doc (PDB) [312 KB], Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [278 KB], Microsoft Reader (LIT) [277 KB] – PocketPC 1.0+ Compatible, Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [306 KB], hiebook (KML) [699 KB], Sony Reader (LRF) [364 KB], iSilo (PDB) [259 KB], Mobipocket (PRC) [322 KB], Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [379 KB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [450 KB]
Words: 96890
Reading time: 276-387 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED

My favorite part is the offered “reading time.” I suppose this kind of thing is inevitable in a culture where every minute is squeezed for maximum effect. But, is it just me? This seems like such an odd quantification for pleasure reading. I mean, sure, when I was in college or grad school, I figured out my approximate reading rate, so I could plan how long a particular text would take me to get through. Like I would any job. As a consultant, I have to be very good at knowing how long, in terms of billable hours, a given project will take to accomplish. Both by me and anyone on my team. What I do for work or schooling, though, rarely applies to my leisure time.

For those who don’t want to do the math, the reading time suggested here varies between 250 and 350 words per minute. My reading rate is generally around a page a minute, if I’m being pretty direct about it. We already discussed here the whole “paragraphs as mountains” concept and that “industry standard” for genre is 250 words per page. Denser works have more words per page. I find it really interesting that the supposed industry standard for genre matches the bottom end of Fictionwise’s reading rate.

I’m sure there are people who sit around and figure this kind of thing out. All part of product development and placement. Still, as much as I believe I’m jaded and cynical now, things like this continue to surprise me. Which probably shows my enduring naivete in the face of the world’s attempts to toughen me up.

Despite it all, there’s a part of me that’s still the little girl who always had her nose in a book. The girl who picked out the thickest books on the library shelf, because they would last longer. I want to immerse, to lose track of time, to slow down in the second half, so the story won’t end too soon.

Let my reading be timeless, please.

LIMITED Lifetime Warranty

Surprised? No, of course not. You knew when you read my post the other day that this is the kind of answer I’d get. Don’t deny it — I heard you all snickering that I asked McKlein why their lifetime warranty doesn’t cover a faulty zipper. Several of you emailed me with suggestions for luggage repair places, gently preparing me for this moment.

This is the (now typical) garbled email answer I received:

You would be in charge of the shipping cost to us and back you and also the cost
of the repair. This no longer covered under McKlein warranty is limited lifetime
warranty which only covers one year only that’s the reason of the charge.

Thanx & Best Regards,
Nancy Usueta

Company, LLC
P: 773. 378. 5400 x 30
F: 773. 378. 5800

Alas. Should I even be annoyed that they play these games? That they believe they can add the word “limited” before “lifetime” to mitigate the meaning of lifetime to “one year?” Obviously they can, because I have no power to affect this. And it’s old news to all of us isn’t it? You pay the money for something of high quality, but it means nothing. I do believe if you buy the cheapy thing and it falls apart in a few months, you get what you deserve. That’s the whole basis of the disposable society, isn’t it? Cheaper to buy a new one than to repair the old one. Since I get to be “in charge” of the shipping costs (this reminds me of being in charge of cleaning the erasers in the classroom, a very dubious honor), I’m guessing I’d be out around $150 by the time we’re done. Now, however, even the high-quality, high-dollar, lifetime guaranteed stuff falls apart in a couple of years and the manufacturers are deliberately obtuse and obstinate about repairs. Clearly they don’t care about selling me the next bag.

It’s the first 30 pages syndrome, all over again. All marketing today seems to be based on this sale, this quarter. The sale next year, down the road a few years doesn’t matter.

And it really should.

My friend, the writer and photographer RoseMarie London, reminded me that it’s up to the writer to make sure the book is good after the first 30 pages, if she wants readers to come back, since no one else apparently cares. She has a good point. So who’s out there making sure I buy another McKlein bag (which I obviously won’t)? Where are the craftsmen? With all the focus on the stimulus package and rescuing our cancer-ridden economy, I wonder if anyone is thinking beyond next year. President Obama, with great honesty and integrity, I thought, said we won’t see major changes in the economy for a year. But we can all see that changes are happening: my friend who works at Hewlett-Packard reports that all employees are taking a 5% pay cut starting next month. The CEO is taking a 20% cut (on a $24 million salary, so there’s some cynicism there, but nevertheless). We’re wondering if the unions will fall before the needed revisions in the way we do business; I’m surprised by how many very liberal folks I know hope they do.

