Sunday, December 13, 2009

A World Without Evil

When President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he noted the very real existence of evil in our world. “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism-it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason . . .”

The president, of course, is referring to kind of massive evil that plays out a the world stage, but evil itself can be on a much smaller scale, be far more subtle than the slaughter of millions, yet equally as dangerous. The evil the permeates Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace comes not from a military regime but a single individual bent on destroying a family for her own personal gain.

But there the differences end. Evil, whether the product of one individual or many breeds the same oppression, hatred, and violence and anyone, no matter how morally-grounded can find their principles tested in ways they never imagined.

Yes, evil exists – on the largest of scales and in the most mundane of activities. Our challenge is to recognize what evil is and rise to the challenge to stop it.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Is This Fun Or Is This Family?

"Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost they were teenagers. Visit the Muffin to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit to find out more about the author."

Family relationships are at the center of my own novel, Shade of Darkness, Shades of Grace as well. The Pierson’s are a close-knit family, but they are tested, as we all are, by other people and events. You may not always like members of your family or agree with them, but it’s often our family members who rally around us when things get ugly or tough.

When Paul Pierson realizes his drinking has become a problem, it’s his family who helps him pick up the pieces. No one minces words about what they expect from him, but they support him through treatment and maintaining his sobriety. And when Paul’s marriage to Pamela implodes, it is again his family who stands by him. The emphasis on family leads to one of the book’s main themes – that we will do just about anything to protect those we love.

In many ways I see the same universal themes in Shades of Darkness and The Last Will of Moira Leahy - stories about that bond of family, the deep ties of generations that bind, and the shared blood that’s worth putting everything on the line for. It may not always be fun, but it’s family.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Read A Banned Book!

It’s here – Banned Books Week, celebrated from September 26, 2009 through October. The first Banned Books Week organized by the American Library Association (ALA) was celebrated in 1982 when there was an increase in books being challenged is schools, libraries, and stores.

Censorship continues to be a serious problem in the U.S with the ALA reporting an increase in book challenges. In 2008 the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 517 challenges, up from 420 in 2007. While most challenges are unsuccessful, they are a violation of our right to free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment and the pursuit of intellectual freedom.

What is intellectual freedom? The freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and is the foundation of Banned Books Week. As an author I’m celebrating Banned Books Week by reading a banned book!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Literacy Promotes Life-long Learning

In an effort to encourage reading and encourage life-long learning, the Ad Council and Library of Congress and have paired up in the public service ad campaign promoting the idea along with life-long literacy. The ad campaign encourages children to explore new worlds through reading.

Also in September, Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT)hosts their 2009 Champions of Literacy Luncheon on Thursday, September 17, 2009. LIFT promotes literacy among adults by offering classes, GED preparation, and family literacy classes.

Why should you care?
• Because we need a productive and growing workforce…
• Because we want our families to thrive…
• Because we want lower health care costs and more efficient health care…
• Because we want to reduce poverty and get people off of welfare…

Literacy changes lives in a very positive way. Learn more at:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While ovarian cancer only plays a small part in Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, its affect on the Pierson family is profound.

Ovarian cancer is very treatable if detected early; however because there is no reliable test, the vast majority of cases are not detected until the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries. For this reason it’s crucial that women must become familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer and recognize and understand those symptoms in their own bodies.

Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition provide detailed information on symptoms, detection, treatment options, etc. Symptoms are subtle but persistent, frequently increasing over time. They include:
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
A feeling of frequency or urgency to urinate

Other symptoms commonly reported include: fatigue, indigestion, back pain, intercourse pain, constipation, and menstrual irregularities. However, these symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are often found in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.

Women should consult their physician if these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, the 5-year survival rate is 93% so it’s important that every woman be aware of ovarian cancer and the symptoms.

Friday, August 14, 2009

More Drunk Women Getting Behind the Wheel

The horrific car accident in which a woman driving drunk killed eight last week in New York sheds light on a disturbing trend – the increased instances of women getting behind the wheel when legally drunk.

In Westchester County – where Diane Schuler’s fatal crash occurred – the number of women arrested for driving under the influence is up 2 percent in 2009. Across the U.S. a federal study found that the number of women who reported abusing alcohol nearly doubled, rising from 1.5 to 2.6 percent in the 10 year period from 1992-2002.

