Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A rare political rant: What if EVERYONE had to justify their job?

Hello all!

I don't normally get political because politics gives me heartburn.  People in my life who are political seem to be wildly unhappy whether their "party" is in power or not.  So, generally I avoid the topic.

But...

As a writer, and all writers know this, I have to justify every action, every word, every scrap of dialogue in what I write.  There has to be a purpose for building block in a novel.  There cannot just be "throw away chapters" or paragraphs that do nothing to move the plot forward.  Writers have to justify the existence of every word they write.

At my day job of office drone, I also have to justify my job.  Each day I have to keep track of the number of phone calls I make, what type of phone calls I make, what the result of each phone call was, and what my next phone call is going to be.  I have to send an email to my boss every afternoon, basically proving to him that I did, indeed, work to move the company forward.

Regular people have to justify themselves every single day.  We have to follow laws, we have to prove ourselves over and over and over again every day that yes, we do deserve to be employed, to be read, to be.  Regular people have to pay bills, every month, and if they don't have enough money to cover the bills, they can either make more money, generally by getting another job where they have to justify themselves, or by cutting things out of their budget.

Government, I'm finding, does none of these things.  Those in government talk a great deal about standing up for the little people, representing their constituents.  Oh yes, we Americans, we love the illusion that we are being represented by the people for whom we vote.  So we vote for the person who looks good in a suit, speaks well, says all the right things, and doesn't do something really stupid like have an original thought, a controversial opinion...(or any really strong convictions on any topic)...or any sort of black mark dating all the way back to childhood.  And those lucky few people get elected where they then...

Well, they then do NONE of the things they promised they would do.  Instead of working together to move the country forward, they sit along part lines and for grid lock.  Nothing gets done. To make sure nothing gets done, they don't show up to vote. They hide in closets, they go on fund raising trips cleverly disguised as...well as really nice vacations.  The good news is, at least in this country, our government really only works part time.  See, half the time they have to go home, to the districts they represent.  They have to listen to their constituents.

Or, more likely, they have to go on some tax payer funded trip to far off lands. No, they tell us, these aren't vacations, oh no.  We're doing important political work representing you.  

Really?  Because the last time I checked, your trip photos of you and your loves ones frolicking on the white sand beaches of any place outside the US had nothing to do with my healthcare costs.

And let's just talk about that for a minute.  As I understand it, and no, I haven't read the bill, but then, neither have the people who voted for or against it, so there's that, everyone must, by law, have health insurance.  Ok. Fine.  Who's going to provide this insurance?  Well, the businesses the people work for.  By law, everyone who works 30 hours or more is considered by the government full time (and only the government would consider a 30 hour work week full time) and therefore the employer must pay for insurance.

Hey, guess what, employees of every fast food place and every retail place in this country...you either just lost your job or you are never going to get more than 29.5 hours a week.  (I know this for a fact...it's happening to my son, a long time employee of a small, regional, fast food chain.)  

So, hey, if my employer doesn't offer me health care, then what?

Well, by law, everyone must have it, so I guess you're going to have to buy it for yourself.

Um, well, okay, but I couldn't afford it when I was working 40 hours a week. Now I'm only working 29.5 hours a week and you're telling me you're going to send me a penalty at the end of the year if I haven't gotten the insurance I couldn't afford when I was making more money than I am now because my employer can't afford it so he's cutting my hours?

Yes.

Tell, me, oh wise Government people, did you 'public servants' get laid off or have your hours cut?  Hm..congress?  Did you with you suits and your aids and your $400 haircuts, did you get your hours cut?

No.

Did you lose your healthcare?

No.

Why not?  I mean, I keep hearing about how the government is TRILLIONS of dollars in debt and can't pay this bill and can't pay that bill and has to shut down homeless shelters and soup kitchens and cut funding to food programs for mothers who can't feed their kids on 29.5 hours a week.  How come your company, you know, the Government, how come YOUR EMPLOYER didn't cut your hours or take away your health insurance and then demand you buy your own insurance?

Well, see, we're the government.  So we have this whole other healthcare system all for ourselves.

So...let me just clarify:  You are paid by the tax payers of this country?

Yes.

Your health insurance is paid for by the tax payers of this country?

Yes.

Your pensions, your travels, everything, that's all paid for?