I heard on All Things Considered that the mobile phone industry promised to standardize phone chargers by 2012. So, that we don’t have to get new ones every two years with our new phones. Along with new car chargers. So that we don’t have to pitch the now-useless old ones. It’s a great move. Oh, except Apple isn’t participating.

Times they are a-changin’. Is it too much to hope that we could go back to having craftsmen repair our perfectly good stuff, rather than bowing to the forces that just want to sell us more inferior shit that we’ll toss into the landfill in a year? Maybe Apple will feel the social pressure and join in on this eminently rational plan.

Still surprises me that I’m idealist at heart.


I’ve mentioned that I live in a small town. More, it’s a remote town — which means at least an hour’s drive through antelope country to the next outpost of civilization, i.e., shopping. It’s two hours to Denver, which is really where you go for major shopping. But we have a lovely old-fashioned downtown area with lots of local merchants. It’s a big deal for us, to support the local merchants.

Such a big deal, in fact, that everyone gets sick of the exhortations to buy local. Don’t make the drive! Save gas! Inevitably these urgings will include the assertion that the local merchants can fulfill our needs just as well as any shop we might drive to or find online.

Which simply isn’t true.

Yesterday, I went down to our local, independent purveyor of childrens’ things. It’s a nice shop, with lots of fun toys and clothes and baby accessories. So much so, that when several of us met to plan a friend’s baby shower, we decided that she should register at the local shop along with Walmart. Yes, of course we have one. I try to buy local first, so I left work early to catch this shop in our quaint downtown, because of course they don’t keep evening hours.

Then the salesgirl tells me they don’t “do” baby registries. What? Why on earth wouldn’t they?? “We do our tickets by hand,” she says, “so we don’t have a hand scanner to do a registry.” It’s not her fault; she just works there. So, I don’t tell her that I remember shopping for a wedding gift at the NYC Bloomingdales with a PAPER LIST that I had to check off with my selection and return to the counter. It’s insane that a little store like this chooses not to serve their customers this way.

But I picked something out, since I hate going to Walmart and I didn’t want to waste any more time. At the same time, I’m certain this merchant proclaims her grief and indignation at all the people who shop at Walmart instead of her place. Or register online with Babies’R’Us, where shoppers can pull up a list and have a gift automatically shipped to the parents.

We can decry the demise of the small business owner, crushed under the big boxes. And then we’ll go to whoever gives us the best service. How hard is this to figure out?

Buy the Sky and Sell the Sky

It’s funny how the things I want get tangled up in my head.

Some of it comes of wearing several different hats, with each role based on buying and selling. I’ve come to feel like my whole life is about buying and selling, who holds the power and who is the supplicant.

As a writer, I am the eternal supplicant. Sending out queries and submissions (see? submissive). Yesterday I received a glowing rejection from an editor on my novel, suggesting more people who might want it. Now I have more people to think about, that I want to want me. To buy what I have to offer.

And we’re getting ready to sell our house and buy a new one. Because we’re moving to Victoria. So I have two real estate agents to talk to about buying and selling. I want to have maximum power and probably do. Where we live is still a seller’s market and we have a valuable house. Where we’re buying is a real buyer’s market. I think we’ll be able to make a great deal. Somehow I keep feeling like I should put this in my query letters. Exquisite manuscript with hand-crafted details. Will fit in with best bookshelf neighborhoods. Make an offer now – a beauty like this won’t last!

For work, I’ve been heavy into marketing lately. Taking training on how to sell work. They have the money, we have the expertise. I’m learning how to approach a client with hands out. Confident that I have what they want to buy. I keep wanting to approach agents and editors this way. You know from our track record that we can offer what you need to solve your problem. What can we do to win this contract? We’re willing to do whatever it takes!

As trite as it sounds, it’s only when I’m actually writing that I don’t think about the buying and selling. (Except for periodic moments on my current novel-in-progress when I surface and wonder WHERE on earth I can sell this. But then I go back into the happy dream.)

It’s enough to make one long for the garrett after all…