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Introvert Problems: Public Speaking

If you wear white, cover it with a jacket or a sweater.  Think about the armpits, man! (image via wikimedia)

The fear of public speaking is kind of irrational.  After all, nothing really horrible happens because of a bad speech.  The audience won’t rush the microphone and murder the presenter if the speech is bad.  Nobody throws rotten vegetables anymore.  The public speaker usually won’t even get booed (unless politics is involved).

Half the time, people in the audience aren’t paying attention.  They’re thinking about their own problems.  Even if the speech is bad, it will probably be forgotten within a few minutes, just another bad speech in a succession of bad speeches.

Still, we introverts are proud.  We might not enjoy too much social interaction, but we don’t want to suck at it either.  I’ve never been comfortable giving speeches or presentations, but I’ve had to do it.  Even though I’ve given a bunch of good presentations in my career,  I’ve also frozen a couple times too.  The times that I froze were my fault because I have a few simple steps that guarantee that my speech won’t suck and I didn’t follow my own steps.

If you’re not an introvert, these simple steps will probably help you too.  I try to be inclusive in my blog posts.  It’s just that introverts seem to get more nervous before speaking in front of groups.  In the video below, I list my simple public speaking steps that work, even for an introvert like me.

What do you think?  What strategies do you use when you have to give a speech?

And for more about introvert problems, read Introvert Problems: Faking Enthusiasm.

Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Tough Crowd

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Being the new guy in an established writer’s group isn’t easy.  Writers who are comfortable with each other can talk about their works of progress but are less likely to be so forthcoming with the new guy.  Nobody in the writer’s group knows if the new guy is a true aspiring writer or just another wannabe who’ll drop out after learning how frustrating the writing process can be.  Plus, a lot of writers are introverts, and putting introverts together in a social situation can lead to lots of silence.

I was the new guy.  I had walked into an established writer’s group on a weeknight in the back of a library (You can get more details here).   When I saw the circle of about twenty writers sitting in folding chairs and no table, I noticed that I was the only writer who had brought copies of his/her work in progress (we called them manuscripts back then).   At first, nobody paid attention to me, but then somebody said “Look!  An enthusiastic new writer!” and then everybody turned in my direction.  I was the only person standing up, and I had a bunch of manuscripts.

I didn’t know what to do or say, so I introduced myself.

“My name is Jimmy, and I…”

“This isn’t Alcoholics Anonymous,” some grizzled old guy with a thick grey beard said.  He looked like he’d be familiar with AA, but I kept that to myself.  Half the group laughed at his comment.  I had a feeling they’d laugh even if he hadn’t earned it.

“Umm… I thought it would be helpful if I brought copies,” I said.

“Are they free?” somebody else said.  More laughter.

“I had to pay for them,” I said.  “But I’m not charging you.”

“We wouldn’t pay anyway.”  That was a middle aged woman calling out, and even she got a laugh.

That last line ticked me off because everybody should have known that I’d been joking.  Of course, I wasn’t going to charge anybody.  It was ridiculous that anybody would take that statement seriously.  These were writers, I thought.  How could writers take my banter so literally?

“You’ll have to wait your turn,” some other guy with glasses said.

I nodded and sat down, fuming.  I had walked in knowing that I’d wait for my turn.  The new guy doesn’t just walk in to an established writer’s group and read his stuff right away.  Did it really look like I was that eager?  Or were they just being old jerks?  As I looked around, still ticked, my initial observation had been correct.  Nobody else had made copies of their manuscripts, at least not as far as I could tell.

“Alright,” the guy with glasses said.  “Who didn’t get a chance to read last week?”

About ten hands went up.  I calculated.  Between five minutes of reading (at least) and five minutes of critiquing (at least), that was almost two hours gone right there, and that was the whole meeting.  I inwardly sighed.

Some other old guy started reading dramatically from his manuscript, and I can’t even tell you what it was about.  My mind wandered.  It wouldn’t be so bad sitting through so many readings on my first night, I thought.  It would give me a chance to meet people before they read my stuff.  I had sensed a little hostility from the group, so I’d have a chance to mend that.  Most people liked me alright after they got to know me.