I mean, we have to do some pretty creative accounting, but yes.  Pretty sweet, right?

And you can't really be fired, right?

Well, we can be...if we don't get reelected, then we're out.

Yeah, but how's that pension?

Oh it's awesome.  I serve two years in the House of Representatives, and I'm pretty much set.  

So.  you can't be fired.  Your hours can't be cut.  You don't have to live with the same high cost low care insurance.  You get pay raises, I suppose?

Well, that's a delicate subject.  See, one time we admitted we voted ourselves a pay raise. People didn't like that too much. So now we don't give ourselves as big a pay raise and we call it a pay cut and people cheer for us.

Really?  People cheer for you?  You and the President haven't sniffed a 50% approval rating in more than a decade.  

Okay, people don't cheer for us, but we keep getting reelected, so it's the same.  What do we care, as long as we get reelected?

Let me ask you this:  Has anyone ever asked you to write down, every day, exactly what you did, you know, to prove you actually did something?

I'm sorry, I started laughing too hard when you asked something about doing something every day.

I suppose you show up five days a week, forty or more hours a week, right?

 Please, the important stuff is the voting and then the speech after the voting.  I do pretty well.  I showed up for almost half of the votes I was supposed to cast.  And I always make sure I'm on camera...a lot. That's how my constituents know I'm working for them.

Truly a great American right there.  So what are you doing when Congress isn't in session?  Which, according to my research, was 206 days in 2013?  (Congress was in session 159 days in 2013, so I'm going to just assume you were in your seat doing your job all of those days.)

I was representing my constituents.  I was at listening sessions.  I was at town hall meetings.  I was at fund raisers.

So you can get reelected to a job that takes 159 days out of your year and get paid, on average, $174,000 a year?  

Right.  

Do you know how many hours I worked last year?  For most of 2013 I worked a 40 hour week...below average compared to many Americans. A "typical" work week is five days, fifty weeks a year.  (Again, many Americans work way more than that.)  That means I worked 250 days last year.  That's 250 "Ass in Seat" days where I had to write down minute by minute exactly what I was doing and if my approval rating slipped below 95% I was called into my boss's office and written up.  I get no sick days.  In fact, I have to use my vacation days if I'm sick, so I generally show up to work sick.  I haven't taken two weeks off in a row since my son was born in 1993.  And last year my take home after taxes and insurance was less than $20,000.  And I'm one of the fortunate ones in this country because my employer, at least until August first of this year, provides health coverage for which I pay 40% of the premiums.

(I should add, the Federal Government, who did NOTHING to make my job any easier in any way, scooped 27% of my paycheck away from me before I ever saw it.  And then the state Government got a cut, Social Security...which I will never see because it will be bankrupt, took a cut, and then I had to pay sales tax, property tax, renewal fees on licenses all before I've fed my family.)

That doesn't sound like too good a deal for you.  But rest assured, I'm fighting for you, the little guy. We'll get equality for you!

Really? How?

Well, I need to be reelected before I can do anything, right?

And then I'll be equal to you?

Oh please, no.  We're public servants.  We can't be expected to actually live by the rules we make.


Friends, if you aren't angry about this, then you're probably dead and you should get yourself to an emergency room.  Just make sure you've paid for your insurance first because, you know, the government is going to find out if you're uninsured and they are going to make you pay.

Someone has to pay for all those trips to white sand beaches and the completely free, platinum  healthcare.

Maybe if Congress and others up there in high government had to justify their jobs every day like most people do, or justify all of their words, like every writer does, maybe we'd be in a better place as a country because maybe, like so many writers I know, they'd realize real cuts have to be made for the good of the work.

But then again, they're all too busy trying to get reelected.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Promotion Alert! Discounted e-books just for you!

Good morning!


So I'm trying something new.  I've delved full on into the Kool-Aid Amazon is serving and I've gone exclusively Amazon with my books for the next few months.  I've heard from other authors that this works for them, so I'm trying it.  The upside to being exclusive to Amazon is I get to offer specials and discounts on Amazon for my Kindle readers.

