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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Failure of Epic Proportions

So, suffice to say I’ve been quiet the last two weeks. Really, since my birthday. But with winter break and NYE and going on vacation to Florida – then returning to 20 degree temps and getting sick – well, it was understandable that it would take me a little longer to get back into the rhythm of things.

And then I got a job. And at that job, I lasted 6 days.

What was the job?

I was working at the warehouse of my very favorite online used bookstore, which happens to be a stone’s throw from my house. The bosses were wonderful. The co-workers lacked the negative attitudes you see in a lot of office and temp positions. People went out of their way to be nice to me and help me figure out the ropes – maybe because they could see me struggling so much.

So what was the problem?

Well, maybe I never truly got over my illness from late December.

There were precarious stacks of books that fell as I was trying to reach JUST the ONE.

Splinters and broken fingernails are not a laughing matter to me.

There was a certain door that needed a new latch, because only door whisperers could open it, but that I needed to open several times a day.

There’s the nerdy girl who is more than aware that having a round shape is not the same as being in good shape, and moving an extra hundred plus pounds from one side of the warehouse to the other wore on me.

And there’s the night owl who wants to write and sell books for a living who was having a dickens of a time getting up and to work on time (I would go to bed early/on time, but kept waking up throughout the night thinking I needed to get up for work). And when I got home, I was dead. My body was dead. My brain was dead. Some of my comments to people misused their/there/they’re, for grammar’s sake! Anything I added to Works In Progress would be suspect.

There’s a part of me that still recoils from the last warehouse job I had, and just entering a warehouse is kind of hive-inspiring (I didn’t tell them that when they hired me, because BOOKS).

There was my husband trying to help out and play Mr. Mom when I came home exhausted – and the fact that my 40 hour week earned less than one of his 10 hour days.

So there were a lot of less-than-significant things. But Wednesday is hump day. Hump day is for camels. This camel’s back was broken. Time to move on.
"O My Camel -- You Did What?" -- Morguefile Photo

It’s a tough thing to acknowledge that you have a comfort zone. It’s equally tough to know when you’re reaching outside of it – and when you’re plunging into something altogether different from what you were expecting. But it’s good for me – my hubris was getting a bit out of whack, for example – to try new things, to see what I could learn, and to grow. Sometimes, I even need to admit defeat. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying other new experiences. Who could succeed without at least a few epic failures? And who likes those people, anyway? I’d rather celebrate my bumps and bruises.

So as I lick my wounds over this “failure of epic proportions,” and get over the nastiness of whatever this bug is (because seriously – it needs to GO), I will be on the lookout for the next adventure or disaster. Whichever I find, I’ll be more than happy to share it with you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Reflections: Reflection on Education

This article from the Atlantic prompted the following response:

There are many ways to digest and learn from this: high stakes testing is a mistake (big #1). That's the point of the article -- that and continuing to talk about racial tensions.

But there's an overlooked second idea that the article mentioned but didn't dwell on. It should have.

Courses for college credit taken in HS (including AP and concurrent courses) actually hurt college freshman who intend to use them to graduate college faster (as a pure learning tool, they are fine). When HS students take college courses and do average to well, then college advisers tell them to take more challenging classes when they get to campus. However, these students really need to figure out how to navigate college. They lack the experience to realize how different a college class on campus is compared to an AP or concurrent credit course. Also, since AP test scores and concurrent courses don't count towards a student's college GPA, a college freshman taking junior and senior level classes is at a higher risk of losing scholarships if the first semester of college isn't great.

Freshmen should be taught to take only introductory level classes their first semester. Or, freshmen should be allowed to ease into college, taking only a class or two until they know what they can handle. However, scholarships don't cover this type of enrollment, and the effects of enrolling in too many classes (increasing the chance of failing one or more) or not having the financial aid are equally detrimental to college success. 

If high school students weren't trying to take and do well in college classes, perhaps they would have more time to study for high-stakes testing. Honestly, though, learning how to hold down a job in high school and saving money (for college expenses not paid by scholarships and grants) is probably the best thing a high school student can do for his or her college preparation.  Applying for scholarships would be a second, but students need to talk to someone who is more knowledgeable than the typical overburdened HS counselor or college admissions officer. There is a TON of scholarship money out there, but most students can't find it and spend too much time chasing after the same hundred opportunities as everyone else.  Internet searches turn up more garbage than genuine opportunities. If we employed as many scholarship researchers as we did student loan officers, I think we would turn some of this around.

So researchers and pundits can keep talking about race and the first problem -- high stakes testing may be easy to measure, but what is easy (to measure) is rarely what is best (for anyone). However, until these same researchers and pundits start addressing the other elements of the equation, college students might as well bang their collective heads on ill-fitting desks as they leave college with useless degrees and ever-growing piles of debt. 

Phyl Campbell is the author of several books, including Mother Confessor, Carley Patrol, and Martha's Chickens and the Pirates. She completed a bachelor's degree in four and a half years at a state university paid for by scholarships and grants -- and was the only member of her family to completely fund school this way. Still, it wasn't enough education for her desired career -- teaching. One of many caught in the power struggle that is higher education, Campbell is an advocate for greater transparency in and outside the classroom.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Happy Friday! Enjoy a "Round" on Me!

Picture is a round of my actual books, taken with my husband's camera phone and run through a program in his phone's software.

Had I a New Year's resolution to do more with my personal blog, I'd be doing some justice to it. But motivation is not where it needs to be.

I'd like to say that this weekend I'm putting #25Reasons to bed with the publisher. It may still happen, but the battle is uphill yet. Even the cover -- I've had 5 I've loved now -- is giving me more problems than I think I deserve. Overall I will pick one that works and the rest of the world won't know the first world agony that went into choosing it. I guess so long as no one claims it looks like a cookbook!!
Here's the current cover, but I've already decided to tweak a few things in the final.