After a couple minutes, I slowly shifted my stack of copies underneath my chair.  I settled in and relaxed.  Whatever the guy was reading, it seemed to be interesting to everybody.  People nodded and grunted a bit at his dramatic pauses.  If there was any fidgeting, I didn’t see it, and I’m the type to notice fidgeting.  I missed having a copy, though.  It was a lot easier to follow a passage if I could see the words in front of me.  Plus, I can go back and reread something (or read ahead) if I wanted to.  Instead, I was at the mercy of the reader’s pace.

The guy took his five minutes, and then six and seven.  Yeah, I thought, I’m not reading anything tonight.  That was okay.  There’d be no pressure.  Since I hadn’t made the best first impression, I could use that extra week for them to get to know me.  The chairs were pretty hard, though, and I knew my butt was going to hurt.  Crap, even back then, I hated sitting for long periods of time.  This was going to suck even worse than I thought.

The guy finished, and nobody applauded or anything.  It was silent.  That was good.  If we applauded his reading, then we’d have to applaud even for the writers who sucked.  And every writer’s group has somebody whose excerpt sucks.  That’s no insult.  Even great writers can put together a draft that sucks.

“Okay,” the guy with glasses said.  “Nice job.  Who wants to start off?”

I looked around to see who’d raise a hand, but the guy with glasses kept talking.

“Jimmy,” he said.  “What do you think?”

“What?” I said, startled.  I felt my face turn red instantly.  I hadn’t been expecting the attention.

“We like everybody to be involved in the discussion,” he said.  “What do you think?”

Usually, when I read something, I form an instant opinion, just like everybody else, but not this time.  This time, I had no opinion.  After all, I hadn’t listened to a single word the writer had read.

To be continued!

*****

In the meantime you can start another Writer’s Group Horror Story at the beginning with Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy.

I Accidentally Became A Conspiracy Theorist

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I didn’t mean to become a conspiracy theorist.  I’ve been a normal guy all my life.  I went to college, found a decent profession, got married, and started a family.  That’s supposedly what normal people do.

Then one day while driving with my daughter, I was talking about something in the news (I won’t say what) and tying it back to something that that had happened months earlier that nobody else connected, and my daughter laughed.

“It’s not funny,” I said.  “This is serious stuff.”

“But you look crazy,” my daughter said.  “You have that look in your eye, the crazy conspiracy theorist look.”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” I said.  “There’s just some weird stuff going on.”

“That weird stuff is the conspiracy,” she said.

I drove silently for a while, listening to the radio.  Some current pop schlock song was on with a simple hypnotizing beat and vulgar lyrics, and I knew it was no accident that this was marketed to kids.  It was on purpose.  Some very rich people who run the music industry want kids to listen to music about sex, violence, and habits that would make them unproductive to society.

Ugh, I thought.  My daughter was right.  And my wife would kill me if she found out I was a conspiracy theorist.

“Does your mom know?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Good,” I said.  “Don’t tell her.”

I haven’t been like this for long.  I didn’t always think like this, but I know exactly when it started, and I explain it below:

Famous Journalist Writes Book, Gets Accused of Plagiarism

I didn’t create this cartoon, and I probably haven’t cited it correctly. (image via wikimedia

Jills Abramson, author of the recently published Merchant of Truth, might not be considered a famous journalist.  I had heard of her (because I read a lot from various news outlets), but I don’t know what she looks like.

I think facial recognition is a part of fame.  You’re not really famous if people don’t know what you look like.  That’s why I wouldn’t mind being a famous writer because I could still go anywhere and no strangers would want to talk to me (or try to fight me).

Anyway, Jill Abramson’s book Merchant of Truth was about how has journalism changed over the decades because of the internet and social media.  Because of the internet (this is me talking, not Jill Abramson), it’s easier to do research and plagiarize.  The down side is that it’s also easier to catch the plagiarism.

I’m not going to examine the questionable passages in Merchant of Truth because others have already done that (here and  here ).  People seem to disagree about what reaches the standards of plagiarism.  Some say it’s the exact usage of the same words.  Some say it’s a paraphrase of the same information without giving credit.  And there’s even disagreement about what makes common knowledge so that an author doesn’t even need to give credit.

I’m always surprised when famous authors get caught plagiarizing.  Publishing companies have a bunch of editors who (I think) have access to the internet.  It would be easier to check a book before publication than it is to apologize later and fix mistakes later.  Or maybe I’m wrong.  There’s a lot about publishing that I don’t know.

