Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Five years ago, I was invited to give the address to graduates from our local high school. I was honoured to do so, particularly since my daughter was graduating, and so I knew many students in the class. Since it’s that time of year again, I thought I’d share my thoughts from that time with everyone. The advice in it is really not only for young people. :)

Good evening, everyone, and good evening especially to you, the graduates of 2012. (And if I’ve been to your English class lately, yes, it’s me again. And I thought talking to twenty of you at once was intimidating!)

Actually, I’m very pleased to have been invited to speak to you tonight. I’ve known many of you since you started school, and I’ve watched you grow into wonderful young men and women. I’ve met more of you through school visits, and I know that this class of 2012 is full of kindness, intelligence, spirit, talent, and potential.

When I was invited to do this, at first I wasn’t quite sure what I should say. My guidelines were to give you some “sage advice.” Now, for one thing, I’m much too young to be giving “sage” advice! But I guess I have learned a few things worth sharing. I think they’re some of the ingredients for a happy life. (Don’t worry, it’s not a long or complicated recipe.)

Learn to say “yes.”
I don’t mean, “be a doormat.” I mean, “open yourself to opportunities.” It’s almost always easier to say “no,” especially if we’re presented with an opportunity that seems intimidating, or outside our comfort zone, or more than we’re qualified for. Say yes anyway. It’s only by taking on things that challenge us that we learn our true capabilities and allow ourselves to grow. So make “yes” your default answer when opportunity presents itself.

Learn to say “no.”
When “yes” is your default, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So learn to say “no” sometimes, too. I know your life seems quite full right now, but once you add in careers and spouses and children and houses and bills and volunteering and grocery shopping and housework and yardwork and travel and deadlines—it’s going to get busier. And in order to give all those things the attention they need—you need a little time to stop and think once in a while. To refocus on the important things and let go of the not-so-important ones. So learn to balance “yes” and “no” wisely.

Remember that who and what you are today is not necessarily who and what you will be tomorrow.
Life is about change and possibility. There’s a lot of pressure on you right now to decide what you are going to be. Don’t let that overwhelm you. All you are really deciding is what you are going to do—at least for the next little while. If you change your mind later, it’s all right. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. When I left Memorial, I headed for journalism school. Then I changed my mind and became a lawyer for a time. Then I changed my mind again when I realized that I wasn’t happy—and I went back to writing, because that’s where my heart is. But if I hadn’t gone to law school and worked as a lawyer, I probably wouldn’t have met the person who would become one of my best friends and one of my partners in publishing. So even if your path is a winding one, that doesn’t mean you’ve strayed off course. Very few lives are a straight road—and straight roads are generally not nearly as interesting as winding ones.

Create something.
Without a doubt, we live in a consumer society. We consume material things like clothes and cell phones, we consume entertainment like TV shows and movies, we consume far too much of far too many things that are “bad” for us. So to balance all this consumption, I encourage you to also take time to create something. It’s strange how many people deny their creativity—they say, “Oh, I’m not creative”—when what I think they really feel is that they’re not creative enough to do something that someone else would consider “good.” But I think that making things is good for us. You might be a writer or a filmmaker or an artist or a songwriter. You might build bridges or design buildings or craft a new scientific theory. Or you could be a scrapbooker or a woodworker or a gardener. Or you could take pictures or sew things or make music or restore old cars or make a funny video that goes viral. If you don’t create for anyone else, create for yourself. I like this quote from the American journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. He said: “I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my butt all afternoon.”

So even if you’re not being paid for it, don’t just sit on your butt all afternoon. Create things.

Think for yourself.
Every generation probably hears this, but I think it is especially important in the world right now. We are facing a lot of BIG issues—political, religious, scientific, global—and the rate of societal change is possibly the fastest it has ever been. You will have to make decisions on many of these issues, so I urge you to be informed, consider the facts, and decide for yourself. Just because your parents or your friends or a politician or your favorite celebrity or some guy on YouTube tells you something, does not necessarily make it true. You can respect their opinions, but think for yourself, and be true to your own decisions.

Don’t strive for normal.
Since the time you started school, you’ve probably been preoccupied with being “normal” or “fitting in.” But what does “normal” mean? It means “standard” or “common” or “average.” I want you all to do something. Put your thumbs and fingertips together, and look through the opening that forms. That’s “normal.” Now look around you, everywhere else. That’s the rest of your possibilities. Do you really want to fit into that little space called “normal?” Don’t be afraid to live outside the boundaries, even just a little. I think you’ll be happier for it.

