INTJ Holiday House Rules

HolidaysA few house rules for the holiday season. This house, at least. It’s an annual tradition around these parts.

If you’re an introvert, especially of the INTJ variety, you might want to give it some thought.

No drama under any circumstances. If you must have drama, save it for some other holiday or, better still, your birthday.

Animals are welcome.

Gifts are for kids. No, you’re not a kid. If you want to give him or her a gift, do it on a day when they’re not expecting to receive one. At first, you’ll be considered a curmudgeon, but it will pass.

Be with the people you love, not the people who are obligatory holiday visitors.

Family is how you define it.

If you don’t eat too much, you’re probably not having a good time. If you drink too much, you’ll soon have a rough time.

If you bring an attitude you get the back door. Scrooge is always watching.

Try to listen rather than talk. There are already enough talkers and they really roll it all out on holidays.

If you have a boss, avoid him or her on the holiday. The results of these holiday encounters are rarely beneficial to either party.

If you don’t have a boss, don’t be one on this holiday.

Remember the cook. Visit the kitchen, briefly. It’s the heart of the home.

No platitudes, please.

If you play a game, make sure that no one loses. There must always be a reward for last place.

Did I mention animals? They enjoy the holidays and bring us all cheer.

To all of you who have visited, have a wonderful, happy and safe holiday season.

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Pickpockets Love Their Writers

English: Dominique Pickpocket

The Internet is awash with flim-flam, scams and pickpockets targeting a new generation of writers. Unless you’re a seasoned scribe, tethered by the martial art of protecting your assets, it’s best to keep your purse or wallet under lock and key. The predators are out there and they’re just waiting to lighten your monetary load.

Here are a few of the most notorious pickpockets who specialize in writers:

The agency fee scam. This one has been around for quite a while and it’s simplicity itself – a literary agency that charges “reading fees.” The gimmick is straightforward enough. You send your masterpiece to the agent and he or she will read it for a fee and send it back to you, usually with some inane one-liner that proves to be meaningless. In fact, your work may have never been read at all. Wow. These bottom-feeder “agents” are the worst. No reputable agent would ever charge a reading fee, or any other up-front fee. That’s not how the game works. Established and trustworthy agents operate on a commission. That commision is based on book contracts and, in some cases, personal service contracts. No other fees are charged. None. Not even postage. If you come across an agent that charges a fee of any kind, especially a reading fee, run away immediately. Before you contact an agent for any reason, do a background check. This is when the Internet can be your friend. Writers rate agents and they often do it in public. Learn from the experiences of others and never, never pay a fee to any agent. Never. A good agent will want to establish a personal relationship with you, to help your career. That’s how good agents succeed. They do not make it on one-time fees.

Be your own publisher. Check this one out on Google and you’ll find an amazing number of hits. There’s usually a charge for some “how to” book or an online class attached to the offer. These gimmicks proclaim how easy it is to become a publisher and keep all your profits, as well as make some money on other writers. Well, in some ways it is easy – too easy, which is why there are so many flaky online publishers swimming around the Internet. However, there is nothing easy or simple about publishing, if you choose to do it with even a little integrity. Seasoned writers know this and they avoid flaky publishers like the plague. Don’t be picked clean with this scam. You don’t want to be a publisher. You want to be a writer who values your own publisher. Keep the relationship the way it was designed to operate in the first place.

How to become a great writer. Nope, this just doesn’t work for anyone. These scams usually involve classes, workshops, books, whatever – all of which are purchased with the promise of making you the best writer of the century. Just think about it for a moment. Who are these people? If they know so much about writing, why aren’t all the major publishing houses crawling all over them? What gives them some special knowledge, so special that you have to pay for it? Forget about it. If you want to take some writing or literature classes, stick to your local community college or university. Even then, these classes will never teach you how to become a great writer. They may improve your skills in certain areas, which can be helpful, but that’s all. Becoming a great writer is a matter of hard work, practice, reading, writing and learning the trade your own way. If you really need a guru, dig up a writer who has already made his or her bones in the business. Perhaps you’ll get lucky. Lots of established writers are willing to lend a hand to a new generation when they can.

Paid critiques. This one is becoming ubiquitous. You pay an individual to critique your work, someone who often refers to himself or herself as a “coach.” OK, the idea seems worthy. But, give it some thought. It’s like the writing guru I just discussed. Who are these people? Are they established, well published authors with some solid credentials? No? Well, then why pay someone whose lineage is questionable to critique your work? What’s their opinion worth? If you want this kind of critique, the best place to go is to your audience, to a select group of readers whose opinion you trust and whose feedback you value. Why go to some self-appointed “coach” for what amounts to nothing more than a paid opinion? Really? Pass on it, always.

Online anything. OK, that’s a bit broad, I admit. However, why would you pay anyone to mess with your work when that “anyone” is unknown, faceless, unproven, and disinterested in your growth as a writer? That’s like letting your beloved Fido run free on the highway. It just makes no sense. It does, however, lighten your cash load, if that’s your goal. Your writing career will not flourish on promises, only on accomplishments. You are in charge of that end of the business and it all comes down to commitment and hard work.

The bottom line is that your writing, and your career as a writer, needs the personal touch. Your personal masterpiece must not fall into the hands of predators in the hope that it will somehow become the world’s masterpiece. Your growth as a writer is a long-term proposition. It is not something that can be purchased, bargained, or remade instantly by any alleged guru. However, it can grow naturally and become more vibrant over time. The ways to make this happen are all personal, all free, and all your own to enjoy.

When it comes time to have your pocket picked, legitimate agents and publishers will do the job and do it right. That’s the way of the seasoned writer. You should settle for nothing less and pay for nothing more.

Here are a few articles that may be of some help:

Paid Reviews Rock Your Pocket

Online Publishing

E-Hyphens and E-Agents

Griffin, The Man Who Rocked My World

It wasn’t the first book I read but it was the one that ignited my passion to write, a passion that lasted a lifetime. The book was Black Like Me, written by John Howard Griffin.

The book was first published in 1961, by Houghton Mifflin, and I read it the same year. I was 15 and going into my first year of High School. This was an impressionable age and a time in America when everything was about to change. A new generation was beginning to look at who we were as a society, and they weren’t comfortable with what they discovered. Griffin’s personal journey in writing his book was a poignant and timely reminder that we all needed to reconsider what was important in our lives. I caught that fever immediately, thanks to the words of a man I would never meet.

At the time, Griffin was not considered an especially important writer. His work was known to some but he was not a household name in literary circles. Griffin was about to take the art of investigative journalism into the mainstream with his passion for fairness and equality. He would take the rest of us along for the ride and give us a legacy that proved to be unforgettable.

Griffin’s book was a nonfiction, intimate journey that captivated American readers. The fundamentals of the story first came to light as an article in Sepia magazine, who helped fund the writing project. When it appeared in print, Griffin’s experiences instantly drew readers from across the country. The story demanded a full treatment in book form, and what a powerful book it became!

“He who is less than just is less than man.” ―...

The story line dealt with race relations from the most personal aspect imaginable. For those who haven’t read Black Like Me, I won’t throw in any spoilers. I’ll just tell you that it presents the experiences of a white man who went through extraordinary measures to penetrate racism in America by pretending to be a black man. The narrative deals with his travels and personal encounters in the deep South. Through them, Griffin exposes the pain of a segregated, prejudiced America that was so prevalent at the time. He also tells us about a handful of wonderful, incredibly generous individuals he met along the way. The book reaches highs and lows worthy of the powerful point Griffin was trying to make.

It was not just the story line that moved me, powerful as it was. It was the sacrifices of the writer, his determination to get to the bottom of the story, that rocked my young world. All other books seemed tame after reading Griffin. Here was a writer who lived his work, who had a boundless commitment to the story he was chasing. Griffin put no limits on himself to learn what it was like to be black and live in the U.S. in the late 1950s. No one had ever put this kind of experience into written form in quite the same way. It opened my eyes to cruelty and indifference, but also to the willingness of some to extend their hands to the downtrodden and ignored. It showed me both the best and worst in our society. The mosaic it offered was compelling, penetrating and wholly personal. This was the kind of writer I wanted to be, someday.

Griffin made me love the importance of nonfiction when done the right way. Before Black Like Me, I wasn’t especially interested in nonfiction. Now, I understood just how a great writer could move me with something real and tangible. There was nothing dry in Griffin’s writing, nothing impersonal or academic. It was raw and real. It was all painfully true. It was groundbreaking.

There were other writers who strongly influenced me at that young age. Some specialized in fiction, some nonfiction. They all played their part in moving me further into reading and writing. But it was Griffin who started it all with Black Like Me. Even today, the relevance of his work remains strong. That’s surely the mark of a literary classic.

John Howard Griffin, the man I never met, will always be one of my heroes.

Writers’ ROI (Return On Investment)

Spurious Causality

A number of years ago a friend approached me with a compelling idea. Would I be willing to write a book (under a pen name) that his organization could use as a fundraiser? I suppose this idea had been used many times and in countless ways, but it was new to me. My friend knew that I was interested in the cause he represented so it was an easy sell. It also appealed to me because I could keep my writing sharp while lulling through those “between project” times. There was no downside to the idea.

Fast forward. I’ve done this same thing a few times in the intervening years and found it to be a terrific experience. I loved the projects because I believed in the causes. As a writing workout, it had everything I wanted in terms of interest and freedom. I got to choose the topics, present them my own way, and know they would be appreciated and used in a positive manner.

When this kind of writing was still new to me I did some fumbling around to find the right formula. It took a little time, but it all finally came together. Now, I’m a true believer. My hope is that other writers will take up this kind of project for their favorite causes.

Here’s what I learned about this type of writing. It’s a personal formula, so there’s lots of room for improvements and tweaks. Just some highlights.

Be ContentMake no pitch in the book. It’s only necessary to add a single, discreet line to let readers know that your book will funnel all profits to the chosen cause. I like to add this as a brief line in the Introduction and within the traditional back-cover teaser. This seems to work best. There’s no reason to beat the drums. If you do a “hard sell” in the book you risk a big turn-off with the reader. Not good.

It must be relevant. Obviously, you want the topic to be relevant to the cause. There must be a clear tie-in that the reader cannot overlook. If you’re trying to fund-raise for a hunger project there’s no point in writing a tome about aircraft design. This is the point at which you work closely with the cause folks to come up with just the right idea.

"Timeless" Clock 時計 Sign, Asahikawa ...

It should be timeless. These writing projects need to stand the test of time and go on for years to be really effective. Time-sensitive topics don’t work well when you’re doing a fundraiser. What does work well is a topic that remains relevant over a long period of time. You want the book to have a strong shelf life.

It should not be unnecessarily long. With this type of writing project, the usual rules of novel length do not apply. In fact, I’ve found that a rather short book with tight, easy to digest chapters works well for most readers. It’s not necessary to spend thousands of words on character development or story line meanderings. Simple is best. Also, the book must move along.

Chapters need not be sequential. It’s OK to write a book that a reader can pick up at a moment’s notice, turn to any chapter, and begin reading. This seems to work better than creating a work that demands linear reading, front to back. The formula I prefer is to create a book in which any chapter can be read as a standalone piece of work. Obviously, there must be an overall tie-in that holds everything together. Readers seem to like this technique.

Graphics are not always necessary. Although graphics can enhance any literary work, they are not critical to this type of writing. Graphics help, but a book written for the purpose we’re discussing can be quite simple and still be very effective. I point this out because the cost of printing and publication can directly relate to the graphics content of the book regardless of how it is to be published.

Book Signing

Go to the events. It really helps your cause if you can attend events and sign copies of the book as they are purchased. This is not only a great way to thank the cause supporters but also a means to generate interest from potential readers.

Keep your causes separate. It’s not wise, nor proper, to mix your messages when promoting a cause-related book. This must be a personal decision, though. Just as you use a pen name for these creations, it’s best to keep your other work apart. Focus on the cause and the book it represents. There should never be any selling involved when you promote this kind of book. That responsibility belongs to others involved in the cause.

Feel good about yourself. This is the reward point of your contribution. With each book sale, your cause can grow and become more powerful. That’s the “feel good” part of the process that should not be overlooked. As writers, we all want others to read our words. If we can put our books in front of new readers, and feel good about it at the same time, we’ve been well rewarded.

So, why not give it a try? It’s the kind of offer that any forward-looking cause can appreciate and you’ll feel very good about your labor. A guaranteed return on your investment.

When Great Writers Vanish

GeezerBeing a geezer writer has its advantages. Decades in the business makes for a slice of clarity, a broader understanding of why some writers make it while others fail, or just choose to disappear. It’s usually a strange and toxic mixture of life ingredients.

It often doesn’t have anything to do with talent.

Some of the best writers I’ve known simply walked away from the trade. These were gifted people whose work I admired and thought was outstanding. But they gave it all up. They just vanished from the scene.

It’s not easy to wrap your head around this problem. Still, there are some common themes, scant threads that seem to surface with these individuals. Even though they disappeared as writers, a few of them stayed in touch, a few gave explanations. There are lessons.

Feedback fail. Many of the writers I’ve known needed a good deal of feedback. When you write for a living, especially at the start of your career, that just doesn’t happen. You are working in a vacuum, for the most part. Sure, you may get some feedback from friends or a trusted draft-reader, but many writers are looking for much more. They want reader feedback, the kind of notice given by those unknown but appreciated readers. Beginning writers can’t get that feedback, and some of them wither under the wish. They walk away before they’ve given themselves a chance. If you can’t stand lonliness, writing is the wrong path for you.

Life interferes. This is a rough one. It’s something that all beginning writers need to face. It takes a long time, if ever, for your writing to pay off. Throughout that stretch, life moves on. How can a writer balance it all? It’s not easy for anyone but it’s particularly gruesome for someone not yet established. You need the tenacity and drive to make your writing work itself into your life, to weave its place around the necessities of living. Sometimes, life just takes over and there’s nothing you can do about it. During those times, writing takes a second seat. It’s hard but you’ve got to tough it out. Reach deep and pull out the draft, even if it’s just to add a word or two, just to read a few lines. When the flame flickers low, don’t let it blow out. Patience helps, always.

Rejection

Rejection. Too many talented writers die on the words of rejection letters. It’s an understandable reaction. You work your butt off for nothing but the love of the word. You spend years perfecting your trade. Then, some editor blows you off with a tight rejection. Others follow. Suddenly, you’re drained. Too many rejections, too little reward. Wrong feedback. We’ve all been there. But rejections are nothing more than opinions. Editors and publishing houses have a long tradition of making stupendous blunders about writing talent. Opinions are free and common, and often offered by individuals who have never spent the time or effort to perfect their own art. Ignore them and move on. Mourn if you must, but only for a moment. It’s easy to say and hard to do. I understand that. But what choice do you have, if you truly want to be a writer?

Luck. This sounds silly but it’s a factor that’s brought many good writers to their knees. It really applies to traditionally-published work. In the world of publishing, there are limits to production. Publishers set an early and tight schedule for themselves. In other words, there are always more writers than there are slots in the publishing schedule. So, luck sometimes wins out, especially if a number of talented writers are working the same small market. There’s not much you can do about this. It’s best to remember that luck smiles without a winked eye, when it smiles. Your turn will come. The trick is to just accept this randomness and work around it. The best answer to luck is to improve your writing skill.

Timing. Hot genres come and go. If you’re writing for the short term, you need to get into the hot genre and get there quickly. It’s a mad rush toward a narrow doorway, though. Expect a lot of bumping and bruising. Personally, I don’t like this approach. It’s too chaotic, too nuts and too stressful. Why not consider looking ahead, working toward a genre that has more legs? Let the others rush. Take your time and make your work all it can be.

It’s not for you. Great writers don’t always want to be writers. I suppose that sounds strange to those who write for a living. I’ve met a few individuals who fit this category. They were brilliant writers, really good. But that wasn’t their life-ride. They enjoyed writing but also wanted to taste other life pleasures. They tried it, did a good job, and walked away. I have a lot of respect for these people. It’s not something I could do, just walk away from an obvious talent. They could. They had a bigger vision in life. Good for them.

Pain

The pain is too great. I get it. There is nothing simple or easy in a writer’s life. The rewards can be outstanding, no doubt about it. However, the journey is anything but comfortable. In fact, I think you need to be a little nuts to make it your life’s work. Writing can be miserable but also exhilarating. It’s like any other creative process. The ups and downs are extreme. The potential for a reasonable reward is small. The work is downright tough. It’s enough to drive anyone to find another way through life. It’s just too much for some people and they walk away, regardless of their talent. Only the word addict remains.

Art grows. I’ve know a few writers who have moved on to another art form. These people are truly interesting. It seems they can conquer very different arts, each with aplomb. I have no idea how they pull this off. I’m in awe of these people, probably because I have only a single art. I love these artists, the ones who walk away from writing and straight into another art form they easily conquer. Wow! If that’s the reason you walk away from the word, you’ve made a great decision. You are more than a writer, you are an artist. You are my hero.

I suppose there are all kinds of other reasons why these word masters walked away from it all. Back in the early years, I wanted to walk away. I just couldn’t do it. Like many of my writer friends, I had a major word addiction.

I still do, even though I’m old enough to know better.

TV News Swamp Gas

Walter Cronkite     1916-2009

Do you remember this guy? His name was Walter Cronkite (1916-2009). In his heyday, Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” He was given that accolade by us, the American people. Cronkite was the anchor for the CBS Evening News for 19 years, and he was our most valued news source.

He was also the last honest broadcast news journalist.

Cronkite was a nightly guest in our homes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were tough, controversial and often ugly decades in our history. It was a time of war, racism, riots and a divided nation on nearly every important topic of the day. Yet, Cronkite managed to become the most trusted man in America for a simple but powerful reason. He did not have an agenda.

When Cronkite delivered his unique style of journalism, it was straightforward, penetrating, accurate and unbiased. He gave it to us without political nuance or personal preference. Yet, he often delivered it with emotion and power. He was the guy next door, the guy you knew and could depend upon.

Fast forward to today.

TV news, broadcast journalism, is a hotbed of obvious agenda and swamp gas. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, whatever. It really doesn’t matter which you choose. Today, the news is delivered with a skewed point of view, deliberately managed to appeal to specific audiences. In other words, it’s not journalism at all. It’s theater disguised as journalism. It’s entertainment and little more.

Right wing, left wing, some other wing. It’s easy enough to flip through the TV news channels and electronically infuse your light meal. If you have a favorite perspective, a personal view of the world, there’s a broadcast journalist who will fit your bill nicely. You will be entertained in accordance with your preferences. But will you be accurately informed? Will you ever get the news delivered straight down the middle? Probably not.

A title card still from the April 4, 1968 edit...

Cronkite didn’t care about agendas, parties or prevailing opinions. He cared about delivering the news accurately and with impact. That’s why he was so trusted. It’s why he appealed to Americans across all political parties and points of view. He’s been gone for many years now. With his departure from the news scene, we lost our last link to objective reporting. We somehow slipped out of honest journalism and into the entertainment mode as we changed channels.

America is polarized across many fronts. We all know that. We only have to look at DC to understand how much we’ve lost in terms of honesty and reliability. Sadly, we’ve also lost our link to real journalism, the kind of delivery that was reliable, unbiased and meaningful. We lost the truth behind the news.

Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to find a trusted broadcast journalist in the future. From today’s point of view, the scene is bleak. No one seems willing or capable of stepping into Cronkite’s shoes and bringing us back to the days when a broadcast journalist was someone who could be trusted, someone who we would be happy to invite into our homes every evening.

Sure, there are other Countries who make good attempts at true broadcast journalism. With the Internet we can get the news from anywhere, anytime. But we were once the leader and we gave it all up. We need true American broadcast journalism once again. Why can’t we go back to doing it right? There’s plenty of room for honest journalism and entertainment to live together peacefully.

It all comes down to who will step up, pay for it, and make it happen.

In the meantime, give a thought to Walter Cronkite from time to time. He was one of a kind. I miss him.

The Producer, A Lazy Writer’s Travel Guide

English: Old barn in Rural Ontario, Canada

Let’s set the scene.

I live in the boonies, the absolute rural environment. Out here, chickens run free everywhere, neighbors have four legs, and roads are mostly unpaved. We’re talking rural with a capital “R.” For a writer, nothing could be more relaxing or peaceful. However, it does tend to take you away from the mainstream.

I get requests to do media work, either in front or behind the camera. It’s one of the niceties of being a writer and I enjoy these encounters. However, I’m not fond of short trips, especially if they involve dealing with the TSA and their kin. These one or two-dayers are a complete drag, so I just don’t do them anymore.

Enter the TV producer and his or her crew. They want my help on a series, a production or some interviews. I balk about going outside my primal space. You can see the problem, right? But it’s not a problem for the producers. They are motivated and adept at making this all work out. They’re willing to brave the boonies to get the story. Bless them.

In the past few years, I’ve hosted producers from the UK, Australia, Canada, that kind of thing. Each has brought their crew to my front door, into my house, braving the wilds of this isolated outpost. Each has done it with grace, good humor, and outstanding organization. They are my most favored guests because they are respectful and fun.

camera crew

Each crew has given me a little piece of the outside world, a taste of their homeland, their culture and their world view. In other words, they’ve educated me. They have shared their big world with my small one. It’s a great way to travel if you’re lazy, like me. There’s nothing like having a new country knocking on your front door.

Sometimes the crew didn’t speak English as their first language. However, their English was excellent. They made me realize how insulated I am, how provincial. I can only speak English. They’ve mastered more. This is something I wish I had accomplished when I was young. Now, they’re faced with a rather boring, boonie-ridden geezer who can’t speak their first language. Is that a problem? Nope. They’ve been there before. They know the drill.

The crews are always polite. They come for a day or two, do their work, and leave everything as they found it. A member of one of the crews actually wanted to wash dishes after my wife provided a light snack. Think about that. She was from Canada and spoke French as her first languge. Obviously, she was raised right, eh? How often do your visitors offer up that kind of courtesy? I’m not talking about good friends or relatives. I’m talking about strangers at your door.

Sometimes the crew and I go out for lunch or a light meal. There’s not much around these parts so the dining choices aren’t great. In fact, they are downright simple and boring. None of the crews complain. Since they were all from different countries, they were caught up in their new environment, wondering about the oddities of rural living. They were in the moment. They were having fun. So was I.

These production crews are light on their feet and deep with a sense of wonderment and humor. They obviously enjoy their work, love meeting people, and lie in wait for the next laugh. I see these qualities with American crews also. But the crews from other countries take it to a new level. These are happy people and they bring their unabashed liveliness with them.Rural Living

They also bring joy to my life. They make a lazy writer’s existence interesting and fun. Through them I get to experience a different side of life, a freshness that can only come from an encounter with a different culture. Sure, the work is routine for the crews and for me, too. What makes it special is, as always, the people behind the work. They are a special cast of characters who put a little tingle in your life and open your world a bit more.

Being a writer is a wonderful life experience. It opens so many doors. Chief among them is the chance to work with creative people from other countries. They have always been a pleasure for me, a change in the scenery that I always appreciate and enjoy.

I consider them friends, even if we never meet again.