Maggie Pill

The Most Entertaining Cozy Author You Never Heard Of!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Who's Minding the Kids? or Maybe, Who Are the Kids Minding?

Use these free images for your websites, art projects, reports, and ...We went to a summer festival on Saturday, and it was a good one: lots to see, a wonderful (though hot) day, and even some old friends we hadn't seen for a while. One incident sticks in my mind, and at the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, I'll describe it.

We were browsing the craft show, and a boy of about eight was playing with a vintage toy. His mother and grandmother (I'm guessing) were several tables away, looking at what they wanted to look at. The proprietors of the booth were watching the kid, and it was plain they weren't happy.

After a minute, the grandmother looked up, saw the boy, and said, "Honey, the lady said you shouldn't play with that." The kid ignored her as if she hadn't spoken. So did the younger woman. Finally the owner said, "That's seven fifty if he breaks it." At that the older woman got angry. "Come on, Sweetie," she said. "We wouldn't buy anything here anyway."

Two questions rose in my mind. Why would you let a kid play with something owned by someone who didn't want him to?  And if the boy was the type who was likely to disobey when he'd been asked not to play with the toy, why didn't one of the women keep him with her, where she could watch him?

I'm not one of those people who says children today aren't raised right. All my life I've seen children who were raised right and children who weren't, and the percentages seem to me about the same. Raising kids other people don't mind having around is purely a function of parenting, in my opinion. If a parents sees that a child does what he's supposed to, he'll learn how to behave. If a kid realizes that Mom isn't going to get out of that chair and walk over to where he's doing what he shouldn't, he'll keep right on doing it.

While I'm aware there are kids with issues, I've found that expecting good behavior and teaching those expectations goes a long way.  If things in a child's makeup make it more difficult for him to behave, then a parent has to be more vigilant to protect the rights of others. That's what parenting is.

Being mad at someone else because they notice your kid's misbehavior cannot excuse it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Like a Million Tiny Knives

A woman once told me how painful it was for her to attend her son's Educational Placement Conferences. (The names are different over distance and time, but I mean those meetings where a group of teachers and educational experts sit down with a student's parents to decide how he's doing and what his future in education should look like.) "One by one," she said, "they tell you what's wrong with your child. Some try to be nice about it, but by the end of the meeting, you feel like you've been pummeled with his faults and failings. You know you have to face them for your son's benefit, but it's not easy and it never gets any easier."

That's exactly how it is for an author to be edited. Your book--your baby--is submitted to someone whose job it is to point out what's wrong with it. That line you thought was cute? The editor suggests you take it out. The punctuation you struggled to get right? She doesn't agree. And the plot: "What about this? Why doesn't she do that? How could he have missed the clue here?"

 The first thing a writer (and maybe the parent of a special child too) has to do is give all that advice some distance. Experienced writers suggest skimming your editor's corrections and suggestions once as soon as you get them, then walking away for a few days. Your first reaction tends to be, "How can she/he be so DUMB?" or "Why doesn't he/she get how great this story is?"

Later, when you've talked to yourself a little, you can come back to the edits and see them more objectively. First, you asked for this criticism. You submitted the book to someone you trust because you know your selfish author's eye isn't going to see its faults.

Second, the editor isn't trying to hurt you, at least not if he/she was well-chosen. Editors are supposed to be honest, and they look at your work as a reader will, without your built-in understanding of what you meant to say and why you chose to tell the story a certain way.

Third, you don't always have to take the editor's advice. While it might be more difficult in traditional publishing, the author has the right to say, "This is why I think my way is effective. A good editor will listen and perhaps discuss, looking for a way to strengthen and tighten the work without taking away from what the author sees as her style." Of course that doesn't work with spelling, punctuation, and such, but those are less important to the overall story anyhow.

It's frustrating to be told your "baby" isn't perfect. It's hard sometimes to accept what the experts say. Still, I find that editors make me rethink my work and look at it from a new vantage point. Even when I don't wholeheartedly agree with them, I accept the possibility that I wasn't as clear as I could have been and might need to rework a sentence or a passage.

It's difficult when someone makes you see your child with new eyes. Despite their comments, you won't love your child less, but you might see ways to make him fit better into the world outside.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The (Sometimes) Dreaded Book Signing

Any author who's been at it for a while knows about the dreaded book signing. Whole after-dinner speeches have been done on the subject, and it's always good for a few laughs at author conferences.

You have a book signing. Nobody comes, or at least nobody comes to see you. Customers ask for directions. They wonder where the Detroit Free Press can be found. They ask if there's a bathroom in the store. They pass by quickly, refusing to meet your eye lest you seize their arms and force them to listen to your spiel. (I get it. I've seen authors so determined to sell that they embarrass themselves.)

But there are good book signings. I was at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, MI, last Saturday, and that's always a treat. M&E is one of the top indie bookstores in the nation, mostly because of the people who own it and their knowledgeable staff. They move through the store with alacrity, finding just the book to suit their customers' needs. Want a beach read? Here, try this. Want some political analysis? I heard one of the staff tell a customer, "This isn't a cheeseburger read, but it might be what you're looking for." Don't know what you want? (That's often me.) Try this one. And though it might be something I'd never have chosen for myself, I usually have to admit their recommendations are worth reading.

Michigan is blessed with good independent bookstores. Along with M&E there's Horizon in Petoskey (and Traverse City and Cadillac), Saturn in Gaylord, Blue Phoenix in Alpena, and Purple Tree in Cheboygan. Even if I don't sell one book, signings in a store provide me with the chance to  meet people who read, and that rejuvenates my desire to write, even as I look around at all those books and wonder how a single author ever gets noticed. The world isn't lost if there are still people who love a good bookstore.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Cat Who'd Been Through Hell

I came across these photos recently of Taz, who was my daughter's beloved cat for many years. He'd had a terrible life when they met. He'd been kept in a box and apparently tormented, so he'd developed a tendency to attack first. He was Persian, with long, gray hair and very sharp claws. The shelter (in Bahrain, where cats are not beloved) had intended to put him down until my daughter showed up one day and decided he was the cat for her.

It turned out that Taz was exactly the cat for her, though not for anyone else. After spending the first few months in a closet in her bedroom, he finally began venturing out, but she was the only one who could deal with him. Anyone else who invaded his territory got a snarl and a swipe, often even if you were just passing by. The maid who came once a week would knock on the door and immediately ask, "Madam, where is the cat?" She was terrified of Taz, and that was just the way he liked it.

When they were ready to move back to the States, Taz had begun to be less ferocious, but that's when his second trauma occurred. U.S. law required six weeks' quarantine, where he was once again put in a cage, removed from his human mommy, and left pretty much on his own. After a few weeks the people in charge called my daughter and told her the cat was pulling out his own hair, and they feared he would die. She was allowed to visit, and somehow he pulled through, eventually becoming the same old grumpy cat he'd been before.

Visitors in Taz's home were not wise to relax. He hid behind furniture, in corners, and especially on the stairway, swatting at your ankles as you passed or even at your head as you ascended the stairs. There was no such thing as petting him, and he was careless about grooming himself, so he was usually matted and lumpy and not very pet-able anyway. She would try to comb and trim him, but even she wasn't immune from attack when she did, and she always ended up bloody.

Then my daughter got sick. Her life fell apart as she lost her husband, her home, and her ability to care for herself. She had to move in with us, giving up her job, most of her possessions, and her friends in Virginia. The one constant that remained was Taz, who took up residence on her bed and became her watch-cat. He never again attacked my husband or me. Though he wasn't what you'd call friendly, he seemed to know that she needed us so he had to be tolerant. He was always there, even though her advancing MS made her likely to hit him whenever she tried to pet him. He stayed close, letting her know he'd always be true, no matter how out of control she got, and he was, right up to the day he went to sleep and didn't wake up.

When people speak of their fur babies, I often think of Taz. Life had given him a rough time, but one person cared enough to come to his rescue. As a result, he dedicated himself to her totally, despite the fact that he wasn't exactly a cuddly sort.
I don't know many people who are as completely loyal as that cat was, and I have lots of love for a critter I never petted, never held, and will never forget.
Taz had an endearing way of sitting up on his butt, looking quite human.