Supposedly, publishing companies trust the author.  Ha ha!  If publishing companies haven’t learned from authors who have lied and plagiarized in the past, then that’s on the publishing company.  I’ve heard the phrase “Trust, but verify.”  I don’t care if there’s trust or not.  If there’s a ton of money involved, then I’d verify.

Despite her initial denial, Abramson now agrees that she got sloppy with citations in her book.  That’s the problem with journalists today.  If they’re not rushing out inaccurate (or false) stories, they’re still sloppy too often.  Competing with so many other news sources makes journalists sloppy.  Trying to be funny or snarky on social media makes journalists even more careless.

A couple decades ago, Abramson’s plagiarism (or whatever it is) would have been more difficult to catch.  And when it was noticed, there would have been no way to tell everybody.  News was controlled by a few newspapers and television stations, and if they didn’t want you to know a story, they squashed it and called the alternative news sources crazy.

Abramson has been writing/editing for a long time (I’m not making fun of her age) and was a journalist before social media and so many competing news sources existed; she should have known that any mistake she made would be met with glee from bloggers and other online sources who are competing with her.  When you’re a journalist writing a book about journalism, you need to do your citations correctly.

This book Merchants of Truth leads me to trust journalists even less than I did before.  Readers might not trust me either, but I don’t self-righteously proclaim how important I am.  I’m just a blogger who reads a lot and posts links.  Like Abramson, I’m probably sloppy with my citations (if I make any).

Journalism has gotten so sloppy (It’s not all Jill Abramson’s fault) that I don’t even trust the history books anymore.  If journalists can’t get the story right (sometimes when the video of the whole thing is right there), how can historians get it right?  I don’t want to go full Illuminati, but the implications are huge.

As an aspiring indie author, I see a little spiteful humor in this (I’m sorry!).   Some traditional publishing companies look down on independent authors (and I can understand why).  Indie authors can be careless and make a bunch of inexcusable mistakes.  Just like Jill Abramson.

So the next time I make a bunch of grammar mistakes on my blog, or I publish an ebook with a word missing on the cover, I can say, “Eh, at least I’m not Jill Abramson.”

Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom Strategy

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If you’re a high school senior, you can’t just ask anybody to prom.  The wrong date can lead to an awkward prom night, and formal events like that are already difficult to navigate, even when you’re with the right person.  When I was a senior in the early 1980s, I had friends, an after school job, and a social life, but I was undateable.  I was skinny with acne, and I collected comic books.

Despite all that, I had a scheme to get a prom date.

I was with a group of my friends at a local restaurant on a Saturday night (you can get more details here), and listening to Keith, our group’s cool guy, discuss his prom date plans.  His parents were renting a limo for him, and he would take his date to a nice restaurant (nicer than the diner we were in).

We believed him because Keith was as close to cool as anybody in our social group could get.  He was in a band, he wore cool clothes, he would have the occasional girlfriend, and he handled himself smoothly.  He was also a nerd at heart.  He liked comic books, Star Wars movies, and had read The Lord of the Rings three times.

Keith was still talking when some guy named Robert at our table announced, “I think I’ll ask Elaine to prom.”  He stuffed his mouth full of hamburger when he said it.

There was a moment of silence, and then every guy (except Robert… and me) laughed.  It was loud enough that adults at other tables glanced at us.  When the waitress passed by, Keith said:

“Don’t worry, we’ll keep it down from now on.  And we’ll tip.”

The waitress smiled and refilled his soda.

Once the waitress moved on (I received a refill too), Keith turned to Robert.

“I don’t mean to crush your dreams, but you might be setting your sights too high,” he said.

“I’m a senior,” Robert said, continuing with his hamburger.  “I’m going out in a blaze of glory.”

“Not with Elaine, you won’t,” Keith said.  “She’s too stuck up for you.  Choose a sophomore.  I know who’ll go to prom with you.”

While Keith and Robert discussed a sophomore girl, my mind wandered.  I had my own issues.

There was a girl I was thinking about, a fairly attractive senior whom I drove home from school a few times a week.  We had a couple classes together, so we always had something to talk about.  She didn’t have a boyfriend (she’d broken up with a guy a few months earlier which was why she needed a ride home), but I knew she wasn’t interested in me that way.