Men still drink more than women and are responsible for more drunken-driving cases, however their rates continue to decline while DUI’s among women are rising rapidly. In 2007 the number of women arrested for DUI was 28.8 percent higher than in 1998, while the number of men arrested declined by 7.5 percent.

In the 15 years I drank, I was never picked up for DUI. Did I drive drunk? Unfortunately, my answer is yes, worse there was more than one occasion where I did not remember how I got home. In Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, Kay Scott tells her brother Paul he must stop drinking before he is responsible for something “you can never take back” and certainly driving drunk is at the top of the list.

Ms. Schuler’s family appears to be in denial that she had a drinking problem, a fact which only compounds the tragedy. But the increasing numbers of women driving drunk now has the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department’s annual crackdown which begins in late August will focus on getting drunk women driver’s off the road.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

You Never Know

My sister Susan passed on Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace to a friend who is a therapist by training. She (I’ll call her Jane) loved the book but also commented on the dead-on accuracy of Pamela’s sociopath character in her pursuit of the Pierson family.

Jane also imparted a chilling observation – therapists don’t actually see the Pamela’s of this world as they don’t ever believe there anything about them that might be problematic. Who they do see as patients are the persons dealing with the constant fallout from a Pamela. Just as in the book, a Pamela is never at fault, is often a master manipulator, and will not stop until she wears down the opposition. Jane has the clients to prove it.

Like many authors, I wrote what I knew. Readers have come along for the journey for which I am grateful. Some of the details are not pretty, particularly the Pierson family’s battles with alcoholism and drug abuse – the toughest part of the novel for Jane to read. But to hear from a trained professional that the characters, their flaws, and their struggles came alive for her is a great compliment. Honestly you never know who will be reading your book or what new insights you’ll learn from a reader.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Libraries Appreciate Your Books

A friend has been helping me get my mother organized and one of those projects is finding a new home for her many books, both hard cover and paperback, all recent titles. Before starting her own business in getting people organized, this freind used to work at the area literacy council and suggested we donate the books to local libraries.

As an author, I thought this was a great idea. In tough economic times, cash-strapped libraries in our area are having to cut hours and the number of books they purchase. So we donated 112 paperbacks and 54 hardcover books, to a most grateful library staff. On our end it helps clean up my parent's house, while providing strapped libraries with an influx of new titles, all in very good to mint condition.

Interested in dontating your own books? Contact your local library and find out where to drop off books. While there, be sure and get a receipt detailing the number of books (split out hard covers and paperbacks) which you can then show as a donation at tax time. It's win-win - you'll have more space and put books to good use and the library will appreciate the donation.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lowering Drinking Age Won't Make Binge Drinking Go Away

Last August over 100 college presidents signed a letter asking legislators across the U.S. to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 because they believe it’s impossible to stop young people from drinking. Called “The Amethyst Initiative” the coalition includes college presidents from Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Washington and Lee, Colgate, Syracuse, Sweet Briar, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth, and other schools. The group insists with a higher legal drinking age, binge drinking on college campuses has gotten progressively worse.

Fast-forward 11 months to the July 12 editorial in The Washington Post that maintained a lower drinking age won’t stop binge drinking. As a recent study published in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted, the higher drinking age has led to a decrease in binge drinking nationwide, with the exception of college campuses.

Lowering the drinking age won’t make binge drinking disappear, on college campuses or otherwise, a fact The Amethyst Initiative appears to ignore. They also disregard that binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication which can be detrimental to a person’s health in a number of ways:
• Brain function is impaired, resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
• Blood vessels dilute causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
• Alcohol intoxication increases the risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease (such as cirrhosis) when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over an extended period of time.
• Alcohol consumption also poses risks to pregnant women and their developing fetus.
• Alcohol consumption increases the risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
• Binge drinking can also result in death.
As illustrated by the Pierson family in my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, binge drinking as an adolescent can lead to deeper alcohol problems as an adult. So instead of complaining about the higher drinking age, college administrators might do well to put more thought and effort into enforcing it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Times Are Tough All Over

We have just come back from our annual trip to the Red Wing Pottery Convention. Every year there is an auction for members only and this year tough economic dishes drastically affected prices.