You are never too old.
You’ve been told many times in the past eighteen or nineteen years that you’re “too young” to do this or that. And while that is sometimes true—you really are too young to drive a car at age twelve, or get married in Grade Three—before long you’ll start thinking (or society will tell you) that you’re “too old” to do things. Don’t believe it. You are never too old to do things you think you’ll enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Want to play on a playground? Do it. Change your job? Do it. Learn a new sport, or hobby, or language? Do it. If you truly believe that you are not too old to do something, then you won’t be. But you have to start believing it now, so that doubts and that tiny space called “normal” don’t hold you back later.

Finally, I want to mention the Ethic of Reciprocity. You may think you don’t know what that is, but I’m betting that you do. You might know it as the Golden Rule, which commonly goes something like: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s a concept that goes far beyond that. The idea that the best way to get along in life is to treat others the way we would like to be treated stretches back as far as the ancient civilizations of Babylon, China, Egypt, and Greece, and it stretches across almost every world culture, religion, and ethical code. In Islam, it’s “wish for others what you wish for yourself”; in Buddhism, it’s “treat not others in ways that you would find hurtful”; in Judaism, it’s “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” And so on, and so on.

It’s easy to say it, but when you take a step back and look at it, it’s quite elegant in its simplicity. You can hang almost every other moral and ethical principle on this one directive. Take a minute and really think about what kind of world we would live in if we always considered the other in all of our social interactions. In business, in relationships, in our everyday life. If we always took a brief second to judge our actions by that one, simple test—if someone did or said this to me, would it harm or upset me? If you forget everything else I’ve said here tonight as soon as you leave, I hope this one, at least, will stick. I really think it has the power to change the world.

And that’s it—say yes, say no, expect and accept change, make things, think for yourself, forget about normal, never think you’re “too old,” and always consider the other. My recipe for a happy life! You have already made all of us—your parents, your teachers, your families—incredibly proud, and I hope that as you start down your own winding paths, you’ll find some of these ingredients useful.

There’s a quote that goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Go and be the ones who make it happen!

Thank you.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Work on improving my marketing strategies continued this week. There’s a LOT of information and advice out there, and much of it concludes with “see what works for you.” That’s a lot of trial and error, but I guess it’s really the only way. I have worked out the beginnings of a weekly/monthly action list, which just sounds too organized for me. ;)

Not much in the way of word count this week, since my focus was elsewhere. I do have a new story to work on, though, and I figured out some more things about The Chaos Assassin. I also got those two non-fiction ebooks mostly formatted, so I think this weekend I will try to run through them both one last time and maybe get them out the door early next week. I’ve decided I’m happy with the covers. I have a school visit coming up on Monday, but fortunately there’s little prep work involved for that. I do have to finish up the last of my prep for the workshop I’m presenting next weekend. I’m hoping we’ll have some fun talking speculative fiction all day!

This new story idea is really giving me a brain itch, so I think I might have to write it before it drives me crazy. It will be the next installment in the Olympia Investigations series, so I know it will be fun to write. Although it rarely happens, I think I know the throughline of the whole story right off the top, so maybe I’ll be looking at a fast first draft. Here’s hoping!

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

This week’s word was “Delicious,” and I played around with another typography project. Here it is! I guess you can tell I’m longing for summer and the sweet taste of fresh strawberries. I had inspiration and help from this tutorial.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

perlerbeadtypewriterIt’s been a while since the last Friday Desk Report–mainly because I haven’t been able to be at my desk, so there’s been little to report. However, between medication, time, and the stellar efforts of my wonderful physiotherapist, I’ve been inching my way back. I’m picking up the threads of the novel draft again, and making some progress on a new short story. The novel is certainly the more challenging of the two, since one might visualize it as something like this:

Tangled_leads

instead of something more like this:

loom

but that is what editing is for, right?

Actually, those two pictures make a pretty good summation of the state of life in general and what I’m trying to get back to. All with time, I guess.

