“Are you kidding?” Book Reviews

4dce3343fd0ad1618bbfe2c22f43a293I know it’s inevitable. Every author gets their share of bad reviews. You know, those one-star postings and half-baked opinions of “chosen” readers, indicating that you, as an author, haven’t got a clue how to write a simple phase, how to plot a mystery, or create a believable story. Obviously, we can’t all be as talented as Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We’re simply members of the Homo sapien writing tribe with more than our share of weaknesses, imperfections, and fragile reactions. Quite often, we find ourselves typing non-stop for days on end, allowing trapped emotions and caged creativity to escape in equal portions. We offer ourselves up to the world’s judgment, begging for acceptance—for someone to see the merit of our artistic efforts. But then it happens in an instant, even to the best of us. Critics and wannabe writers take careful aim, releasing venomous words, killing a novel purely for the pleasure of doing so.

I understand that not everyone appreciates the written word and the painstaking effort that goes into fully developing an idea. However, for an author, it’s tedious, time consuming work, and the act of writing can become an obsession in the art of perfection. Every word, scene and character on the page has value, and the ability to bring a story full circle can feel like a miraculous achievement at times. And yet, a single insult has the ability to take down not only an individual’s self-esteem but also their ability to write…at least for the time it takes to recover.

The solution to this madness? I’ve been told the most powerful action you can take to neutralize your brain’s wiring is to prove it wrong.  Your brain fears being cast out of the “qualified” author circle, so calm it by connecting to your personal tribes—family, friends, other struggling writers. See brain? I’m not being thrown to the dingos—I have love, talent and the ability to carry on. Once the brain calms down, you can use reason and logic to center yourself. You can also talk to authors who have drifted in the same boat, bordering on the brink of despair.

Writers, like myself, fall into two groups. Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who hide their reactions well. Usually, I fall into the second group, holding my breath and looking away until the shock value wears off. But when a new book is released, it becomes a balancing act between elation over great reviews and irrational anger for the vicious ones. Some of Stephen King’s latest novels received up to 500 one-star and two-star reviews on Amazon. Was this done out of spite for his success as an author or simply a way to demonstrate powerful opinions?

Book stores are packed with best sellers that have a lot of bad reviews. Prove it to yourself. Do this: Go to idreambooks.com, the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the book world. They aggregate book reviews from important critics like the New York Times and rank best selling books according to the percentage of good reviews they received. Notice anything? Almost all the best selling books have a significant number of bad reviews. Imagine that.

Now think about this. How much could bad reviews affect sales if they’re all best sellers? I’m not ignoring the aftermath of cruel intention—bad reviews are undesirable. But they’re not necessarily the deal-breakers you think they are. Well, that’s what I continue to tell myself anyway. And even more interesting…bad reviews can actually help sell books.

What do you think of a book that has nothing but five-star reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit suspicious. Just like restaurant reviews, if you see nothing but 5 stars, I’m thinking the author or restaurant owner got all his friends, family and associates to write the vast number of reviews, delving out glowing praise. In a twisted way, bad reviews give a book legitimacy because their very presence indicate that the good reviews must be genuine. Right?

Well, I have to admit that all this venting has helped a wee bit. The sting of the cursed one-star review has eased a bit, and I’m reminded that the toughest critics are often the worst writers. That’s why they criticize, don’t you think? So now it’s time to laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, and move on until the next zinger comes along, and then maybe I’ll have the commonsense to look away.

Twenty Ways to Give Back This Christmas

isEvery year at Christmas, our family looks for ways to practice generosity and selfless service. This year though, there have been so many causes suggested that our budget simply can’t reach out to all of them. However, a family tradition every year includes delivering fresh cookies to fire departments and police stations, and donating to local toy drives. We also contact the headquarters for Fred Meyer stores and purchase discounted blankets, socks, coats, sweaters and caps. Then we visit homeless shelters throughout Portland to deliver these items where they are most needed. But this year, I’ve wanted to do more and thought that perhaps you feel the same way as I do.

So with this in mind, here are some great ideas to bring the joy of Christmas to others in your community or around the world. Because that is what this special season is really about. Isn’t it?

