Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fight the Good Fight

Throughout my life, I’ve had this drive, this need, for things to be fair. I can’t say why. Although part of me thinks that it comes from growing up in Utah. Among Latter-day Saints, I believe there can be a prevailing feeling of being the victim. After all, people of the LDS faith (the Mormons) had to leave what was then the United States of America to find religious freedom, and I believe some of that bitterness has been passed down through the generations. For example, I’ve noticed as a fan of BYU’s football team there is a sense of trying to be taken seriously on the national stage—and being outraged when that isn’t the case.
Regardless of the reasons for my feelings that things need to be fair, I also find that I’m not afraid to stand up for things that I believe to be right. The challenge with that, as I’ve grown to understand, is that I’m an extremely sensitive person. Generally, I’ve learned that I don’t have a problem when people disagree with my opinions. After all, I do believe everyone has a right to choose. What I really struggle with is when I feel like me as a person, my character and integrity, are being attacked because I don’t agree with someone.
A few years ago, I attended the LDStorymakers conference in Provo. I was a newly published author. Because I had published through a “traditional” publisher, I was allowed to join the LDStorymakers as a member, and therefore get a discount to this awesome conference which I had heard so many good things about.
And it was amazing. I met a lot of really nice people. One of these wonderful authors was serving on the Board of Directors for LDStorymakers. After we chatted for a bit, she asked if I’d like to become involved. The idea was rather exciting.
Time passed and I learned that there was an “At-Large” position opening soon. This person would be voted in by the membership, and their primary responsibility was to represent the membership and bring issues or concerns to the board.
At first, everything was going great. I contributed by helping with the scholarship fund to help people attend the conference. I attended the monthly meetings via phone and voted on things that needed to be voted upon.
Not long after, I had some serious issues with my publisher. Suffice it to say, I was able to get my rights back to the two books they published. I looked at different options, and elected to pursue this new avenue opening to authors commonly referred to as “indie publishing.” I would bypass the traditional publisher and work directly with the printer and distributor. I got to choose my own covers. I was able to hire my own editor. My old publisher required that I do a lot of promotion, so I was already doing that.
After “going indie,” I discovered two things. First, I loved the creative freedom AND I was making more money. Second, there were certain traditionally published authors who looked down their nose at indie publishing.
Now it wasn’t everyone, or even close to the majority. But there were a number of people who openly criticized indies as inferior. In addition, (and I think this ties back to the whole “victim mentality” of a lot of LDS folks) several indie authors were quite offended.
In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that when I first joined LDStorymakers that indie authors were not allowed to join. After all, my first book was traditionally published, so I hadn’t given it a second thought. When I asked about indies joining, three main reasons from several members of the LDStorymakers came up. First, LDStorymakers is a guild for traditionally published authors. That’s what they do. Second, there really isn’t a gatekeeper on indie work to ensure its quality. Third, LDStorymakers couldn’t really handle taking on a whole lot of new members without more people helping out (commonly referred to as “infrastructure”).
All these answers made sense to me. After all, LDStorymakers had been around for a long time and it was working.
However, now that I was aware of these two different types of authors (traditional and indie), I became more aware of LDStorymakers members asking the same questions. After all, the publishing world was changing dramatically. Indie publishing was taking off (as I experienced firsthand).
Over time, I also realized I had an ethical dilemma. I was voted by the membership to represent them, yet if LDStorymakers was truly only for traditionally published authors, I didn’t really represent them. I had switched to the indie path. I carefully considered my options, and in doing so, re-read my responsibilities. I even mentioned to the Board of Directors that since I was no longer affiliated with traditional publishing that perhaps I should resign. I was encouraged to stay. I even stayed on for an additional year. 
During the next few months, it occurred to me that there was enough concern among the members of the LDStorymakers around membership requirements that it was my responsibility to bring it to the attention of the board. When I did so, I was a bit shocked to hear that it was something brought up often, every year or so. Yet, as far as I could tell, the members hadn’t been allowed to vote on possible changes—for various reasons, some of them logical and noble.
I urged the board to at least ask the members if they wanted to look at different membership options. Specifically, put it to a vote. I’ll be honest here when I say I had to really push to get a vote to happen. But it did.
The results? By an overwhelming margin, the members who voted said they wanted to look at different options.
At this point, the BOD decided to form a committee to look at various options. I declined to participate for two main reasons. First, I will openly admit I thought that indie authors should be allowed to join. I didn’t want it to come across that I was trying to force my personal opinion into the mix. Second, I was finishing my Master’s degree at the time and was swamped with school work.
The committee that was formed worked their tails off, looking at different options. The most controversial of the options was around indie authors. Some were convinced it would never pass. At the very least, I wanted the members to have the option to vote on it.
Several months passed while it was debated. I’ll state that one reason it needed to be pushed to the back burner for a bit was because of the annual conference which took place in April. That event is by far the biggest event in which the LDStorymakers are involved—and a valid reason for a delay.
With that completed, I once again began to push for a vote. I was met with a lot of resistance. And some of it started to turn personal. One person even said I had threatened to quit if I didn’t get my way—that was based on my comment that perhaps I should resign if I didn’t truly represent the members. I’ll openly confess that the sensitive part of me started to get outraged. I was trying to do my job, and yet somehow my motives and character were being called into question.
I honestly thought about quitting because the stress was starting to impact other parts of my life—stress caused from a volunteer position in which I was trying to do what I had been voted in to do.
But the other part of me, the fighter, hung on. As of this moment, the LDStorymakers members are voting on three possible options for opening up more membership, including allowing indie authors.
During this process, I have received emails from five different people accusing me of various things (abusing power, falsifying information, and trying to advance my personal agenda) and attacking my character—all because I pushed for the vote to happen.
The one thing that I reminded all of them is that I gain nothing, personally, from the results of the vote either way, aside from knowing that I did what I was elected to do.
And now the good news. For every bad email, I received at least two positive emails thanking me for making a stand and speaking out for the membership. One person even admitted that they wanted to speak up, but felt like if they did they would receive the same treatment I did from the few who were brash enough to make accusations.
In the end, have I taken offense when people have disagreed with me? I’d like to believe that wasn’t the case at first, but I will admit that once the comments became personal, that clouded my reaction when people were offering different opinions. I wish I had been better than that. At the same time, I honestly believe I’ve tried to do what I thought was right.
At the very least, the members have been allowed to vote on choices for changing membership options—options which I feel will only make LDStorymakers stronger and better, and able to serve a larger group of people. Chances are good that at least one of the proposed options will pass, if not more. Even if none pass, at least the members were the ones to make the choice—the people I was voted in to represent. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cruise Control