I’ve also just joined up for Kobo Writing Life and put The Murder Prophet there. It was available on Kobo before, through Smashwords distribution, but I wanted to explore the opportunities that Writing Life might provide. I’ve heard other authors talk about good experiences with it. I’m not sure of all the ins and outs of it just yet, but I’m sure I’ll learn as I go. I have a few short stories published since To Unimagined Shores came out, so I’m thinking about maybe putting together a small short story pack. Just a notion I’m noodling, so we’ll have to see where it goes.

On the Third Person Press side of things, we’re looking at two manuscripts right now, so although it’s seemed quiet on that front, things are happening behind the scenes. More on that as things develop.

So it’s been a slow and rather painful December and January, but as the daylight hours begin to grow a bit longer, a few minutes at a time, so do things begin to get back to “normal” at the desk. What will it look like by the time spring is actually here? Time will tell.

Away from the desk, I’m doing a sketch-a-day challenge this year to work on my drawing skills. I always say I’m better at colouring than drawing–my forays into coloured pencil art  attest to that–but this year I’d like to get a little better with the sketching. I am calling it sketch-a-day, but am allowing myself some leeway on that. Some days I might just do some colouring or other art, and if I miss a day, I’m allowed to make it up later. Right now I think I’m two drawings behind, but I’ll catch up on those on the weekend. Sometimes the hardest part of the undertaking is deciding what I feel like drawing.

Things I drew (or attempted to draw) this week:

  • flowers from photos on Instagram
  • a lamp in my living room
  • sketch plans for a clockwork rocket
  • a tree in a winter field

Loom image by Ladyheart at morguefile.com

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

  
This little gem came to light yesterday and generated a thrill of memory for me. This book was one of my favorites when I was young, and I would consider it a foundational influence on my reading and writing tastes.

It was probably one of my first introductions to “mystery” as a genre, and features a lot of story in its slim 80 pages. Kidnapping in the name of love! Trial by jury! Prison and escape! Vengeance and redemption! I read it countless times and I’m not sure what ever happened to the copy that lived at our house, but I’m sure glad to have one again now. 

I think I’ll curl up and read it today. :)

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Did you think I was going to forget? Nope, here I am.

Terriermon completeIt’s been a not-so-productive week at the desk, since I’ve been laid low by a rather miserable cold and spent a good portion of my not-as-miserable time sewing. The sewing was definitely rewarding, however, since I finished this plush Terriermon for my daughter’s upcoming Digimon cosplay. He turned out to be quite a size and required a ridiculous amount of stuffing, but we are super pleased with him! The fabric is fleece so he’s very soft and cuddly.

I did manage to put the finishing touches on that little book trailer video for The Seventh Crow, and made it live today. You can find it here if you’d like to take a look. I also sent out my October writing news newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, you can find it here, but there’s a contest running only for subscribers, so consider signing up!

One nice aspect of the writing life is that one doesn’t necessarily have to be at the desk to be working, so I did a fair amount of cogitating on the plotlines of my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel while at the sewing machine. There are QUITE a number of things going on in this novel, and I’m not sure yet how they will all fit together, so a goodly amount of thinkage is required. Next I think I’m going to organize some index cards, either physical or in Scrivener, to sort out what’s been percolating this week.

Although it has nothing to do with writing, I’m so pleased that we have a new Canadian government as of this week, I can hardly stand it. Also not writing-related, I planted (with hubby’s help) all of my new bulbs and perennials–tulips, crocus, daylilies, oriental lilies, hyacinth, coneflowers, and astrantia. In a departure from the norm, I even marked where they are planted. I’m rarely that organized in the garden. Now to hunker down and wait until the long winter passes before they bloom in the spring. Sigh.cleandesk

Notably, I’ve kept my desk clean and tidy for over two weeks now. I expect that to change when November hits, since I’ll be writing like mad and also starting to run an online workshop.

Books I’ve been reading/listening to this week:

Read only one book at a time? Not me! :)

Next Friday I’ll be on the road to Hal-Con 2015, but if I’m really on the ball I’ll have my blog post ready to go before I leave.

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

old deskWhat? How can it be Friday again already?

Well, let’s see what I have for the desk report this week. I cooked and ate a lot of food over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and hung out with my family.