I especially noticed this with the lily pitcher and basin that has a key role in my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. In the novel, Kay describes the set as a stunning example of Red Wing craftsmanship and mentioned an asking price of nearly $1,500.

True for the late 1990s and early 21st century, but the auction demonstrates how prices have cooled with the economy, housing market, etc. At the Thursday auction, two sets of the lily pitcher and bowl sold for $475 and $650 respectively. The prices will eventually come back, but like everything else in the current economic climate antique and pottery markets have taken a huge hit.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Can a Story Save Your Life?

I read just such an intriguing post today by LuAnn Schindler. She recounts a friend asking, “Have you ever read a story that saved your life?” Schindler notes she’s read many books that resonated with her and believes the answer to her friend’s question may lie in how you define the word “save”.

To Kill a Mockingbird Schindler argues saved her from spreading prejudice and injustice; The Great Gatsby from greed and misplaced love; Macbeth from using ambition in the wrong way. Still, she’s unsure whether those works saved her rather than simply relating to the ideas within a book’s pages and applying them to our lives.

As an author and recovering alcoholic, I thought about Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. I do think it’s possible for a book to at least begin the process of saving an individual from something such as alcoholism if the reader is willing to acknowledge the existence of the problem. And quite frankly, I hope that story within the novel does save someone from the ravages of chemical dependency.

So in response to Schindler’s musings, I believe a story at least has the potential to save someone, but as she notes in her examples, a person must be open to a story’s message.

Friday, June 26, 2009

LIFTing People Out of Illiteracy

The statistics are staggering:
• 42 million American adults cannot read at all; another 50 million read at the level of a fourth or fifth grader.
• The number of functionally illiterate adults increases by 2.25 million every year.
• 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.
• 70% of prisoners in both the federal and state systems are classified as illiterate.
• 85% of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
• 43% of those who literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.

As an author such statistics cannot be ignored. For that reason when Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) contacted me about promoting the importance of literacy I was more than happy to oblige. Leslie Clay, Director of Community Development says, “We are very proud of the fact that more than 7,000 adults learned to read at LIFT this year. When you factor in children whose parents learned how to read to them through our Family Literacy program, the number of lives LIFT touched is closer to 10,000. It is both an amazing and sad fact that 49% of Dallas county cannot read better than a 4th grader and Texas now holds the distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with regards to the number of high school dropouts.”

I also developed a LIFT page on Squidoo that highlights the topic of literacy as well as the Annual Champions of Literacy Luncheon sponsored by LIFT on September 17, 2009. The page include resources on literacy, illiteracy statistics, and other Squidoo Pages dedicated to this increasingly important topic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Write It Now, Post It Later

With all the talk about having a strong social media presence when promoting your book(s), blog, articles, etc. there is a great tool available I recently discovered.

Called PostLater it allows authors to schedule blog posts in advance. So when an author is unavailable, say on a book tour or vacation, your blog is still posting for you automatically. Twitter has a similar service called "tweetlater".

Because of the immense power of correctly managed social media, scheduling posts in advance is a great idea that helps authors be more organized as well. The key is consistency (posting at least twice weekly) over the long-term vs. a short blast of activity that have little or no lasting effect.

Do note, however, that the service is not free. It costs any where from $19.95 per month to $149.95 a year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Does This Title Mean?

In a recent review of Shades of Darkness, Shade of Grace, a reviewer noted she never figured out what the title referred to. It actually references two things, which most anyone can relate to.

First, it makes reference to the internal struggles we all face, recognizing there are shades of darkness (sin) and shades of grace (goodness) within each of us. In other words, we experience degrees of grace as well as degrees of sin. What we do with that sin and grace is up to us. As Kay notes towards the end of the book, “Goodness and evil each present us with choices, and they are never as simple as they might appear”. In those choices we make through our own free will, some will contain the darkness of moral ambiguity and sin, while others move us closer to the beauty and goodness of grace.

Second, the Shades of Grace in the title is a reference to the saving grace of sobriety that both Kay and Paul experience and any addict can relate to. It is after all, sobriety that saves us from destroying ourselves and those closest to us. Again, there is the idea of the degrees of goodness the clean and sober existence in reclaiming our lives and making amends with those we have harmed.