Cruise control is a blessing and a curse. Whenever I have to travel any length, I use cruise control, mainly to ensure that I don’t go too fast—getting speeding tickets stinks and can be pricey.

All too often, the following situation happens: I’m driving down the road, fat, dumb and happy. Ahead of me, in my lane, is a car which is going slower than I am. As I get closer, I check the passing lane, and if it is clear, I’ll go around the person. No big deal, right?

A little while later, the person I passed is coming up on my tail. Many times they’ll pass me, and before you know it, I’m creeping up on them again.

The whole time, my speed hasn’t changed. And this drives me nuts.

I was thinking about this and how it compares to life. Many times I feel like I’m just chugging along. I’m the kind of person to plans things out and gets after them, pacing myself. Then BOOM! Someone will call me or email or something and tell me they needs help right then.

Of course, I’ll do what I can to help them. And in doing so, I’ll figure out what caused the urgent matter. Often, the reason for the problem is due to poor planning, or someone putting something off until the last minute. In a sense, I’m the one keeping my speed steady, and they are the ones changing speeds. Sometimes they get in my way, and I have to slow down, or sometimes they go zipping by me, sometimes recklessly.

I’m pretty chill with the “live and let live” attitude, or to be clearer, that everyone has a right to choose.

However, as my college English students are finding out, when I say an assignment is due, it is due. It’s been interesting how many students have Internet or computer problems 30 minutes before an assignment is due.

So yes, I tell me students, I believe you when you say your computer blew up or the Internet suddenly disappeared. I also believe I gave you a week to do the assignment which could have been done before the last minute.