I did quite a bit more work on my Nearspace bible in preparation to begin the new novel, and I wrote almost two thousand words of new story notes. While doing some research reading I had a HUGE epiphany about how a lot of things fall into place in this novel, and honestly, when that happens, that’s enough of an accomplishment to make you feel good about the whole week! My brain is now telling me I’m ready to start writing, but I know that’s not true yet. It’s just that my brain gets overexcited about these things sometimes. Calm down. Not long now.

I got a short story rejection and sent out a new submission for that story the same day. Which reminded me of one of my favorite essays from back in the day when Speculations was still a print publication. It was “How Many Times Do You Have To Be Told No?” by James Van Pelt and it made a big impression on me as a new-ish writer (I still have a copy of that issue, so I went and re-read it for fun. It’s just as relevant today as it ever was). The tagline for the article was The sun sets on no rejected manuscript in my house and I have tried hard over the years to make that my creed for submitting stories.

I tweaked my NaNoWriMo guest blog post for Liana Brooks and saw it go live here on Thursday. And I read the page proofs for my story in the upcoming 2016 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide from Dreaming Robot Press. I’m really excited to read all of the stories in this anthology.

And I discovered two new very nice reviews for One’s Aspect to the Sun over on amazon.

Today I’m talking to some elementary school kids about “being a writer” for a career day project, so I did some prep work for that as well. I’m hoping they’ll have some questions to ask me, too!

Some things I looked up on the Internet this week (not necessarily to do with writing):

I’d call that a good week.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

So, at the same time the Kickstarter for my book with a bird in the title (The Seventh Crow) is running, I had the opportunity to help out a little bird in trouble.

littlebirdAround 8 o’clock this morning, my daughter and I heard a thump on the front of the house. It took only a moment to spot a couple of downy feathers stuck to the glass and I knew what had happened–a bird had flown against the window over our front door. This is a fairly rare occurrence as the door and window are inset from the front of the house.

I checked the front step right away and saw the little creature in pile of leaves. My first impression was bad–its head seemed twisted and it was breathing heavily. I fetched some garden gloves and went out to have a closer look. When I gently picked it up, it looked left and right and although it was content to sit in my hands, it seemed overall okay, probably just stunned from the impact.

Well, I didn’t want to leave the little guy prey to the occasional cat who strolls through the neighborhood, so we quickly improvised a little shelter in an empty clementine box and set it in an elevated spot near the back door. I figured if it recovered quickly, it would slip out from underneath the mesh easily.IMG_3880 IMG_3879

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty-five minutes later it hadn’t moved much, although it still opened its eyes if I gently drew the mesh back. At this point I wasn’t too confident of its recovery, since that seemed a long time to still be stunned. However, I decided that whether it could recover or not, it was safe and comfortable and not being attacked by any predators. I continued to check on it periodically through the morning and would find it sleeping, but alert if I pulled back the mesh.

IMG_3881It would be in just this position, but open its eyes when I moved the mesh covering. It wasn’t at all visibly distressed by my presence. Maybe it knew I was trying to help!

 

 

 

 

 

And then when I checked at noon, I found this. Looking much perkier!
IMG_3883

 

 

 

 

 

And then this…
IMG_3885

IMG_3884

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and then a minute later he hopped out of the box, took a couple of hops, and flew away, across the yard to land in a tree. I guess he just needed a good nap in a safe spot!

Now, my question is, what kind of bird was he? My mother’s bird guide offered a couple of suggestions but none of them looked quite right. If you know or think you know, leave me a comment!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

256px-Book_burning I’ve read some books I didn’t particularly like. I’ve read some books that I thought had many technical and craft-related flaws. I’ve written reviews on some of those books.


I’ve never felt the need or desire to destroy an author or their book in one of those reviews. I don’t think it’s necessary, professional, or entertaining.


I’m not writing this post because I’ve received any sort of review like this for my own work (or if I have, I’ve been lucky enough not to see it!). But I’ve read some others lately that alternately make me cringe, and make me angry. Have you seen reviews like this? Where the reviewer seems to take a sick delight in completely eviscerating the work–and by association, of course, the author? They can be cleverly written, sure. But their vitriol against the book is actually repulsive. I’m not going to do any of them the service of linking to them. Sadly, they’re not all that difficult to find.