In a nutshell, that’s what Shades of Grace, Shades of Darkness means, at least to me. There is no right or wrong answer, and because meanings are subjective, I invite readers of the novel who have different interpretation to e-mail me with their thoughts at:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Praise of Royalties and Patience

Book royalty checks are always nice, even if they’re smaller than you’d hoped for. On the one hand, it means people are buying your work, which every author should feel good about. And secondly, at least with checks for Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, the amounts are increasing, which gives me hope that word about the novel and all those terrific reviews is finally getting out there.

I’ve heard more than one author note to be patient after publishing because writing your book was the easy part. Keep steadily promoting your work, always on the lookout for new promotional avenues such as book fairs, blogs, and social networking sites. The reality is unless you have a major publisher behind you, most authors find themselves helping out with the marketing aspect. The good news is it gives you, the writer, more control over how your work is perceived or the target audiences you want exposure to.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who's Talking About You?

It’s a good idea for authors to keep track of what’s being said about their work on the Internet, or what’s not being talked about that should be discussed. New tools are always being developed and there are two I’ve found beneficial.

As Google continues to increase its dominance, most writers are probably familiar with “Google Alerts”. The alerts are e-mail updates on a certain topic, be it a developing news story or information on your latest book or you, the author.

The second site is “Who’s Talkin” a social media search tool, again monitoring the blogs, reviews, articles, etc. regarding your latest work or activity. Of the two, currently works better than Google Alerts. Here’s why.

If I enter “Catherine Johnson author of Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace” as a Google Alert, I receive every alert containing any one of those words. So I can get a completely unrelated alert regarding Catherine Watson, author, simply because it matched my first name. The same is true of the title – I receive matches for any book title having any of the words in the title.

Using the same information, Who’s Talkin’ appears to synthesize information better providing more relevant results. For example using Who’s Talkin’ I’ve discovered blog post regarding Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace in French and Spanish, and discovered my own postings written on topics relating to the novel disseminated across the web.

Both options are a good way for authors to monitor the Internet activity their work(s) are generating.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

America Has a Reading Problem

The first time I had exposure to illiteracy in America was 20 years ago in drug treatment. At that time, part of recovery was group therapy in which members took turns reading from Alcoholics Anonymous’ “Big Book”. As we passed the book it became obvious that over half of the 20-25 participants could only read at the barest of minimums. I clearly remember those of us who could read helping those who couldn’t sound out words.

I learned the scene playing out in drug treatment was far from unusual. These statistics from the National Right to Read Foundation paint a grim picture:
• 42 million American adults cannot read at all; another 50 million read at the level of a fourth or fifth grader.
• The number of functionally illiterate adults increases by 2.25 million every year.
• 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.

Being unable to read or being functionally illiterate leads to a host of other problems and as research by the National Institute for Literacy illustrates:
• 70% of prisoners in both the federal and state systems are classified as illiterate.
• 85% of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
• 43% of those who literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.

As an author such staggering statistics cannot be ignored. For that reason when Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) contacted me about promoting the importance of literacy I was more than happy to oblige. Leslie Clay, Director of Community Development says, “We are very proud of the fact that more than 7,000 adults learned to read at LIFT this year. When you factor in children whose parents learned how to read to them through our Family Literacy program, the number of lives LIFT touched is closer to 10,000. It is both an amazing and sad fact that 49% of Dallas county cannot read better than a 4th grader and Texas now holds the distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with regards to the number of high school dropouts.”

The miserable statistics in Texas mirror what is occurring in the rest of the country. I plan to get involved as a volunteer helping others to read and promoting programs such as those sponsored by LIFT and other such organizations. I encourage you to become active in literacy organizations in your own area and help eradicate America’s tragic reading problem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Next Wave In Publishing?

ABC News did a story on Wednesday about a very different kind of book. On Thursday, May 21st The Obama Time Capsule will be released, recounting President Obama’s historic campaign and election with one distinct difference – each book is personalized with the buyer’s photographs and text. No two copies of the coffee table book will be alike because each copy is printed one at a time, after the book is ordered.

What the book does is weave together the story and photographs of the Obama campaign with those of the buyer/author. Publishing insiders believe such books herald the new wave of publishing, in which books are personalized to the unique end user.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alcoholism Too Ordinary?