This coming week I'm doing what they call a Kindle Countdown.  For those of you who don't know this is a sort of graduated discount over a short period of time for Kindle books.  In this case, starting Monday, July 21, I've put my first novel, Dream in Color (my homage to Rick Springfield fans, or to anyone who ever had a crush on a rock/pop star), and my most recent novel, A Hero's Spark (a romantic suspense involving bar fights, cutting, theft, betrayal, sex, politics, and Waffle House) on Kindle Countdown.

What does this mean for you?  Well, it means you get one or both of these books for even LESS than the usual $2.99!  Starting Monday, you could get them for as low as $0.99!  

I'm really, excited to be able to do this for my readers because while I love getting paid to do something I love to do, I'm a storyteller.  For me, it's all about you reading and being entertained by my stories.

Which brings me to a point I've been trying to make on Face Book for the last several weeks:  Reviews on Amazon.  It's kind of a big deal for us indie/e-pubbed/unknown authors.  If you've read a book by someone who ISN'T on the New York Times best selling list, and you liked it, please, please leave a review!  Word of mouth is the best form of marketing we indie authors have, so we have to depend on you, our readers, to make it possible for us to keep writing and telling the stories traditional publishing houses aren't interested in offering.  It doesn't have to be in depth.  (I know some people don't leave reviews because they aren't sure what to write.)  

Here's all you have to do, and you can do this for every book you read:  four or five stars, first of all.  Then, "I really enjoyed this book."

That short sentence can boost an indie author to great heights, you have no idea.  So please, on behalf of all indie/e-pubbed/unknown authors everywhere, I'm asking, please write a review!


And I'll thank you for all these authors, too!  

Meanwhile, this week, check out my novels on Kindle Countdown!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Great Way to Start an Argument While Waiting for Eggs.

Good morning!

I've always talked about how music is so important to the creative process, and how musicians and composers are every bit as literary as a novelist. Recently I've started wondering just how much people are missing in this digital file, download one song only world.

So yesterday Hubby and I went hiking and as a reward for my hiking  (I am not what you'd call an avid outdoors woman) Hubby took me to one of our new favorite breakfast places. (Glenda's Cafe in Okauchee, WI...if you're in the area check it out.  And if you have a chance to get the crab cake eggs Benedict, do so.)

The place was wildly busy, being a holiday weekend and all, so we had quite a bit of time to wait for our food. Over the restaurant speakers came a song from Dan Fogleberg's "Windows and Walls" album. I've long maintained this is one of the greatest albums ever put together if for no other reason than "Tuscon, Arizona" all eight minutes of it, is brilliant. It may not be the greatest, but in my opinion, it's one of my top 100 favorite albums.

That started a discussion about what 100 albums we'd take if we were forced to pick only 100.  (And that should tell you the state of our music collection. I'm not saying we have a ton of music, I'm just saying the 100 is a very small number.)  

Hubby and I set ground rules:  Soundtracks and live albums were in.  Greatest hits collections were not.  In this downloaded, digital files world, we wanted to pick albums, yes ALBUMS, that were collections that moment when the album was put together, not just a greatest hits or compilation of songs put together by some record label because that's what people knew that's what people would buy. Artists have reasons for putting songs on albums, at least most of the time they do.  In my own experience, if I relegated myself to only Barry Manilow or Rick Springfield's "Greatest Hits" collections, first of all, which one would I pick and second of all, I would miss out, in both cases on my favorite songs.  (Barry Manilow's "I am Your Child" and "You're Lookin' Hot Tonight" are barely a blip on the radar for his biggest ans and it's doubtful any but the most devoted fans can hum a few bars of Rick Springfield's "Dream in Colour" or "LIO.")


So greatest hits were out, but hey, if you want a live album, as Hubby pointed out with his choice of Johnny Cash's "Live From Folsom Prison" that is a different animal because that's different arrangements and different vibes from the audience.  Also helpful since two of my picks would be Neil Diamond's "Hot August Night" and The Smothers Brother's" Live from the Purple Onion." 


Not that either of us is stuck in the past, musically speaking.  One of my first picks, and a surprising one for those who know me, was Eric Church's newest "The Outsiders."  I haven't even listened to the whole thing all the way through, but I don't have to.  Hubby was trying to decide which, and how many, of Garth Brooks' and Weird Al Yankovic's albums he'd take along. And while he thought Little Big Town's "Tornado" was a no brainer, I was torn because my two favorite Little Big Town recordings:  "Boondocks" and the live version of "Life in a Northern Town" are on two other albums. And while I would take The Band Perry's album "Pioneer" because their one song, "Done" is about as good a song as I'm ever going to hear, I would NOT take Donny Iris' "Back on the Streets" even though "Ah Leah" is number two on my all time favorite songs forever.  (What's my number one song?  Check out the video below...I have no less than six different versions of this song on my iPod.)