Have a great weekend -- three day weekend for some of you!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cover Art Conundrum

I thought I knew the perfect image I wanted. A man holding a book, sitting on a stack of books, while a woman looked at him disapprovingly. Off to Morgue File I went. However:

With alternate search parameters, I found and dismissed tons of images. I've learned more about pixels and vectors and crazy ways images may be terrorized on the internet for fun and profit than I ever wanted to know, and still know next to nothing.

I will never be a visual artist. I worry over the words. Seriously.

But the more possibilities, the worse every one looks. I decide to look at comparable novels. In chick lit, (knowing what people pay for cover art) it's clear that thousands of dollars have been spent on clip art that resembles something one would find hanging in an elementary school classroom. I find myself thinking "I could do that." There's only one problem. I absolutely cannot do that -- who did I think I was kidding?

I kept the idea that I needed to simplify. The drawings look like clip art, not a digital photograph of an action-packed movie (like high fantasy). I could do simple. What could be hard about simple?


Back to searching. One idea I liked was that my male protagonist doesn't measure up to his wife's expectations. I found a measuring tape image. I was happy with it. I uploaded it to the box. I shared it with some people -- they said "maybe it's just this time of year, but it makes it look like a weight loss book." Ugh!

The idea behind #25Reasons is that Jane wants Charlie to be more romantic, and thinks he will gain this by reading parts of her favorite romances to her. And Charlie approaches the romances like one's average domesticated neanderthal -- partly because he doesn't "get it" and mostly because he doesn't want to.

So I thought about an image of books. I gathered 25 romance novels I just happened to have lying about the house, stuck sticky notes in, arranged them and started snapping pictures. My husband showed me how to use his camera to do all kinds of cool photograph to art stuff. I loved the end result. But when I stuck the image into the book cover template, it just lost some awesomeness. It lost a whole lot of awesomeness.

So now I'm trying to add a silhouette of a guy climbing the books. Even I can't screw up a silhouette, right? It's little more than a line drawing. But sticking it into the template box -- I don't know. It is not living up to my expectations.  My son said it looked like the shadow of a spy on the books. He isn't wrong. [Sigh.]

I'd say back to the drawing board, but I don't draw. Back to the search engine box? Possibly. And every new image means a new cover blurb and I've got to get those two things right before I decide background and font color -- right? Then the back blurb.

Oh, for the talents of an artistic monkey!

To add final insult to injury, last night I stumbled across Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick. I've half-heartedly followed her blog for a few years. She has a huge following, and only slightly better art skills than me. She released her book in December, and the reviews are not great. While our books are not THAT similar, I would not be surprised to see them side by side on a Barnes and Noble table of couple's humor books. If her fans are not ecstatic about her book, is there any hope at all for my little labor of love?

Oh, COVER, where art thou?

Phyl Campbell is the author of several books, including Mother Confessor, Carley Patrol, and Martha's Chickens and the Pirates. Her website is

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Providing a Service or Being Rude?

Good Grammar Tuesday Morning!

My question this morning -- when you point out an error to someone privately, are you providing a service or being rude?

For me, alerting someone to a grammar error is the equivalent of saying "Hey! Fly's undone." We'll both be embarrassed for a minute, but hopefully the mistake will be corrected and it will be over. Am I wrong?

And of course, this comes because I sent an email last night alerting someone in the business to a their/there/they're mistake on his/her webpage. (I know in speech I would not worry about mixing "someone" and "their." I have even read that in writing it's OK to lack agreement in number in support of using ambivalent gender, but I just can't quite bring myself to do it in a post critiquing someone else's misuse of "their.")

This morning, YAY! I got a reply from the person. However, it was a half-hearted thanks, and a more strongly worded caution that I should not try to connect with people by pointing out mistakes.

That person may never know how I agonized over that email. The three extra paragraphs I wrote, deleted, re-wrote, deleted -- just to show I was writing it to help. The person admitted to almost deleting my email thinking I was simply trying to sell editing service. Actually, that hadn't crossed my mind. I was thinking that in spite of the error I found, this person had talents I lacked and a good fit might be made. And we live in the same geographic area. But based on the feedback -- I felt like I owed the person an apology; an apology! -- for taking the time to privately let the person know there was a mistake on a page shown to potentially thousands of educators daily. The cheek!
Dude! I'm just covering your butt!
Obviously my opinion is always to be kind and honest. If your fly is undone, I am going to tell you. I won't zip it for you, but I'll let you know, and whether or not you zip is then up to you. I will apologize for embarrassing you. But is the time I took -- which embarrassed me also -- really worse than everyone else who just let you walk around with an open fly?

So I wrote back a sorry/not sorry. Maybe things will be better when we bump into each other at a book event, as is bound to happen. So many things can get lost in the written word, especially online. I'm sure this person is a nice person, just as I am. Maybe one day we will laugh about it.

I don't know. I probably wouldn't point out to a boss during an interview that the email granting me an interview had a typo. I would tell my boss -- because I write and I consider editing a constant part of any job description -- if written items were going out with errors. And were my boss's fly open, I hope I would say something before the interns showed up! This wasn't that. This was an email to a potential colleague that we have talents that could mutually benefit each other. And if nothing else -- for someone to zip his or her fly.

Is there a kinder way to handle such corrections? Because you know me. I can't NOT do it in professional situations. And well aware I am that some will lash out (not that this morning's response was so extreme, but) no matter the level of kindness applied. Embarrassment often leads to anger. But I can learn to be kinder in the process. If there is a process, and if someone will point out my mistake by teaching me how to do it better.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! And welcome back to school, for most!

(Photos are courtesy of