Recently I found a blog post regarding “The Saving Grace of Sobriety” that I’d written in April. The upshot was the alcoholism portrayed in Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace was nothing out of the ordinary and the Pierson’s apparently, didn’t suffer enough.

The novel was inspired by a true story which includes the alcoholism of blood relatives such as Kay and Paul’s and the four generations that scar the family’s past and present. If four generations of broken lives isn’t enough suffering, what is? We’ve buried one sibling and our parents would tell you there is no anguish comparable to the grief of losing a child.

We’re in the midst of an intervention with another blood relative and again, unless you’ve lived it, most people have no idea of the trauma involved in attempting to save a loved one from them, because we know we might fail. Unless the person has hit bottom enough times and decides their life is worth living, beyond an intervention there is not much else we can do. We can’t stop that family member from ultimate destruction if that’s the path they choose.

But in writing a book outside of a memoir an author has to make decisions about what details to include and what details to leave out (unless you’re Jonathan Frey and your travails of drug treatment are certainly interesting, but they’re also completely false). In Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, the focus was on keeping those details that were important to story being told, while also moving the narrative forward.

So reading that the Pierson’s family history of alcoholism is too ordinary is almost laughable. No one ever looks at drug treatment and says, “Now there’s something I haven’t tried”. For both Kay and Paul the road leading to a drug treatment program is one of few remaining options. True, it’s family driven and not as dramatic as being forced into treatment by the state, but drug treatment means things have reached a breaking point.

The opinions of this particular blogger are, like anything, as relevant as their experience. Another person (in this case a book reviewer) found the alcoholism addiction sub-plot too gruesome and depressing. Opinions at opposite ends of the spectrum but one thing I can tell you - no one goes into drug treatment because they want to. They go to try and save what’s left of their lives, and if that’s boring or too gruesome, so be it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A World of Knowledge Just a Click Away

On Tuesday a partnership between national libraries and the United Nations Education Agency launched the World Digital Library.

The web site is in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian leads readers through a treasure trove of rare finds from more than a dozen countries. The goal is one every author can appreciate – to pique young readers’ interest and get them reading books.

The web site for the Library of Congress also offers a wealth of digital collections online. I’ve checked out both sites, and they are habit-forming (in a good way) to say the least.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Saving Grace of Sobriety

April is Alcohol Awareness month and the battle of alcoholism and its effects on one family’s history are integral to the story being told in my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. The Pierson family portrayed in the book has suffered the blight of alcoholism for at least four generations, with two of the children, Kay and Paul, forced to confront their dependency. The point of this subplot is to not only illustrate the character’s flaws, but to acknowledge that the problem of chemical dependency is a far-reaching and can affect anyone. But Kay and Paul’s struggles are meant to give the reader hope; hope that it is possible for addicts to reclaim their lives, finding grace or salvation in sobriety.

When Kay suspects Paul’s drinking has reached levels that point to dependency and abuse, this is not the first time those concerns have been expressed by the Pierson family. After his first wife’s death, Kay recognizes Paul’s attempts to salve his pain through alcohol. Never actually confronting him, the Pierson family believes Paul has found redemption in Pamela, and they push their fears aside. The Pierson family makes the mistake that many families confronted with chemical dependency do – they rationalize that the problem was only temporary and has been dealt with satisfactorily. But as Kay and her Mother realize Paul does have a problem, Kay recounts the Pierson family history and its path of devastation.

For Kay and her brothers, it begins with underage drinking as it does for many individuals. Underage drinking has reached epidemic status in the United States, with an estimated 10.8 million youth engaging in some level of alcohol consumption. These huge numbers of young Americans engaging in both illegal and risky behavior is behind the Surgeon General’s March 2007 report, the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. While Jack manages to escape the ravages of alcoholism, Kay and Paul’s battles with chemical dependency as adults are not at all unusual. According to the Surgeon General’s report, 40% of adults who began drinking before age 15 experience chemical dependency problems. With almost half of adults who begin drinking as teens suffering chemical dependency related difficulties later in life, Kay and Paul are far more typical than many may realize.

The relapse that Paul suffers after three months sobriety through attending Alcoholics Anonymous is also quite common. According to a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 1989, nearly 90% of recovering addicts are likely to relapse at least once during the first four years of their sobriety. What triggers Paul’s fall – an argument with Kay regarding his ex-wife – is not an unusual response. Two other triggers leading to high risk behavior in recovering addicts include social pressure and interpersonal temptation.