“But! But! But!” they say.

I respond, “My speed hasn’t changed. I’m on cruise control.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It’s our policy

How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s our policy”? From personal experience, it seems the larger a company becomes, the more it tends to initiate policies in how to deal with certain situations.

Here are some examples:

“Our policy is to only give store credit for returns.”

“Our policy is that you must have two forms of ID before I can help you.”

“Our policy is that if you want to upgrade your phone, you have to pay a processing fee.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in rooms where policies have been decided. Sometimes, they are logical, and it seems like a good rule to follow. Sometimes, no one knows for sure how to handle a problem, so they come up with something that they hope will work. And sometimes, the “policy” is put into place strictly for the betterment of the company—not the public.

Case in point: I have a business account for my authoring revenues and expenses. I received a letter from my bank recently that they were “upgrading their policies.” (Notice how they chose the word “upgrade”? Makes it sound like an improvement, right?)

Basically, the bank used to process deposits starting with the largest amounts first. The “upgrade” is that they were now going to process the deposits in chronological order. This may not seem like a big deal, so let me clarify.

When I opened the account, one of the benefits they sold me on was that they process the largest deposits first. That way, if I have expenses leaving about the same time, I’ll be covered.

Now, by doing the deposits in chronological order, those businesses which live on the hairy edge of money coming in and out are going to start to get hit with all sorts of fees.

The kicker? The letter included a section in big bold letters which read, “How this benefits you!” What was the first of these so-called benefits? To paraphrase, “This change will help you stay focused on the timing of your transactions as to avoid fees.”

How is that a benefit? When I think of a benefit, I think of something that works in my favor.

I happened to be in that bank a few days later to make a deposit. At the teller line, I asked about this new deposit policy change. How did the teller respond?

“It’s our policy not to discuss the pros or cons of our policies.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

For those who are not easily offended

One thing the general public doesn’t understand is that most successful authors spend a lot of time on promotion and marketing. It doesn’t matter if you are published through a traditional publishing house, or you have taken the indie route. Unless people know about your work, they can’t buy it.

To that end, I do a lot of research on different marketing methods and I’ve joined a number of online groups that share ideas and such with each other. In the process, I note how other authors promote their work.

Recently, an author I’d never heard of posted about their book. The cover was very sexually suggestive, and the description said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Filled with graphic sex and violence, this book is not for those who are easily offended.”

I paused at that statement, and thought about what it implies. In a sense, the phrase “someone who is easily offended” is a bit of an oxymoron. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word offend is defined in the following ways: “To transgress the moral or divine law” and “To cause difficulty, discomfort, or injury” and “To cause to feel vexation or resentment usually by violation of what is proper or fitting” and even “To cause pain to.”

If you look at all those definitions, a common theme is that a type of action creates something considered offensive. In the case of the book noted above, the author chose to create subject matter which many people would consider is not “proper or fitting.”

All of this begs the question, “Where is the line between offensive and not offensive?” To include the idea that people can be “easily” offended implies that the line may be different for each person. In other words, the phrase suggests it is the nature of each person who determines what is offensive and what is not.

For example, one person may find it offensive if the “F” word is used in a movie. Someone else might care less if the “F” word is used. Does that mean the person who doesn’t want to hear the “F” word is “easily offended?” That seems to be the implication.

But if you look again at the definition, offense is tied to more of a general concept of what is okay, and what isn’t okay. Society, as a whole, has certain things it will put up with and certain things it won’t.

Can you imagine someone who robbed a bank using this as a defense: “Your Honor, I see nothing wrong with putting money from a teller’s drawer into my bag. I even told them ahead of time I was going to do it. The bank is being too easily offended by my actions.”

That concept seems ridiculous, no? Is it any more ridiculous for an author then to write something that could cross a generally accepted line of what is offensive and then blaming it on the reader if they don’t like it because the reader is too “easily offended?”   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Missing the Target

I’m a bachelor. Sort of. For about a week.

My wife and three oldest daughters are at Girl’s camp for the week, roughly 90 minutes away. My youngest daughter, who is 11, is hanging out with her best friend / cousin for part of the week. So, for a time, I’m living the life of a bachelor.