Some groups brought up a debate because we disagreed on albums.  I couldn't decide which of my Florence and the Machine albums I would take:"Lungs" or "Ceremonials." Hubby said I should take "Lungs" because that one was better. And then we came back to Barry Manilow because I was POSITIVE he'd take "Swing Street," and he wasn't so sure.

"It doesn't matter, though," he said, "because you can bring it along."

That's when we had to stop talking for a minute and look at each other.  We've been together since we were 18, married for 24 years this year.  Thinking like a team, one completing the other, is in our blood.  

"What if where I'm going and where you're going aren't the same places?"

I couldn't believe he said it out loud, but he was right.  When you think of that deserted island we are all packing for, how many married couples just assume they're going together, so if I don't pack Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," then Hubby probably will.  
Another rule in the game:  Married couples don't get to share.  

That was a game changer.  So, then, since I can't take a greatest hits, and I'm really just a casual Beatles fan, do I take the White Album or do I sneak the "Across the Universe" soundtrack in?  Or, since I MUST have the "Top Gun" AND the "Footloose" (from the first movie, not the remake) soundtracks, will I even HAVE any room in my top 100?

This winds up leading, if you have to wait for your food long enough, to real differences of opinion and the idea that if you limit the vast selection of music to only what you want to bring along, and the debate can get ugly.  I would bring along at least one Backstreet Boys album.  Hubby thinks that's nuts. Meanwhile, he's bringing Lone Justice's "Shelter," a band and album that makes me want to tear my ears off.
God help me, I just can't help it.  THIS is my Fab Four!

The question many ask, "Stones or Beatles?"  I would, in the framework of this discussion, have to answer honestly, "The Monkees." 

For which I would be soundly mocked.

But when it comes to music, as with books or movies, it's about what speaks to us, not what is deemed great or worthy by the collective.  Sure, "Born to Run" is generally thought of as one of the best albums of all time.  But is it going to make my top 100?  Not if I have to sacrifice Rick Springfield's "Shock Denial Anger Acceptance" it won't.  And that's got nothing to do with the mass appeal, the writing, the quality of either album.  SDAA speaks to me in a way few albums do, which makes it my Best Album of All Time.

So what's the point of all this?  Why open a discussion about this at all?  We do it for the same reason websites like Goodreads exist:  We want to hold up what we love, what speaks to us, and see if there are others out there that feel the same way we do.  Granted, it always starts out with, "If I lived on a deserted island..." but, I promise you, by the time the eggs arrive at your table, you're going to be in a deep discussion about the value of the writing styles of Kesha versus Lady GaGa, and you may lose respect for your partner...and maybe for yourself a little bit.  (For the record, I'd take a Kesha album LONG before Lady GaGa.)

It's the same with books, and as writers we have to keep that in mind.  Writing is about telling a story.  Tell your story, don't worry about what the market trends are, or who is selling and who is not.  The best albums, musically and artistically, tend to come from artists after they've stopped trying to have a top 40 hit.  We as writers can bypass the noise and the nonsense and stay true to the stories we are writing.  Maybe they don't hit right away. Maybe we have to wait.  But someday, sometime, there's going to be a huge discussion raging at a table in a small breakfast place and our books may be part of that. 

And isn't THAT what's it's all about?  

Friday, July 4, 2014

It's Independence Day and Elsie W is FREE

Good morning!

To all my American Friends and Family:  Happy Independence Day!

In honor of my country's celebration of independence, Elsie W.'s OTHER book, UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED, if FREE all this weekend to Kindle users!

Click HERE to get both of Elsie's Books, or, if you want a little romance in your life, CLICK HERE and check out my romance novels!

Not sure what' Elsie W.'s all about?  Here's a sneak peek!





Chapter Five:
George Foreman is banned from Stuff, Installed.

One of the items Elsie used to keep herself well fed was her George Foreman grill. These mini grills are very portable and the product's claim to fame is that the fat of whatever you're grilling simply falls away from the food so that you can eat a far healthier piece of meat. The other claim to fame is that clean up of the grill was no problem.
          When Elsie heard the ad for the grill on TV this is what she heard:  "blah, blah, blah, healthier piece of meat, blah, blah blah, no grease, blah, blah, blah, no clean up."

          So she brought her table top electric fat reducing grill to the office and for a couple weeks we were treated the lovely smells of her meat grilling. The difference between grilling the meat she ate and microwaving the meat she ate in the course of a day was twofold: 

1)    Microwaving went faster. 

          That little grill thing was not powerful enough to heat through the shank of lamb or the wad of meatloaf she crammed into it, so her solution was to jack up the heat and let the grill just cook, unattended, for as long as it took. This involved several trips to the kitchen on her part, to make sure the meat was cooking. Which took her away from the phone even more than when she microwaved her multiple feeds during the day.

2)    The fat the grill claimed to pull away from the meat had to go somewhere.

           If you've seen or used a George Foreman grill, you know that fat has to go someplace and there's a tiny little track where the fat sort of falls as it rolls off the meat. That's great if you're grilling one turkey burger or maybe one small hamburger patty and then you clean out the grease. But that's not Elsie's style. She refused to acknowledge the waterfall effect her George Foreman grill was starting to have on the kitchen counter.

           We all knew this river of fat was the result of her habit of shoving a meatloaf into the grill and then letting it cook for an hour while she was in the bathroom coughing or making personal phone calls. We also knew, because we'd seen her cake pan at the Stuff, Installed cheesecake contest (as discussed in the previous book) that she wasn't one to worry about things like salmonella or E-coli.

          NBM was horrified. The food smells that rolled up and down the Tunnel of Sound sickened him. Most of it didn't bother PM or me...PM has small kids and pets and I have teenagers and four cats. Fun smells abound in our homes. But NBM was a very tidy fellow and the mere sight of the coagulated grease on the counter made him sick. Not sick enough to actually clean it up, you understand because, well, that was women's work. Just like washing his cereal bowl every morning was, which is why he set it on my desk. And I'm no liberated woman, but I don't dishes at my own house...it's very doubtful I'll ever wash his.

          Anyway, NBM was horrified at Lac du Grease on the kitchen counter. After several weeks of complaining about it to me, or anyone else who would listen (if you think about it, it sort of broke his golden rule of not talking badly about other employees) he finally addressed it with Elsie herself.

          NBM:  You can’t have that thing in here.

          ELSIE:  What thing? (She says, through a mouthful of chicken Parmesan LOADED with cheese.)

          NBM:  You can’t have that grill thing in here anymore. It makes a mess and you never clean it up.

          ELSIE:  I clean up after myself. I never make a big mess, though.

          NBM:  You do. There’s grease everywhere on the counter and you never clean it up. I have to clean up it every day.

          (That’s a bit of a stretch. He would gripe about it until I cleaned it up, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.)

          ELSIE:  But it makes healthy food for me. It takes away the grease from the food. So there’s no grease anyplace because the grill takes it away.

          (Take a minute, won’t you, and ponder her logic.)
         
          NBM:  Yes, but that grease has to go someplace and in this case it goes all over the counter and you don’t clean up after yourself, so you are not allowed to use that thing in the office kitchen anymore.

          ELSIE:  NBM this is just another way of you trying to keep me down and control me. Can I tell you something?

          (The answer to this, her constant question, was always NO!)

          ELSIE:  You are taking away my rights to have a grease free meal.

          SARAH:  Or four. (Yep, I went there. I said it just loud enough for PM, who was making copies next to me slowly so he could witness this throw down. PM is very fair skinned. He stifled his laughter, but could not stifle the way his face turned bright red with the effort.)

          NBM:  I’m not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s my right as the manager to expect people to clean up after themselves and when they don’t it’s my right as the manager to make sure the office stays clean.

          ELSIE:  (gathering up the pieces of the George Foreman Grill.)  Well, I hope you and BBO managed to get good health insurance because I’m going to need it now that I can’t drain away the fat in my food.

          She tossed the grill in a small box and then shoved the box into one of the lower cabinets. NBM walked into his office, satisfied that the matter was settled.


          He clearly hadn’t been paying attention.