It’s this episode that pushes Kay and her family to confront Paul with the knowledge that his chemical dependency is a problem they believe A.A. alone cannot solve. Kay gives Paul insights into the severity of her own battles with alcoholism by explaining her spouse, Tim, made it clear she had a choice to make. She could choose either alcohol or her marriage, but in the latter choice Tim demanded sobriety. Kay exhorts Paul to take a chance on sobriety, the only course of action that will allow him to discover who he really is as a person, reclaim his life, and find salvation from the ravages of chemical dependency.

Is recovery easy? Hell no. No one knows better than a recovering addict that real life is littered with temptation and good intentions gone awry. So an addict may relapse more than once, may hit bottom more than once, and may even lose their life to an addiction. When a fellow addict told me this about my alcoholic brother, I thought it was the cruelest thing I’d ever heard. When my brother died from his addiction, I suddenly understood.

As tough as getting and staying clean and sober is, no one knows better than a recovering addict that the saving grace offered by sobriety, of reclaiming a broken life and turning it into to something meaningful is well worth the sacrifice to achieve it. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers excellent resources as does the Resources page on my site.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Script Frenzy

I participated in National Novel Writing Month last last November. A similar endeavor begins in April - Script Frenzy. From April 1 - 30, 2009 your mission is to write a screenplay totaling 100 pages.

Having learned some valuable lessons during my first attempt at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, I give you the following tips:
1. Don't stop writing. You'll tell yourself you will come back to it before the contest ends and finish your novel/script. You won't.
2. Don't change story ideas half way through. Even if you determine your original idea for a novel or screenplay is the worst idea you've ever had, don't start writing something else. You won't finish that idea either.
3. Set small goals for yourself. You will not write 100 pages in a day or 50,000 words in a day. Start with a managable goal (say 8 pages per day) and stick to it.
4. If pages per day seems like too large of a number, set an average number of pages or words to write each day. Some days you'll write more and other days less. Setting an average balances out your writing over the 30 days.
5. Hook up with others participating in the Script Frenzy contest. You'll accomplish at least two things: 1. You'll meet other writers in the same spot as you and have a support network; and 2. you will be less likely to quit.
6. Keep everything that you write. I didn't complete National Novel Writing Month, but I did come away with good material (not all of it, obviously) that will evolve into future stories.
7. Good luck! Just by completing Script Frenzy or National Novel Writing Month earns you bragging rights to day, "I did it!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Royal Review

Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace has gotten another great review – this time from the Book Club Queen. Unlike most review sites, Book Club Queen also provides author interviews, discussion questions, book recommendations, and of course, information on how you can start your own book club.

What’s also unique about Book Club Queen is the focus on family and that sometimes rocky relationship with those we love in both the author interview questions and discussion questions. At the center of the novel is the relationship of the Pierson family and the deep bonds that bind us as family, and how far one is willing to go to protect those we love.

Click here for Catherine Johnson's Book Club Queen interview.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Illiteracy: A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Last week I received an invitation to speak at the annual Champions of Literacy luncheon hosted by the Literary Instruction For Texas (LIFT) organization. While I won’t be able to attend, as an author literacy is extremely important to me.

For most Americans, it’s hard to fathom there are people born and raised in the U.S. who either can’t read very well, or at all. Illiteracy impacts everything they do. Some statistics:
The average age of a LIFT student is 37.
Between 2004 and 2007, the number of adult learners participating in LIFT programs increased by 292%, from 2,103 to 6,141.
Texas holds the distinction of being the number one state in the nation with the highest number of high school dropouts.
But Texas is far from alone. Across the U.S. 42 million Americans cannot read at all, and another 50 million recognize so few printed words they are limited to a fourth or fifth grade reading level.
43% of those whose literacy skills are the lowest live in poverty. And the numbers are growing at an alarming rate.

Over the next several months I intend to do as much as I can to promote the problem of illiteracy in the U.S. while providing resources targeted towards helping people learn to read. There used to be an ad slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” It still is.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Consumer's Changing Habits

Earlier this week, I posted about purchasing books online. I’d tried it after reading David Streitfeld’s article “Bargain Hunting for Books and Feeling Sheepish About It”. Streitfeld was able to purchase a pristine copy of a hard-to-find book he was searching for, paying a quarter for the work.