On the way home from dropping off my youngest daughter, I decided to pick up a few groceries from Target. You know, the basics: Milk, cereal, TV dinners, and the makings for Root Beer floats.

I got to the check-out line with my items, and the conversation with the cashier went something like this:

“Do you have our Target card?” asked the cashier.

“My wife may have one, but I don’t,” I said. “She’s out of town so I’m just picking up a few things.”

“Oh! Let me tell you about it. You can save 5% on … yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“That’s nice, but I rarely do the shopping. That’s something my wife likes to do. And I really don’t need more plastic in my wallet.”

“But, you could be saving on these purchases right now!”

In total, I had about $15 worth of items. That could have saved me 75 cents. “I appreciate it,” I said, “but like I told you, I just don’t do enough shopping for it to be worth my while.”

The cashier gives me a blank stare. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Won’t you be doing more shopping now that your wife has left you?”

Quickly thinking back over the conversation, I tried to figure out what would have given him the impression that my wife left me. Nothing came to mind.

“Uh, my wife didn’t leave me. She’s just out of town for the week.”

“Out of town without you, right?” the cashier clarified.

“Yes. That doesn’t mean she left me.”

“It’s okay. Really,” the cashier said, his facial features softening. “My wife left me three years ago, and I kept telling myself it was only for a week. You don’t have to be embarrassed by it.”

I glanced around, trying to see if anyone else was hearing this conversation. No one was.

“Look, I’m not embarrassed,” I said. “I’m sorry your wife left you. Honestly. But my wife didn’t leave me.”

He gave me a look like he didn’t believe me. “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Give her a call right now. That way we’ll both know.”

“Uh, no. Please just ring up the rest of my items so I can be on my way.”

As he continued to scan in my groceries, he said, “I don’t see why you are afraid to call her.”

“I’m not afraid. She probably won’t answer. She’s at—”

The cashier interrupted me. “She won’t answer? Oh, dear, oh, dear.”

I decided to keep quiet, not quite believing this conversation was actually happening,

By this time, the last item was scanned in. “Your total is $14.96. You could have saved 5% if you had our Target card,” he said.

I paid for the groceries. While I was gathering up my items to leave, a lady came to the register with a few items.

“Well, hello!” the cashier said. “Do you have our Target card?” he asked her.

“I sure do,” she said. “I do all the shopping. My husband hates to shop, but I can’t see why.”

I thought about giving both of them a few ideas of why that may be the case.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Lawns

I have a new appreciation for the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” 

Yes, I understand the phrase is a metaphor for not appreciating what you have and always thinking that someone else has it better.

But recently, I’ve had an experience where in fact the grass has been greener on the other side.

Growing up in Utah, which is considered a desert, we had to water our lawn or it would die. My mom had a cool timer that she would set to remind her to move the hose which was watering the lawn. The timer looked something like this:

I always thought the middle part of the timer looked like a spaceship, but then again those were the days when Star Wars had just come out.

When my wife and I moved to Idaho, the house we bought didn’t have a lawn—just dirt and weeds. (It was also in a desert type environment.) I tilled the lawn using only a shovel and planted grass seed. A lot of watering and time later, we had a really nice lawn.

On a side note, last year we visited Idaho and drove by our old house. The person that owns it now stopped watering the lawn, it is back to weeds and dirt. It broke my heart.

North Carolina has its own unique issues with lawns. Generally, our winters are very mild and the summers can be brutal.

Our house in North Carolina had a lawn, but there were patches where it was just dirt, or what I thought was dirt. I’d grown a lawn before, so I figured, “Heck, I can do this.”

I tilled the yard, planted grass, watered … and nothing. If anything, things got worse. I was baffled.

Turns out our lawn was mostly clay, and not dirt. Also, I planted fescue grass, a type I used before, and it doesn’t like the heat very much. It fact, it dies out pretty quickly during the summer unless you water it all the time, especially in NC.

I ended up tearing up the front yard, adding topsoil, and put in a different kind of grass: zoysia. It was a grass type I’d never heard of before.