Anyway, things between me and this girl were relaxed, and I wanted to keep things like that.  If I asked her to prom and she said no, things would get tense.  If we went to prom and had a crappy time, things would be tense.  I liked having this girl as a friend.

“I’m taking Karla to prom,” Keith declared.  I started paying attention again.

Every guy had fond thoughts of Karla.  I’d been infatuated with her since early tenth grade.  At least, that’s what everybody thought.  I got caught staring at her cleavage in a 10th grade science class, and some other boy who was also staring at her cleavage accused me of staring.  I didn’t argue.  I wasn’t the only one guilty, but I was still guilty.  Somebody had to be the scapegoat.

Karla wasn’t even offended.  She was always polite to me after that, but I could never really talk to her.  There was no way I could ask her to prom, even if she were available.  It would have been an awkward prom.  I wanted to ask a girl who was available, okay looking, and somebody I could talk to.  And there weren’t that many girls like that.

“Karla is a good choice for you,” I said, nodding.

“You approve,” Keith said.

“Of course,” I replied.

“You weren’t going to ask her,” he said.

“No,” I said.  “I have a tough time maintaining eye contact with her.  How could we go to prom together?”

I didn’t mean it in a bad way, but it still got a laugh.

“What about you, Jimmy?” Keith said.  “Who are you asking then?”

Looking back (I didn’t realize this at the time), Keith was showing me some respect.  He didn’t ask if I was going to prom.  He didn’t ask if I was going by myself or with friends or with a date.  He was assuming (or pretending to assume) that I’d have a date.  And he didn’t ask in a mocking tone.  He was asking out of curiosity (or putting on a good act).

“I really don’t want to say.”

“We’re not going to tell,” Keith said.  He probably meant it, but there were at least six other guys I was worried about at the table.

“I’d still feel stupid if I told you and then got turned down.”

“So?” Keith said.  “Everybody here has been turned down sometime.”

“I don’t want to jinx myself.”

Keith grinned.  “There’s no jinx.  Look, if you’re asking the right girl, it won’t matter if you tell us.  If you’re asking the wrong girl, we’ll let you know and keep you from wasting your time.”

That actually made sense to me.  Keith knew everybody at our school.  He’d have a pretty good idea of which girls would go to prom with me and who’d run for the hills.  And that’s when I made my mistake.

The mistake was telling.  You never reveal who you will ask to prom (or on any date) before you do it.  Never!  And in the next episode, I’ll explain why.

To be continued!   Or you can start at the beginning of another installment of Awkward Moments in Dating .

I’ve Done (almost) Everything Wrong On Social Media

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When I started blogging a few years ago, I did almost everything wrong.  I didn’t use any pictures in my posts.  I referred to myself in the third person and first person plural.  Some of my posts were over 2,000 words long.  I wrote a bunch of jokes that weren’t funny.  I’m sure anybody who noticed my blog back then thought it wouldn’t last.

Now the blog is doing okay, but I’m not doing much on other platforms like I’m supposed to for building an audience.  I do a little bit on Twitter, but that seems to be for famous people or people who can spend all day on it, and I’m neither.  Plus, most tweets are either meaningless (like mine) or horrible.

I was on Facebook for about a week and thought it was useless because I can just call or email my friends;  I don’t have that many of them.  I’m not even trying Instagram or some other platforms I’ve never heard of.

I’m dabbling with videos now, just because I can.  I used to hate to hate being on video, but that attitude just doesn’t work nowadays, so I’m forcing myself.  As I put more videos on YouTube (and getting criticized for it too), I’m getting more comfortable and developing a thicker skin.  Aspiring writers need that thick skin.

Just like my blog years ago, my YouTube channel is starting off kind of slow.  In the video below, I talk about all the stuff  I’m doing wrong (according to the experts) on YouTube.  When I’m wrong, I’m usually willing to admit it.

 

What social media platforms do you use?  Which one (besides blogs) are you most comfortable with?  What are you doing wrong on social media?