I tested this out, purchasing two books, one from Amazon and one from a book reseller. The results: The first book, Old Flames by Jack Ketchum arrived directly from Amazon and that copy was brand new. The second book, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown was to be a birthday gift for my husband.

Both books arrived promptly – Old Flames in three days and Angels and Demons in five. The copy of Angels and Demons was carefully packed (a bomb could detonate next to the package and it would have remained tightly taped inside the delivery envelop) so no complaints there. The book itself was unmarked, but clearly it was used and smelled a bit musty. Had the book not been intended as a gift it would have been perfectly fine. It turned out my husband had a new copy he’d purchased over a year ago, but hadn't had time to read.

Overall the experience was a very good one. The reseller contacted me via e-mail thanking me for the order as did Amazon. The customer service in both instances was stellar. Unlike David Streitfeld I felt no guilt purchasing books over the Internet versus driving to a brick and mortar store. Everything related to book publishing changed once the shopping habits of consumers changed.

Would I buy books this way again? Absolutely. Two years ago, my husband ordered a hard-to-find work from Amazon simply because that was the only place carrying the book. So in a way, changing our habits is only logical. No doubt there will be tough times and adjustments. We can lament these trends and try to fight them or we can accept shifting habits and patterns, integrating them into our own business and marketing plans.

Monday, February 2, 2009

There's No Going Back

Bargain Hunting for Books and Feeling Sheepish About It” is a great article by David Streitfeld on the changing habits of book buyers and their impact on publishers, authors, readers, and traditional bookstores. Streitfeld’s aghast comes from his participation in the very habits that are changing the publishing industry forever – buying a book for little money over the Internet versus shopping at a brick and mortar bookstore.

As an author I certainly understand the negative side effects of Internet technology – publishers are laying off employees, bookstores are closing, and authors are receiving far less in royalties. Even booksellers don’t make a lot of money – there are so many copies available of the most titles pricing is very competitive. These are exactly the reasons I just purchased two books over the Internet. From the behemoth Amazon, no less.

Without leaving the comfort of my home, I paid under $26 for both titles, which are being shipped to my front door. No wasting gas driving to the bookstore, then spending time searching for the titles, requesting help when I can’t find what I’m looking for, then making the return trip, etc. What would take an hour took less than 10 minutes. Engaging the Internet I saved time, got a decent competitive price, and had my choice of copies to choose from, some used and some new.

I don’t feel sheepish as Streitfeld apparently did. Would I like to get more royalties for my novel? Of course! At the same time, there’s no going back to way books were sold pre-Internet. As a writer, I need to let go of worrying about how many books I’m selling vs. readers who purchase the novel for less money through booksellers, love it, and spread the word.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Senses, Updike, and the Printed Word

When John Updike died on Tuesday at the age of 76, many paid tribute. One news clip was of particular interest to me – Updike expounding on his love of the printed word and books. He wasn’t talking about digitized books on the Internet or e-books, but the smell, feel, sight, and satisfaction of reading an honest-to-God bound book.

Updike gave a speech in 2006 at the Book Expo of America lamenting where books are headed with Google’s aim to digitalize books for a “universal library”. I don’t necessarily agree with Updike but he brings valid points to the table on the vast changes in the publishing industry. How will this affect writers? Books themselves? Will traditional “bound” books become obsolete?

Reader’s habits – from how books are bought to how books are enjoyed – are part of this seismic change. Rather than creating the ability to access books on a universal scale, are we instead creating the “haves” in those who can first of all, read, and second, possess computer technology to do so, versus the “have nots” who have neither the luxury of literacy or technology?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At Last

When President and Mrs. Obama danced to “At Last” as sung by BeyoncĂ© at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, the significance of this gorgeous song at a historic moment was lost on no one. In the novel, Tim and Kay dance to Etta James singing “At Last” at Paul and Pamela’s wedding. Observing her blissfully happy brother, Kay notes, “I hear this song, and I think ‘at last’ is right. We are so lucky, Tim. I really didn’t think he’d after recover.” Kay refers to her family’s joy at Paul finally moving beyond his grief and embarking on a new life.