  1. Follow our lead by visiting a homeless shelter or tent city and donate blankets, gloves, socks, hats, or coats. Each little item keeps someone warm and can help them survive those cold winter nights.
  2. If you don’t have the money or items to donate, simply visit with the folks at the local homeless shelter or tent city. Sometimes just feeling like you matter as a person can lift your spirit.
  3. Sponsor an angel from the Salvation Army angel tree. This can become a special tradition for your family every year by picking out the perfect gift requested on an angel tree card.
  4. If you’re unable to get out to a store to choose an individual angel from their trees around town, you can still donate to the Salvation Army online! A donation online is just like dropping money into those little red buckets. Our local Salvation Army is reportedly very short this year in their projected donations, so every little bit helps.
  5. Shopping Fair Trade for Christmas is a wonderful way to find unique and personal gifts for friends and loved ones and it helps support artisans in developing nations. This is a win-win for everyone.
  6. One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area!
  7. One of my favorite organizations this time of year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. If you’re unfamiliar with this project, their website offers all the information you need to help. Briefly, Operation Christmas Child sends specially created care packages to children all over the world who need the most basic items as well as some personal gifts to really light up their world. Unfortunately, the national send-off week has passed, but you can still donate to the amazing cause at Samaritan’s Purse on their website. I want to make it a family tradition starting next year to pack a box together for a child who needs it.
  8. Participate in Operation Give, which sends 10,000 stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While, unfortunately, the deadline for stockings and stocking stuffers has passed, they are still in a great need for monetary donations right now to pay for shipping charges to actually get these stockings to the troops. 
  9. Another opportunity to support to our troops is through our USO program. The USO serves our troops year round, not just at Christmastime. They are always in need of support. You can donate at the link provided. Any online donations to such causes could be a thoughtful gift given in the name of others, such as neighbors or coworkers. It could be included in a card that a donation was made in their name to one of these wonderful programs.
  10. If you’re a pet lover, often local animal shelters hold food or toy drives for the animals housed there during Christmastime. These shelters tend to see an influx of new animals when the weather turns cold, because people are more inclined to drop off a stray for fear of them not surviving the cold. Shelters rely on such food donations well into the new year to care for the animals that wander their way. It would be a wonderful way to teach children to care for God’s creatures by buying cat food or dog food and dropping it off at your local animal shelter this Christmas.
  11. If you have a particular talent that you could share with others, now would be a great time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital or nursing home. If you play an instrument or sing, you could bring Christmas carols to the elderly or bedridden. If you have a knack for sewing, you could make a lap quilt for a child in the hospital.
  12. You could also participate in Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children who are terminally ill or have been traumatized, or who could otherwise just use a warm blanket around them. You can participate by donating a handmade blanket to a nearby Project Linus chapter, or by donating online to help pay for shipping and material costs.
  13. Ask around in your community, work, or church to see if there is a family with a particular need that you might fulfill. Perhaps there’s an elderly woman who just needs help keeping her driveway shoveled this year. Perhaps it’s a family who otherwise won’t have groceries this month. Whether it’s things or service, there is bound to be someone near you who could use some help, and there is bound to be some way you can help them.
  14. Shop local. Look for locally owned mom and pop stores to shop from rather than purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies this year. Shopping at local stores puts money back in your own community and supports families just like yours who are trying to make it this holiday season. You could buy gifts from the local bookstore down the street or shop for your Christmas dinner groceries at the family-owned grocery store in town rather than the large surplus store.
  15. Donate time, money, or food to the local food bank. Food banks always run low this time of year, and their staff is always stretched thin. Consider making it a family tradition to volunteer one Saturday before Christmas at your local food bank. You can hand out, sort, organize or prepare food for families.
  16. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. The cold weather sends people inside more than other times of year, and it seems harder this time of year for people in need to find a warm meal. Of course our current national economic state doesn’t help either. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can be a great bonding experience for your family, and can give you a chance to make friends with those less fortunate in our community.
  17. Bake cookies or other yummy goodies for your local firemen, police officers, EMT service providers, or teachers. Public service men and women don’t make a lot of money, but they do a ton of hard work in our communities. It would be a blessing to let them know how appreciated they are by dropping by this year with some baked goods and a smile.
  18. Make up coupons for your next door neighbors that give them one free law mowing, leaf raking, or car washing when the weather clears up. You could slip it in with a plate of cookies. It fosters a sense of community, allows you to get to know your neighbors, and shows them that you are willing to serve them as friends.
  19. Practice random acts of kindness by buying the lunch for someone in line with you at the local fast food restaurant. I’ve done this before, and I love both the reaction of the person at the window when I tell them what I’m doing and the reaction of the person behind me when they realize their meal is free.
  20. Donate to the cause of your choice on behalf of someone else. If a loved one has suffered from Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any other ailment, you can make a loving donation in the name of a friend or family member that supports a cause close to your heart. Many people appreciate these kind of gifts instead of little trinkets that will break or be lost quickly after the season.