Basically, the grass withstands the summers really well and requires very little watering on my part. Most of the time, the regular rainstorms we get do the trick.

There is one aspect of zoysia grass I’d not experienced before. It goes dormant, or “to sleep” in the winter. Meaning, it turns a shade of tan. It doesn’t look bad, just different.

And that brings me back to the grass is always greener. You see, my next-door neighbor has fescue grass in his front yard. During the winter, when my lawn is tan, his is bright green. He’s even mowed it on Christmas Eve.

Yet when summer rolls around, his lawn dies. Like dead, kaput, gone. It turns to dust. (It doesn’t help that he won’t water it.) Then each autumn, he reseeds and starts all over again.

So, in the hottest months of the year, my lawn is rockin’. It’s green, thick and beautiful.

In the end, depending on the season, the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Friday, July 11, 2014


I’m sure this blog is going to ruffle some feathers. It won’t be the first time, nor the last. But those that have the stomach to read all the way to the end of this blog may actually forgive me. We’ll see.

Here it goes. In general, I’m not a big fan of homeschooling. Right now, I’m sure several peoples’ blood pressures just rose. Before you start to type a reply on all the values of homeschooling or the negative aspects of public schools, hear me out.

Although I was born in Wyoming, I grew up in Utah. My family moved to Orem when I was six. I lived in Utah until I was nineteen. I attended public school.

After graduating from BYU (which is in Utah), I started my TV production career. I worked my way up until I got a job in the NYC market. We lived in Connecticut.

Within a very short period of time, I realized that I had to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems. It was a struggle. My experience with such a diverse cultural base was limited, and it caused a lot of problems.

What does this have to do with homeschooling?

It is my opinion that school experiences consist of more than academic learning. There is also social education involved.

While studying at BYU to become a TV director, we had a producer who couldn’t get along with anyone. One day, this producer and fellow director of mine got into an argument. What the disagreement was about isn’t important. What I do remember vividly is something the director told the producer. He said, “You know what your problem is? Because you were homeschooled, you missed out on a four year program that teaches you social skills. It’s called high school!”

“But! But! But!” People maybe saying right now. “YOU went to public school and still you had problems when you moved to the east coast.”

My response: Yup. You see, where I grew up in Utah, there was a very dominant culture influenced by my religion. That’s not unique to Utah. It’s true of many places over the world. Because I associated with only people who generally shared my same beliefs, I never learned how to deal (and work) with people who had radically different lifestyles.

Please understand, I’m not saying that public schools are perfect. In some ways, homeschooling has several advantages. In theory, homeschool students get better one-on-one attention. They are able to work at a pace that is suited for them—one not dictated by the whole class. There is a lot more flexibility in schedules for things like doctor appointments or field trips. Like I stated, good stuff.

My biggest concern for homeschooling is those parents who elect to keep their children home to protect them from the evils of the world. I think that’s great in theory but doesn’t work in practice.

I love my four daughters, and I do all I can to keep them safe. I never would intentionally harm them. At the same time, I understand that there is only so much I, as a parent, can do to teach them. There is no substitute for experience and learning from those experiences.

Yes, high school can be a rough place. There is a lot of bad language. There are drugs. There are teachers who don’t care. There are students that don’t care. In a lot of ways, it’s like the world in general. And that’s my point.

Sooner or later, children grow up and have to move on. Much of the time, they go out into the world for any number of reasons. If a person has never had any exposure to the “evil” elements of the world, it has been my observation that these folks missed out on gaining coping skills and they are then given a crash course whether they want it or not.

Warning: religious belief paragraph ahead!

I believe that our Heavenly Father sent us to Earth to get experiences because that was really the only way we could progress as individuals. He knew it would be hard. He knew there were bad things that could happen. But He also sent us help, and He is there for us. We can talk to Him at any time.

For those who choose to homeschool your children: that’s your choice. Just as it is my choice to send my kids to public school.

Still, I implore homeschool parents: please include social interaction as part of the curriculum, especially with those individuals who may be different than you. 

NOTE: these are my opinions, and you are free to disagree. However, to keep trolls off my blog, I monitor all comments before they show up below. Thanks!