Yes, there are probably more flawed books available now than there ever were before (although don’t think they don’t/didn’t exist inside traditional publishing since its inception). But I don’t know what can prompt a “reviewer” to write such a screed. Even if you think a book is the worst piece of drivel ever written, that opinion doesn’t give you the right to decimate another human being. You can discuss the flaws you found in the book; you can discuss why it didn’t appeal to you; you can even make suggestions for what would have improved it for you. Those thoughts might be helpful to an author in writing another book, and they might be helpful to other readers in deciding whether to read a book.


But if you’re not writing a review with those goals in mind, why *are* you writing it? If it’s to make yourself look clever and rapier-witted at the cost of destroying someone else–you’re just another online bully. And your credibility with me is a big fat zero.


Photo credit: By Patrick Correia from Northampton, MA, United States (Book burning Uploaded by mangostar) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Boxes1

I actually have fewer than half this many Christmas boxes. Honest.

I’m not one to get over the holidays very quickly or easily. It’s only a few days since my tree and decorations came down and were put away, and as I write this, mere hours since I finally cleaned all the remnants of holiday leftovers out of the fridge. I love Christmas and New Year’s; they’re happy and busy times for our family, and I like to string them out as looooooong as possible.

However. There does come a time when I have to accept the notion that it’s really, really, really time to get back to work. And that means coming up with a new working plan.

I wonder how many writers there are out there who just work on one project until it’s finished, complete it absolutely, and then move on to the next one. Show of hands? Whew. That’s what I was hoping. I didn’t see a single hand out there among you. Like me, most of you have several projects on the back burner, shoved there by time or necessity over the holidays, just simmering until it’s time for you to stick the spoon in and give them a stir. The question for me is always which one to stir first?

I have one obvious answer this year, a project I’ve been mulling over and even picking at a bit over the holiday break. But there are also a few other unfinished bits of business; a manuscript I have to send out for a critiquing swap, one I have to read for Third Person Press, a couple of stories to line edit, and of course, the queue of stories that prompted me to resolve to make 2014 the Year of Finishing. If I’m gonna finish those, I have to pick them up sometime.

The big project has to be one priority, but does anyone else find they have this little voice in the back of their brain as well, saying, “Oh, but look at this one–it wouldn’t take any time at all to finish! You could get that out of the way first.” Which is a big fat lie, in most cases, because if it was that simple, it would already be finished, right? This is my brain trying to sabotage me because it doesn’t want to go back to work, and what the big project needs right now is going to be…well, I don’t want to say “hard.” “Hard” is digging ditches or working backshifts, and I can’t really lay claim to anything like that as I sit here in my cushy office, can I? But it’s going to take work, and my brain is a lazy old thing.

I think that’s part of why it takes me so long to let go of the holidays. My brain is loathe to go back into “work” mode, so even the end of the season…taking down the decorations, cleaning out the fridge, putting the house back to rights…must take as long as possible. But this is it. The end of that road. The house is back to normal. The fridge is clean. Fresh groceries have been purchased, the laundry basket is empty.

Assess, prioritize, tackle. Working plan, here I come.

Photo credit: By skrewtape (http://www.flickr.com/photos/skrewtape/851672959/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

We had another power outage last night. This one didn’t last terribly long (about 5 hours for us), but the timing was bad for two reasons: I was in the shower when it went out (so, hello, wet, chilly hair), and I had no hot coffee in the pot. Did you read that correctly? NO HOT COFFEE! There wasn’t much I could do for the hair except put it up, but I came up with (I thought) an ingenious way to heat up a cup of coffee.

Note: I had some still in the coffeepot, so I was not starting from scratch. But for any beverage you just want to reheat, or water to make something else, this should work.

IMG_2548I started with my 4-cup glass measuring bowl and a candle that was almost as tall as the bowl. I set the glass bowl on the stove for safety, put the candle inside, and lit it. Then I set a round metal cooling rack over the top. What I like about this plan is that even if the structure got bumped, the candle is protected.

Then I took a clean tin can from the recycling, removed the paper label from the outside, put my coffee in it, and set it over the candle. The flame was burning about an inch below the can. To retain the heat as the liquid warmed, I set a saucer over the top of the can. WARNING: the can is going to get hot as well as the liquid inside it. From this point on, handle only with oven mitts.

Now, this is NOT a feat to be attempted anywhere within reach of small children, pets, or clumsy adults who might knock the whole thing over. But after about 15 minutes, I had a nice, hot cup of coffee to see me through until the power came back.

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