It doesn’t take much to bless the lives of others, and this is the perfect time of year to make someone’s day and life magical in more ways than you can ever imagine. So bring your family and friends together this month and find ways to participate in the joy of giving. The warmth you will feel inside your heart will be the greatest gift you will ever receive. 

Blessings to you and yours,

Kaylin

Kaylin’s Bucket List

cleaning_service_bucket_with_sponges_chemicals_bottles_and_cg1p70148695c_thIf you don’t live your days by goals and plans, chances are you spend most of your time caught up in a flurry of day-to-day activities and self-imposed obligations that you can’t seem to complete, no matter how hard you try. Do you ever feel that your days are passing you by without any tangible output to speak of? What did you accomplish in the past 3 months? What are your upcoming goals for the next 8 months? Look at the things you did and the things you’re planning to do next — Do they mean anything to you if you were to die today? Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them.

Even if you frequently live by goals or to-do lists, they are probably framed within a certain social context e.g. performance, career, health. A bucket list opens up the context. It’s a forum to set anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to do, whether it’s big, small or random.

It’s just like planning ahead all the highlights you want for YOUR whole life. 😀 Even though goal setting is already my staple activity, I still found many new things to do while I was writing on my own list. It was an incredibly insightful exercise. What’s more, coming up with my list gave me a whole new layer of enthusiasm knowing what’s in store ahead!

The objective of creating this list isn’t to instill some kind of a race against time or to create aversion toward death. I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — our physical lifespan is but a short speck of our existence in the universe.

The whole point of creating your list is to maximize every moment of our existence and live our life to the fullest. It’s a reminder of all the things we want to achieve in our time here, so that instead of pandering our time in pointless activities, we are directing it fully toward what matters to us. So with this in mind, here is my current bucket list. Things that I long to do before taking my last breath:

  1. Travel: I have literally been around the world via airplanes and cruise ships, but there are still a few places I’d love to see in this lifetime. These unique locations include: Chile, India, Cuba, Argentina, Egypt and Finland.
  2. Experiences: Keeping in mind some of these countries, imagine journeying the entire length of Chile’s Pacific coastline. You’d start in the lunar-like Atacama Desert and end in a land of water and ice, as the country splinters away to the Tierra del Fuego — a gateway to Antarctica. In between lie the Lake District’s volcanoes, valleys blanketed with vineyards, and the stark mountains and rock formations of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Then, far away from the mainland, seemingly marooned in the ocean, is enigmatic Easter Island. India, Cuba, Argentina and Egypt are easy when it comes to adventures. There are hundreds of things to experience there: visit the Taj Mahal, taste Havana rum, meet gauchos, and view pyramids. But nothing beats sleeping under the Northern Lights in a glass igloo and sledding with reindeer in snow-covered Finland. Or snorkeling in the glaciers of Iceland. Now that’s what I call fun!
  3. Personal Fitness: I’m notorious for savoring wine, eating on the run, snacking while writing, and taste testing dinner so I can get to the yummy desserts (especially if chocolate is involved). Exercise is the last thing on my mind every day, especially when I wakeup and remember a dozen things that need to be addressed. But the only way to fit back into the new wardrobe I recently bought is by shaving off a few pounds, reducing my wine intake and eating sensibility. So my list needs to include a healthy regiment and fewer trips to the plastic surgeon’s office for botox and liposuction procedures.
  4.  Mentoring: Obviously, teaching is one of the most rewarding things we can do. No matter how old you are, even if you are in your teens, you are always in the position to mentor someone else — perhaps someone who is more junior than you or someone who is older but can benefit from a particular expertise you have. Mentoring others is also a great way for you to develop yourself too and to share your abilities with others. So maybe it’s time for me to reach out and offer up some writing tips and advice to others.

Do you have a bucket list? A collection of dreams you’d like to turn into reality? As I’ve learned after losing wonderful people to diseases and tragic accidents, life is much shorter than we imagine, so don’t wait too long to act. Find ways to make yourself happy and to push yourself beyond your limits and comfort zone. The memories you’ll be left with are the material stories are made of, whether they be written down or told time and again.