Author Self-Bans Book Because Of Outrage Mob

She looks ticked off. I’d be ticked off too if an outrage mob attacked my book.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have been interested in this book without the outrage mob.  First of all, I don’t like YA fiction because there are always too many kids in the books.  I don’t usually like reading books from the kid’s point-of-view.  It’s okay occasionally, but I’m in my early 50s, and it would probably be kind of weird if I liked YA fiction too much.

Plus, this book is fantasy.  Man, I have read way too much fantasy in my life.  I’m so bored by fantasy that when I watch Game of Thrones, I enjoy the political intrigue but I yawn when I see dragons and ice zombies.

As much as I don’t like YA fantasy, I truly despise outrage mobs.  They react too quickly and too forcefully to stuff and don’t give people time to process information.  Even if the outrage mob is right about a specific point (they usually aren’t), they act so obnoxious that they ruin any point they had.

Just so you know, I’m referring to an unpublished book called Blood Heir by Amelie Wen-Zhao.   The author has decided not to publish her book after an outrage mob attacked her for a variety of reasons.  I’m not going into those reasons, but you can find them here and here .  These two articles (especially the second one) explain the situation better than I could.  You can also go to Twitter and look up Blood Heir, but I don’t recommend that.  Twitter, ugh.

When I was in my 20s (like the author is now), I probably would have been influenced by outrage mobs too.  Back then, I cared a lot more about what people thought of me.  Now I’m grouchy and would be more likely to tell them to buzz off.  I mean, I’d consider what the outrage was about first, but then I’d tell them to buzz off out of spite, even if the mob had a point.

Outrage mobs attack YA authors for a reason.  YA is different from regular fiction because publishers go out of their way to make sure nothing is racially offensive.  When I was reading YA books a few years ago (because my daughter was reading them, but she’s out of that phase now), I noticed some sexual references that I thought shouldn’t be in books marketed to middle school kids, but I didn’t make a big deal about it.  YA book publishers might not care about sexual references, but they are very sensitive about multiculturalism and diversity.  I guess YA authors are so sensitive, they self-ban their own books for their unintended slights.

I think Stephen King self-banned a short story (it wasn’t YA fiction) that he wrote in the 1970s because he thinks it helped inspire school shootings.  If he feels guilty about that, I can understand why he wants to self-ban the story.  I don’t think he should feel guilty about that, but I understand it.  He can logically (kind of) see the harm that his story might have caused.  If I thought my story was going to cause that kind of violence, I’d probably self-ban it.  But I don’t think it did.  I think  Stephen King has written stuff that’s way worse than the school shooting story.  But that’s what you do when you write horror genre stuff.

A few months ago, The American Library Association celebrated Banned Books Week to fight against the banning of books.  Maybe I’m wrong, but most Americans are against banning books, even if the books have ideas we don’t like.  What would the ALA do with a book that the author has self-banned?  Will the ALA take the sides of authors who are attacked by outrage mobs?  I’m sure a bunch of libraries were going to purchase Blood Heir; will they stand aside and allow outrage mobs to influence what gets published?  Is a self-ban inspired by an outrage mob the same thing as an actual ban?  Will this start a trend of authors banning their own books?

Maybe the self-ban is good.  Maybe the world doesn’t need another YA fantasy series.  Book stores are filled with YA fantasy novels.  Then again, there are too many outrage mobs too.  If I had to choose sides, I’d pick the YA fantasy novel over the outrage mob.  The YA fantasy novel would have to be truly horrible to be worse than an outrage mob.  Outrage mobs are inherently horrible.  Ugh.  Outrage mobs.

*****

What do you think?  Is an outrage mob inherently worse than a (possibly) racially insensitive moment in a book?  Would you self-ban something you wrote if it offended a reader?  Have you ever seen a productive exchange of ideas on Twitter?

Books I Won’t Read (and why): A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I know several people who hate fantasy but still want to read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  Part of me finds that odd.

When I was growing up, fantasy was the most hated genre around.  A few of us (we were called weirdos) liked Lord of the Rings, but if we talked about it too much, we’d get beat up.  Just so you know, I never got beaten up for it, but I know others who did.

Anyway, the Game of Thrones books have been popular for a long time.  The television series probably inspires some of that popularity because the last few seasons have gotten so bad that now everybody wants to know what’s really going to happen in the books.  We need the books to fix what’s happened on the TV series.