‘At Last’ is favored by my husband and me as our special song as well. We share the song as it was originally intended – two people finding each other and building a wonderful life together. Since we were slightly older than most couples when marrying, ‘at last’ summed our feelings perfectly. One very memorable song beautifully sung, with so many meanings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Writing Opportunities at -27 Below

This morning we awoke to 27.9 or almost 28 degrees below zero. No including wind chill, just a straight across the board nearly 28 degrees below. The novel talks about weather in Minnesota, particularly winter and the lung-searing cold that makes a warm to zero feel balmy. Absolutely true. Tomorrow’s temperature should rise to a positively toasty 18 degrees above.

Such weather has its advantages. There’s an old Minnesota joke that such bitter cold “helps keep the riff raff out”. That most likely depends on your definition of “riff raff”. For writers and readers however, this weather offers an ideal opportunity to indulge your passions. Herewith some ideas:

Map out your next book or article
Get some serious writing done on your latest project
Engage in Internet research for said project
Enter a writing contest
Revise your cover letter
Research literary agents and/or magazine editors
Curl up and read a good book
Catch up on all that miscellaneous reading of favorite magazines
School’s been closed the past two days – get the kids away from the TV and into books

Take heart - the arctic cold snap will end eventually, and the white quiet of winter will give way to the symphony of spring. Accomplishing some writing or reading tasks when it’s nearly impossible to be outdoors will mean less guilt and frustration when warmer days at last reappear.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Author Stores Launch at Amazon

Amazon has launched Author Stores, a tool that should help promote authors and their books on the Amazon site. The Author Stores are single pages that list all the books from a particular author, as well as other features. The Author Stores launched before the beginning of the year with 2,500 pages; the goal is to have a page for every author who has books available on Amazon.

See how the feature works by searching for popular bestselling authors including Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and James Patterson. Customers access the stores through the normal search box—when a shopper searches for an author who has a store, a link appears at the top of the search results next to Amazon’s Author Store logo. As an example, I’ve used J.K. Rowlings to access her page.

Apple uses a similar feature for popular artists at its iTunes stores. Amazon’s long-time goal is to have an Author Store for every author whose books are available through Amazon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Justice for the Family

When Doreen Quinn Giuliano’s son, John Giuca, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for Brooklyn’s 2003 “grid kid” slaying, she was absolutely sure he’d been wrongly convicted. To prove it she went under cover as “Dee” befriending one of the jurors, Jason Allo. Allo bragged publicly about serving as a juror on the high-profile case, while confiding to “Dee” he never should have been on the jury.

The story, Mother Justice by Christopher Ketcham in the January 2009 Vanity Fair details Giuliano seeking out Allo as Dee then documenting on tape his admission, one she recorded more than once. It was a desperate move, but one that may have succeeded. The tale deftly illustrates how far someone will go to protect, and in this case prove the innocence of, loved ones a central theme to Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. Anyone can be pushed to undertake acts they most likely would never consider, even more so when family is involved. Mother Justice, indeed.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 Resolutions/Gratitude Journal

A new lens on Squidoo has a great idea to help you keep New Year’s Resolutions for 2009 – put them in writing. There’s information on journals to buy, journals to destruct (getting rid of all that creative frustration), journals for kids, books on types of journaling, and other ideas.

My favorite idea is to keep a New Year’s Gratitude Journal. So each day or every week, instead of focusing on the negative and what’s going wrong; put that energy into writing down what you’re grateful for or what went right, even when you have to look hard for the positive aspects.

The Pierson’s in Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace first and foremost grateful for family, even when the odds are stacked against them. In the larger scheme of things, they are certainly grateful for a successful business and financial security.

In my own life, I’m grateful for family as well, even when they drive me crazy. There is also my gratitude for the time (such a gift!) to write and time to promote those endeavors.

Writing down New Year’s Resolutions are akin to telling everyone you’ve ever known that this year you’re losing 10 pounds, quitting smoking, being nicer, working harder – whatever. Going public by writing out those resolutions or telling people has a better chance of succeeding simply because you’ve shared that commitment and there’s follow-up involved, making backing out or giving up more difficult. Keeping track of all that you have to be grateful for forces you to find the good among the mundane and not-so-good, again in a very public way.