Thursday, June 13, 2013

The time has come

I've had this blog since 2009, and it's been fun.

I've had a lot of fun vomiting out my thoughts and fears and questions about writing and the publishing world. I've interviewed some awesome people and I made some really good friends and I learned a lot.

Most of all, I had really kind people leave comments and engage with me (YOU!). That was best part.

The time has come to migrate to a new blog on my newly-designed website, however. I've gone Wordpress.

So please come visit me there:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sometimes it takes a while

The other night my 11-year old cat, Max, caught his very first mouse!

He caught it in our garage and then brought it up to the living room where he could watch it/disembowel it/be praised for it in comfort. Alas, we removed it.

Here he is, post-mouse removal, but still very much in the glow of satisfaction:

What a handsome, splendid kitty! See? Sometimes it takes 11 years to realize your dreams! But did Max ever give up? No! It's in his blood to hunt mousies.

As it is in my blood (and hopefully your blood, too) to write until you reach your goals.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fortitude, Bird Style

There's been a sweet married birdie couple living in my backyard for a while. Mr. and Mrs. California Towhee, ground-hopping birds who have a nest in a tree on the side of my yard. They've been there a while, and they often come hopping right up to the sliding glass door to peek in and see what we're up to. (My cat does not like this and has bruised his forehead lunging into the glass like an idiot.)

A sweet little brown California towhee. He has a high chip-chip sound.

They've also raised a nest of little baby towhees, and although I suspected they had babies nearby -- the grabbing of an earwig and then flying off with it was a sure sign -- I didn't know where they were.

Last week, I heard a bout of mad cheeping, baby-style cheeping, and I got to the window just in time to see two large shapes falling from the tree, and a marauding scrub jay fluttering in the branches, and mama and papa towhee screaming and flapping at him. Twice they chased him off; twice he returned. Finally, from across the yard streamed a third towhee, and he aided his friends in chasing off the scrub jay. I ran out and did my best to chase off the jay too but I thought my presence stressed the towhees so I went back inside. (Also I did not want my head pecked.) The scrub jay, if you haven't guessed, had pushed the two babies out of the nest in an attempt to have a snack. I'm not a birder, so this was all high drama for me.

The babies sought cover under leaves, and they had feathers although they couldn't fly. I let them all be, not knowing what would happen to the babies.

A pretty, but very evil, scrub jay.

Four days later, we arrived home from Memorial Day weekend up at my mom's house, and again I heard a mad bout of cheeping. In a different corner of my yard, probably the same evil scrub jay was hopping around and he flushed out a towhee baby. The parents were again beside themselves. But this time, the jay managed to push the baby into the creek that runs through our backyard (really a glorified storm drain). I ran out, screaming, and the jay flew off. I got a shovel to get the baby out, but it was too late. Mr. Sierra put him on the grass so the parents would see him.

The awful jay came back and to my horror at the baby. The mama and papa towhee had to stand nearby and watch, and their soft chipping as they watched broke my heart.

It's a good thing I'm not a towhee.

I was pretty upset, but Mr. Sierra reminded me that this is nature. The towhee parents saw the dead baby before the jay returned to feast, and there was nothing they could do. They displayed an admirable amount of love and sorrow and protective instinct, but in the end, they understand that as birds, you've got to move on. Wikipedia tells me that towhees can lay eggs and they'll hatch pretty quickly; babies leave the nest in 8 days or so. That seems like a pretty quick turnaround and I don't know how often they lay eggs, but maybe they'll move on and lay more. They appear to live in my tree year-round.

After watching this awful drama, I had to think what it must be like as a bird to watch your baby survive being kicked out of the nest only to be drowned and then eaten by a mean scrub jay. Do they move on? Can they? Certainly humans would have a horrid time doing so, but do birds?

I don't know, but my guess is that Mr. Sierra was right. They have to move on and lay more eggs if you want anything in the world.

Naturally, I'm going to compare this kind of fortitude to how it is to write a book and see it through to publishing, either traditional or self. This is not to belittle the poor birds or to suggest that losing a baby to a nasty scrub jay is at all the same, but certainly if you want to make it, fortitude is in order. You get rejected, you've just got to go on. You get a nasty review, you've just got to go on. You've just got to keep doing what's important. And pray that the scrub jay gets his.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Brand Ambassadors

Years ago, I worked with a guy who had worked for Apple, or so it said on his resume. His position was "brand evangelist." I remember thinking, an evangelist is a real title? WTF is that?

I don't know if he got paid for it, or if it was just an arrangement with Apple. But it was smart on Apple's part. What is was is someone who recommends Apple products--and not just recommends, but enthuses, and loves, and sings the praises of.

These days, we use the term "brand ambassador," which sounds much nicer than the religious overtone of evangelist. You might be wondering why I'm writing about this here. It's because anyone who is selling books needs to know about it.

We are told that blogging and blog interviews and blog tours and even book signings don't sell books long term. That is, they don't grow your readership. We are told it's really all about word of mouth. But how on earth do you get your book to be spread by word of mouth?

A story: at my local farmer's market there's this wonderful Afghani food vendor called Bolani. Bolani makes really delicious sauces and breads. Healthy, low fat, and drool-inducing. I've been a fan for a long time. A few weeks ago, I was at the farmer's market and stopped by the Bolani booth. The guy there offered me a sample, which of course I took (I'm not an idiot) and he asked me if I'd had it before. I launched into an enthusiastic account of how I've been buying their stuff since last summer and how much I love them, blah blah blah. I mean, I'm a brand ambassador for them. I tell everyone how good they are.

What does the guy do?

He turns, in the middle of me talking, to someone else, and starts speaking to them. He shut me off.

I closed my mouth with a snap. Wow, I thought. What a way to treat a customer standing right in front of you, telling you how much they love you. It was like telling me to go $#@%& myself.

Because now I had a bad feeling. I was made to feel like an idiot and that he didn't care at all that I spent money on his products. There was no way I'd be a) telling other people about them now, or b) buying their stuff when I had the choice.  Notice how I'm blogging about it, too. Now everyone gets to know how they treat their customers.

I was no longer a brand ambassador for them. Which was too bad, because their sauce is tasty.

This has happened before at book or CD signings when I've met authors or musicians. The experience has been so disappointing that I haven't bought further books or music from them. Pet Shop Boys are famous for being utter dickheads (Chris Lowe, at least), but it's different when he's a dick to you. I went off them after meeting them. Two authors at a signing couldn't care less that I was there--and I can't say I ever read another word of theirs. It's why I no longer go to book signings--invariably, the author will turn away just as I get there or scribble in my book and shove it aside like it's on an assembly line. I don't want that. I've read their work and I want to see the person who's behind it all. I don't want to be treated like cattle.

I think authors are really missing the boat on readers as brand ambassadors. If you have published a book and a reader contacts you and enthuses and gushes and says "I adore you!" then you know you have a future reader in them. Don't ignore them. Don't turn them off. Make it a priority to answer them. (I am not speaking of anyone I know here.) Don't take my word for it. Social media expert Scott Stratten has harped about this for a long time.

So, what are you going to do about it if you have a book and  enthusiastic readers? There are endless possibilities. Next week I'll do a post giving some ideas.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to remember stuff

Some place, some time ago (we're doing good so far, aren't we?), I heard some person (I know, already) say that they write 5 things down each day. That's it. No long paragraphs that require thought and concentration (if you have kids you know you're bubbling your lips at 9 pm). No flowery paper and wood-paneled pens that you nicked from your boss's office. No rules. Just something.

I loved the idea, and I started doing it. Mainly because I feel like I'm missing the minutia of life. When I do my epic (only to me) end of year posts here on the blog, it's fun.  But last year? I had a really hard time remembering anything. This is partly because I have a child under two, but that doesn't make the loss of my mind any less horrifying.

So, I opened up a Word doc ad typed the date. And then:


And I wrote 5 things, however silly, that happened that day. Because I didn't want to think about it too hard, I saved the doc and then opened it again and added to it the next day, with the new date and list above the first one. That's it. Maybe I'll save it by month, but likely by year. 

Here's what I wrote that first day:

March 8, 2013

1. Older son (6.5 yrs) had a screaming meltdown on the playground before school because he didn't have a sweater to wear (in addition to his coat). I realized later it was about the lack of options that upset him. He ended up having a good day once I left. 

2. I’m reading the Maeve Binchy book today, her last book before she died, and it’s so good. It’s not even written in a very modern style but it’s like falling into a comfy chair.

3. In Target, toddler (Rainbow Puppy, 23 months) heard a baby crying and was very concerned. He told me there was a baby crying and his mama should pick him up (“Pick up. Up.”) I asked him if I should go pick the baby up. He decided that would not be preferable. 

4. I had a dehydration headache and was amazed to see that water really does take headaches away (in such cases). 

5. I vowed (re-vowed, actually) never again to shop at JC Penney for refusing to stock 529 Levi’s jeans in size 12, curvy fit for large asses.

Remember, there's no rules here. I miss some days, so what. How do you journal? Do you journal at all?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My desk

Look at that pile of fur. Even though he is taking up my mouse space, I love it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Truth in Words Essay Contest

A good friend of mine is a lifestyle publicist and she handles PR for a lot of nonfiction books, including the really cool book, Nothing But the Truth. It's a collection of essays written by women and makes for a great gift/bathroom book/book to read while waiting for something, because the essays are short but pithy.

My friend asked me to pass on the following information about an essay contest. It's a pretty good deal because the essays are 1200 words or less.

Here's the info:

The winner of this year’s Truth in Words Essay Contest will rub elbows with big names in the publishing world, including ICM Talent, Random House and O Magazine. Notes & Words, along with its new partner, Nothing But the Truth, is serious about finding America’s next great essayist.

This year’s topic will be “transitions.” Organizers will be looking for 1200 words or less on stories ranging from starting a family, recoveries, graduations, aging, career changes/promotions, marriage and divorce.

Big Incentives: The Grand Prize Winner of the essay contest will receive a once in a lifetime opportunity:  one-on-one consultations with representatives from ICM Talent, Random House and O Magazine. In addition, up to 30 semi-finalists in the competition will be published in the next Nothing But the Truth anthology available in bookstores and online December 2013.

The essays are due on March 18th, the same day tickets go on sale for Notes & Words 2013, an annual benefit that puts authors and musicians on stage together at the historic Fox Theater in Oakland. This unforgettable evening of live entertainment benefits Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, Northern California’s only independent not-for-profit regional medical center for children. Details of the event can be found at

Nothing But The Truth is a series of anthologies chronicling women’s stories and voices co-edited by Christine Bronstein. The first in the series, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection, included well known writers such as Jane Ganahi, Joyce Maynard, Deborah Santana, and many more. You can learn more about Nothing But The Truth at

All essay submissions will be accepted at  See or for official contest rules.

Note from Sierra: The A Band of Wives website doesn't actually allow you to view the official contest rules without first registering, but Notes and Words has it. You should check that, but here are the salient rules:

Contest entries must be emailed to
 as a Microsoft Word attachment. Please attach a 100-word biography.

This year’s topic will be “transitions.” Organizers will be looking for 1200 words or less on stories ranging from starting a family, recoveries, graduations, aging, career changes/promotions, marriage and divorce.