I want to read the books too, but I won’t.  And it’s not because it’s fantasy.

What do you think?  Is my reason for NOT reading A Game of Thrones valid?

Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: The Divisive 1960s

(image via wikimedia)

People today complain about how divisive politics has made the United States, and I agree that a lot of that isn’t good.  Some people say that our political discourse  is more hateful and vitriolic than ever.  I wouldn’t go that far.  I would guess the discourse before the U.S. Civil War was worse, but I wasn’t around back then.  Maybe war, starvation, extreme violence, and slavery weren’t as bad as today’s internet outrage, but I’m pretty sure the divisiveness was waaaaay worse back then.

I was alive, however, during the late 1960s.  I wasn’t aware of everything when I was a kid, but I remember stuff, and I’ve read about the stuff that I don’t remember.  And let me tell you, the 1960s were waaaay worse than today.

First of all, there were political assassinations in the 1960s.  JFK got assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. got assassinated, Malcolm X got assassinated, Bobby Kennedy got assassinated.  There were probably more that I don’t even know about.

There haven’t been any of those high profile assassinations recently in the United States.  I hope they don’t happen because assassinations suck.  Maybe security is better at assassination prevention than in the 1960s.  If U.S. politicians start getting assassinated, though, I’ll worry.  If people then start excusing the assassinations, I’ll worry even more.  Assassinations are bad, even (especially) when my government supports them.

Anyway, back to the 1960s.  The 1960s had the Vietnam War, which was way more divisive than anything going on today.  Yeah, the U.S. is still involved in foreign entanglements, but not as many troops are involved today, so it’s easy to forget.  I’m not saying that’s good; I’m just pointing out that it makes the military actions less divisive.

Because so few troops are involved in our military actions, you don’t see many protests over them.  During the 1960s, the anti-Vietnam college campus anti-war protests were so bad that students got shot by the National Guard, and that made things even worse, of course.

The 1960s was the peak of the Cold War (depending on how you look at it).  We were constantly warned that the U.S. and Soviet Union might nuke each other out of existence.  We always heard about the nuke drills that schools did, but my school never bothered.  My family lived so close to a military base that crouching wouldn’t do any good.  We figured we’d just stand tall and watch the show before being blown up.  People argued a lot about whether we needed so many nukes, and those arguments could be just as divisive as anything today.

Race riots in major cities made the country seem unstable.  There are still racial divisions today, but it’s not quite the same.  I mean, pundits say they’re worse today, but I see people of all races and ethnicities working and mingling together all the time with no visible problems.  Yes, there are issues, but people work together on a day-to-day basis.  Back in the 1960s, people were literally divided by race, even after segregation ended.

Then you had a bunch of weed-smoking hippies growing out their hair like women and staying at home with their parents and… wait, that doesn’t sound so bad.

1960s counter-culture gives people fond memories that overshadow the divisiveness of the time.  When I was a teenager, the 1960s were glorified and the 70s were mocked.  The 1960s had cool music like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the 1970s gave us disco.  Yeah, there was cool music in the 1970s, but there was also disco.  The 1960s had JFK, a cool president (who got shot), and the 1970s had Nixon (who had to resign) and Carter (a bumbler who got into a fight with a killer rabbit).

The 1960s ended with a moon landing, and that was unifying, as long as you believe it wasn’t faked.  If you think the moon landing was a hoax, then that can cause an argument too.    Anyway, the cool pop culture stuff in the 1960s make some people forget all the bad divisive stuff that actually happened.

I’m not a big fan of divisiveness.  To me, it’s the politicians (and a few other very powerful people) who are causing the bitter disagreements in the U.S.  Most of us have our beliefs but go about our daily lives trying to raise our families and be productive, and we get along with those who disagree politically.  Our friendships and communities are more important than matching each other’s political checklists.

Some of the political activists would call me the problem because they think I am doing nothing.  I think those political activists are the problem because they usually make the problems worse.

I have mixed thoughts about the 1960s.  I was born in that decade, and that’s a plus.  I don’t want my birth decade to be thought of as a divisive time.  I’m a unifying kind of guy.  Despite all the stuff going on today, I’m fairly optimistic.  I remember the Cold War, the Vietnam War, race riots, and political assassinations.  Stuff could get really bad in the near future, and there are some warning signs, but we’re not there yet.  I should know.  I was born in the divisive 1960s.

Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Enthusiastic New Guy

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Back in the days when there was no internet, aspiring authors had to form writer’s groups in order to get feedback.  These groups often met in public and consisted of writers with varying degrees of talent, motivation, and personality.

Even today with the internet, writers can be kind of flaky.  When you put 20 (or more) of them together in public, you never know what’s going to happen.  This is one of my many writer’s group horror stories.

*****

In 1990, I was less than a year out of college and had moved to a fairly large city.  My previous writer’s group had just disbanded because it was small and full of women who’d had other things to do (like birth and child rearing).  It had been a good group with no issues (except for births and child rearing).  Even though I’d been the only guy, I’d also been the youngest and most serious writer of the group, so I’d received lots of positive attention.  I was sorry to see this group break up.

This first group had been so positive that I was desperate for a new one, and I’d heard about a large group that met at a public library on the other side of the city on a weeknight.  The time and location were inconvenient for me, but I was working on a full-fledged novel and needed feedback.

This was my fake psychic detective novel that I mention occasionally on my blog.  I had a cool serial killer name (the Sandbagger).  I had a cool protagonist name (Dominick Cane).  He was married to a cool gun enthusiast/nut Samantha (the name Samantha Cane was used in a movie about five years later, and the character also was really good with guns.  I thought that was kind of a strange coincidence).

The women in my first group had said that they thought I was married because the dialogue between Dominick and Samantha sounded so natural.  They thought I was married?  Ha!  I should have told them my awkward moments in dating stories.

Anyway, I was concerned about this new group.  It was going to be large, at least 20 people, from what I’d heard.  I took a short excerpt from my novel (we didn’t call them ‘works in progress” in the early 1990s), and I made over 20 packets at a copy store.  It cost five cents a page back then (I might be making up that number).  I had a decent job and no girlfriend, so I didn’t mind spending the money.

The night of the meeting, I hurriedly ate dinner, and got ready for the next work day because I knew I was going to get home past my regular weeknight bedtime (I was serious about my decent job).  I made my next day’s breakfast and lunch, and then had my professional clothes laid out for the next morning.

The drive to the meeting was over 30 minutes, and this was before GPS, and I was in a part of town I was unfamiliar with so I had to circle around a neighborhood a few times before finding the right place to park.  The parking lot was small, so I had to parallel park on a side street.  The library was one story with a flat roof.  That’s all I remember.

I walked into the library with my stack of stapled packets.  I tried to carry them with one hand, but individual packets kept sliding around, so I had to shift to two hands, and then I looked clumsy and wimpy carrying them.  Next time would be easier, I thought, because I’d know how many to make.

When I entered the library, the librarian at the front desk gave me a condescending smile and pointed to a corner in the back.  I guess all the packets made it obvious where I was going.

Behind the reference section, there was a huge circle of chairs filled with guys in their fifties (or older) and a few women who seemed younger.  I remember lots of smoking, but I think that’s a fake memory because I’m pretty sure libraries didn’t allow smoking back then.  The floor area of the circle was empty except for ash trays and Styrofoam cups.  I know for sure there were Styrofoam cups.  I’m not making that part up.

Nobody else had manuscripts. That was weird, I thought.  There was lots of talking and camaraderie but no reading.  I was puzzled.  I wondered if I’d stumbled into a 12-step meeting.  Those were supposed to more private, I thought.  Then again, people in 12-steps meetings usually told great stories.  A 12-step meeting would probably make a great writer’s group, if not for the anonymity issue.

I slowly approached the circle and tried talking to a seemingly lonely guy with a vacant stare.

“Is this the writer’s group?” I asked quietly.

The guy nodded but didn’t make eye contact.

The circle was crowded with alleged writers (I saw no proof of writing yet), but I saw a gap with no chair.  I moved forward to place the stack of WIPs (not a term back then) on the floor so I could go retrieve a chair.  Just as I set the copies down, some middle aged guy said really loudly:

“Look!  An enthusiastic new writer!”

And everybody laughed.  It felt like everybody.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was getting laughed at, and nobody had even read my excerpt yet.  This wasn’t a good start.

*****

To be continued!

In the meantime, here’s another bad writer’s group experience, Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy.