Robin Roberts: An Inspiration to All Women

I love Robin Roberts. I’ve been watching her on Good Morning America for as long as I can remember. I’m an ABC girl and I’m not ashamed to say so.

When I was in school and thought about becoming a journalist, I started to really pay attention to the female journalists that I loved. Robin Roberts was one of my top three. I began to, and still do, admire her because she is real;  always at ease. I wanted to be able to tell the story of another person with such finesse. I wanted to be good at what I did despite whatever was going on in my personal life.  I still aspire to have the ease and love of the job that Robin shows us each day.

I start my day with Robin and the GMA team. I followed along with everyone else when she announced, underwent treatment for and beat breast cancer. I cheered to myself the day that she came back to the GMA set because I missed having her in my life each morning. Robin is part of my routine.

As I watched the video of her announcement this morning, I thought back to when I was in college and when I decided I wanted to encompass the traits of my favorite journalists. But today, it’s not only the job-related traits that I admire in Robin. I admire her strength, courage, fight and openness to share with the world her struggles and her hope.

All women can take lessons from Robin Roberts. Find happiness in who you are; strength when times are tough; peace in knowing you are not alone; and always remember to smile.

Robin, I wish you the best as you fight this new challenge in your life. I just know you can beat it!

Nicki Moulton’s Journey to Publication

Today’s guest post is from Specialist  Nicki Moulton who recently published her book, Knit This Doll! Some of you may know Nicki as Michelle Timian’s twin sister and others as someone who serves our country. Check out this piece the U.S. Army wrote about her book and remember to Support Our Troops and say Thank You to those who serve our country.

The moment when you hold your first published book in your hands is a moment that is hard to forget.  It is finally in front of you, all polished and crisp and actually in book form.  Believe me, it’s quite surreal to see your book when it actually becomes a book.  Before that moment, it was an idea.  For years, it was a just ‘the manuscript,’ something that existed as little more than a Word file.  You spent years working on it, polishing it, opening it and closing it.  You searched for an agent, dealt with rejection after rejection until you hooked someone who loved your idea as much as you did.  Then the two of you searched for a publisher and tried to woo them to believe your book could be their book, too.  You spent months of going back and forth with edits, edits, and more edits – analyzing every last word, to see if it sounded right, if the words flowed correctly, if it all made sense.  And finally, you sent it off – the last moment it would be just ‘the manuscript.’  The next time you would see it, it would be that moment when you hold your book in your hands.  It’s not just the dream, the manuscript, or the Word file anymore.  It’s your book.

Many authors celebrate the publication in their own ways.  Book signings, maybe a tour if you are lucky, but at the least, a night out with friends and family.  Not too many people hold their book in their hands, freshly torn out of a mailing envelope, and have to rush back into a 206 person strong formation, standing at the position of attention, trying not to grin at the thought that your first published book is in your hands and you were promised an hour of personal time that night.

My journey to publishing my first book started just like anyone else.  It started with an idea.  My idea happened to be a knitting book based on patterns for dolls that I had been making for years.  I sent a query letter to a literary agent specializing in nonfiction, and more specifically craft, books – addressing what would make my book unique from any other in the market.

After I signed a contract with Epstein Literary, me and my agent, Kate, began to look for a publisher.  It was quite exciting, especially when both Wiley (the largest nonfiction publisher in the world, though their name never seems to ring a bell with people) and RandomHouse made bids for the contract.  Wiley won in the end, mostly because they were eager to give me a lot of artistic control over what I made for my book.  Then began the very long, and strangely very unfulfilling and frustrating, job of making my manuscript perfect.

Making a knitting book is different from say, a novel.  To get a novel published, you have to write the entire book and hope that you didn’t waste years of your life writing it.  For nonfiction, you basically sell an idea.  You need a few examples of what you want to do (I made three dolls for the proposal, but for something like a memoir, you would need a sample chapter and a projected table of contents), and then you just hope someone likes it enough to publish it.  It is a lot less ‘risky’ than when I used to write novels.  If someone doesn’t want to publish your nonfiction book (my second book ended up getting turned down by every publisher we tried to sell it to), all you really lost was the idea and the time it took to write a proposal.

Writing the manuscript was fun, but as I hinted at, editing a manuscript was like pulling teeth.  It’s a seemingly never-ending process of correcting and fine-tuning every last letter and word.  I looked at the manuscript so much that I overlooked the most obvious errors (like not even mentioning my Mom in my acknowledgments, or that I never mentioned the actual size of my dolls anywhere – thankfully the cover designer added it on the back cover).  Writing and editing the manuscript nearly took me a whole year to finish, and by the time I was done, I never wanted to open a Word document again.

To say I was excited to get my first book published was an understatement.  I talked to local yarn shops in my hometown of Chicago about book signings, and convinced one of my friends who owns an art studio to hold a book release party.  It was all going very normally, as far as publishing a book goes, but none of those plans would ever come to fruition.

My route on the normal-first-time-book-publication-road took a serious detour.  Anyone that knows me knows that I love to live life to the fullest.  I hate thinking that I might one day be laying on my death bed and say “If only I could have done that!”  So, I decided to do something I had wanted to do all my life.  It meant that I had to sell almost all my possessions, quit my lease on an apartment I loved, say goodbye to my husband who I wouldn’t end up seeing for nine months, and basically give up all notions of living my normal life.  I made one last look over my manuscript and got on a plane headed for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I was about to start Basic Training to become a soldier in the US Army.

My book ended up in my hands about a month before I graduated.  For five months, I had been living in barracks with 200 other people from all over the world, waking up every morning at 4a.m. and struggling through some of the toughest, and most fun, challenges of my life.  For the first month, we didn’t even have ‘personal time.’  Every last minute of our day was in the company of a Drill Sergeant who told us what to do and never hesitated to let us know how badly we were doing it.

After that first month, we had an hour of free time just about every night during which we were free to take longer showers (our showers were about a minute long before that, and I do not even exaggerate on that point), clean weapons, talk with our new ‘battle buddies’ and write letters.  I had my sister mail me yarn and needles.  Although the Drill Sergeants teased me, I knitted even while in Basic Training.  After a few weeks, they transformed from the bullies you picture from Full Metal Jacket to mentors we were able to talk to and joke around with.  I’m even Facebook friends with some of them.

When I got to that moment where I held my first published book in my hands, I had no idea how short-lived the moment would be.  For the next week, a sort of game started where the Drill Sergeants would ‘secure’ my book from me, hold it captive in their office, and then call me down to get it.  They would sometimes call me down to the CQ just to answer questions they had about the whole process of publishing a book.  One of my Drill Sergeants was so freaked out by the dolls’ eyes that he refused to look at the book, keeping it under things and generally avoiding it like it was the plague.  Sometimes I had to buy it back with push-ups, but mostly the Drill Sergeants would just hand it back with bemused looks on their faces.  I have a feeling that I might be the first person to ever get a book published while in Basic Training.

Sure, deciding to attend Basic Training was a set back in a lot of ways.  Since I was in Basic Training when it was released – an environment where we got to call home for an hour once a week – I had no ability to promote it.  There were no interviews, no reviews in big knitting magazines, no book signings.  There was hardly a peep about it anywhere.  I had asked a friend to make a website for the book while I was in Basic, which never happened.  When I did graduate Basic, I had a week to gather my things before I got on another plane to my first duty station – in Italy.  Although there were plenty of yarn shops around my new house outside Venice, no one was willing to carry a book in a language they couldn’t read, much less hold a book signing.  Trying to get the book published in Italian never went anywhere, either, probably because the book was selling an average number of copies and it wouldn’t be profitable to make another printing in a different language.

The real danger to my writing career is the effect my decision to join the Army would have on my future projects.  A failure to promote my first book doesn’t look good on my ability to promote future books.  If my first book isn’t profitable for the publisher, then future books might not either.  It’s the consequences, whether I like it or not, of my decisions.

Yet, even if it would be the only book I would ever publish, I wouldn’t trade anything for that moment when I held it in my hands at last – surrounded by soldiers excitedly asking me if it was my book, and being happy I would have a whole hour to look at it before going to bed.

I Admire Barnes & Noble For Their Note

I got this email from Barnes & Noble and scratched my head a bit at first. I was never a huge fan of Barnes & Noble, but my mom and I would stop there often to browse their offerings. Many of my books came from there as a kid, but as I started to buy my own books, I veered towards Borders because of their availability and their prices.

I loved Borders coupons and one of my colleagues used them ALL of the time. I miss Borders and I was saddened that the brick and mortar bookstores are going the way of CDs. I love that Barnes & Noble realizes this.  For those of you who didn’t get the letter, click here to read it.

But the most interesting thing to me is that Barnes & Noble has acquired Borders trademarks and that it’s included at the end of the letter. I’m a writer, not a business person, but it makes me wonder if we may one day see Borders again in a new format.

Like I said, I’m not the biggest Barnes & Noble fan, but the honestly of this letter and the fact that they are really trying to get my business, makes me want to go back into one of their stores. I think it’s cool that any Borders premium members get the Barnes & Noble premium experience for free.  What is there to loose?

Former Borders shoppers, will you be going to Barnes & Noble? Let me know your thoughts on this letter in the comments below.

My View on the Potential Amazon Digital Library

I saw a tweet come through on my feed this morning about Amazon wanting to launch a subscription-based library for the Kindle. As a new Kindle owner, I thought the idea would appeal to me. It doesn’t. In fact, it disturbs me.

I can’t imagine having to pay to access a library. As I shared with you in an earlier post, I grew up in the library. We have free public libraries across the country that are starting to adapt to digitally published books. Why pay for monthly access when you can still borrow a digital book from the good old fashioned library?

The obvious answer is convenience and availability.

Fine, if you want to pay for your subscription, do it. But reports are saying that Amazon wants to make it available to prime members. I am not paying $79 a year to rent books.

Why Amazon? You already let Kindle users share books for two weeks. Most of the classics are free. Sorry, this subscription thing is not for me.

My other concern, also addressed in the article, is how authors are going to be affected. As I have started to blog and have become more active on social media sites, I have had the opportunity to connect with a lot of authors. I understand publishers are leery about this idea, but how will this impact those who are self-published writers and have e-books through Amazon? Are they going to be included in this “premium” library? Would they even want to be?

It will be interesting to see if Amazon goes forward with this idea. What do you think?

When’s the Last Time You Handwrote Something?

As I shared with you in an earlier post, I still enjoy writing my thoughts out by hand in a journal, notebook or legal pad. And anyone who knows me knows that I love to send personalized cards for all of the holidays. Other than me, I really don’t know anyone who enjoys sending snail mail like I do. My cursive may look like chicken scratch sometimes, but at least I can still cross my Ts and dot my Is.

I came across a blog post today, When Cursive Cried Wolf, on The Book Bench sections of The New Yorker’s website. It tackles this same topic. Not too long ago I had breakfast with my first-grade teacher and she told me that they were no longer going to teach cursive and that she was afraid kids wouldn’t be able to sign their name to anything.That’s why I was surprised to find out that more and more people are buying stationary. And I love that Elissa Lerner included links to courses to brush up on your handwriting. I have a friend moving to San Francisco, and while email and text are probably going to be our preferred route of communication, I wonder if she would like to receive a handwritten note on a beautiful piece of paper.

As a writer by trade, I would hate to see cursive become obsolete. Maybe I am nostalgic, but this was how all of the great novels were written. Jane Austen and William Shakespeare certainly didn’t have computers.

Do you send handwritten notes and cards to people? Do you use your cursive when working on drafts of your articles?

Is a Library a Library Without Books?

I was a library junkie when I was a kid. I grew up spending my summers with the Chicago Public Library, first completing the summer reading program and then as a volunteer. I love the smell of books and browsing the shelves for a new find. I still do.

I saw the headline “Is a Bookless Library Still a Library?” on the Time website. Colleges are now creating bookless libraries with lots of seats and computers that have access to the library’s collection of electronic materials.

I suppose this was bound to happen with the advances in technology, but it poses a few great questions. What happens when a server goes down or a power outage happens? How do you access any materials? How do you archive your materials?

I’m old school and I know it. I like being able to make notes on paper and highlight things. Those techniques are what helps me write and outline the point I want to convey to others. Sure you can do all of that on the iPad and the Kindle. Some of you would probably call me a tree killer.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I still love to write drafts out on a legal pad or a journal to outline my thoughts. I couldn’t think of being in college and not having books to put notations with Post-It notes.

What do you guys think? Is a library a library without books? Or is it just a study room? Do you think that bookless libraries are going to be the new trend? Leave me a comment below or tweet me.

The Start of the End of the Importance of Writing?

Standardized tests and I never got along.  Well at least the math and science part.  But I dealt with it; we all did.

I was on Twitter this morning and came across an article from the Chicago Tribune with the title Illinois cancels the state’s last writing exam. It’s well known that the State of Illinois has money problems and it didn’t surprise me one bit that the writing test of juniors in high school has been cut due to budget constraints. Illinois is not alone in ridding writing exams to save money.

The article does a good job of being objective and showing both sides of the coin. But I’m extremely bothered by this. I’ve spoken with a colleague of mine, also a writer, and my good friend, who hold a degree in English, and both came to the same conclusion. What kind of communicators are the next generations going to be?

People struggle with writing, myself included. But if the importance of academia is shifting toward math and science, because that’s where the money is moving it, what’s is going to happen to the art of writing? Where does the practice go?

Technology has already made handwriting obsolete and many schools are phasing it out of their curriculum. Teenagers and business professionals have already resulted to using slang and text message speak in professional correspondence. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve received an email signed with tks.

If the use of proper language and spelling have already diminished, what is going to happen to the art of writing? Are essays, business correspondence, novels and poetry going to be written with text message jargon and misspellings? Is it going to be 1ce  upon time?

Experts say that the test will be eventually implemented again, but at what cost? Isn’t having well-educated science buff and mathematicians that can communicate their findings in words important to the continued growth of the country?

Writers, what do you think of this? What kind of damage do you think laws and cost-saving measures like this will do to the future of writing?