Saturday, August 25, 2012

Losing weight sucks

I have gained a lot of weight since the end of 2007. I had a baby in 2008, gaining over 50 pounds in that nine months. I slowly began to shed the weight and was down to 140 pounds at the end of 2010. Then I left my physically and mentally demanding job in retail pharmacy for a low-key position in a V.A. mail order pharmacy.

The job is nice -- not screaming customers, no telephones, no puking kids, no telephones, no insurance hassels, no telephones, no drive throughs, and did I mention no telephones? I work four days a week from 3 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Depending on where I am in the building on a given day, the physical exertion is minimal. Plus I get three breaks a night, two of which are on the clock. Sounds nice, right?

Wrong. It means I am not moving around as much as I need to be, it means I am eating later in the evening and night, it means I am exhausted at the end of the night, and it means I want to do nothing other than sleep during the day. I went from 139 pounds when I started to 176 pounds at my heaviest.

I began to partner with some co-workers on a plan to lose the pounds and get healthier.

Instead of blogging about my weightloss trek here, I started a seperate blog. Please follow along with me on this journey at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

All's fair in love and war ... but not in politics!

I do not watch "The View." As a Catholic, it makes my stomach roll and my ears bleed to listen to Joy Behar bash the religion of my choice every chance she gets. She sits there and calls people profane names, makes vile judgements, and tosses out threats. Someone needs to smack the shit out of her. Just the mention of her name or an image of her face (excuse the puke-worthy image to the right) makes my skin crawl and my uvula twitch.  Her vitriol has not only turned me off to the show, but off to the entire ABC network for the most part. Seriously. In the past five years, I've only watched two shows on the network -- "V" and "The River." And they were DVRed so I could skip through all the commercials and network promos.

So, it was an oddity when I flipped the TV to the show on the morning of Friday, May 11th. I had just seen a post on Twitter saying that E.L. James, author of "Fifty Shades of Grey" for those of you who've been living under a rock, was about to be interviewed on the show. And, having been absolutely smitten with Christian Grey since April 20, 2012, I had to tune in. After the DVR got over its "Are you serious? You want me to tune into this channel?!?" shock and changed from the Disney Channel, James wasn't on yet and I ended up catching the tail end of an interview with Eva Longoria before the show went to a commercial break.

It is at this point that I should reveal the purpose for this blog. At the end of her interview, Longoria was answering a question about her involvement with the Obama 2012 campaign and she made a comment about how she had many "Republican friends and fans," that they were nice, well-meaning people, but that "as a Latina woman," she felt she had to support Obama.

And that made me wonder. Why is it that liberals -- be them celebrities like Longoria or your relatively unknown, struggling book authors -- are free to express political opinions but their conservative counterparts are not?

Now, I used to be a raging liberal -- supporter of Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and campaigner for Al Gore in 2000. I spent many Saturday mornings in front of the now-defunct Palmetto State Medical Center on Laurens Road in Greenville, South Carolina escorting women into the clinic and to block them and their cars from the pro-lifers next door who were led by the notorious Ruth Trippi.

As the years have gone by and I've experienced things and had to deal with two problem pregnancies (both of which were monitored closely through ultrasounds at each visit and which landed me on bed rest with preterm labor problems), I have had a change of heart in many aspects of my life thus causing my pendulum to swing from the far left to right of center. I have become conservative, agreeing with the Tea Party in many areas, but remained a liberal, HSUS/ N.O.W.-esque voter in others.

With this change, I have learned to shy away from talking about my political opinions. The rhetoric and mud-slinging are annoying. I tire of liberals calling me a Rush Limbaugh Republican and conservatives calling me a Nancy Pelosi Democrat. I am neither. I think both parties have good things for which they stand ... but that they both are neck deep in complete bullshit, too. Being more jaded with the current two-party system, I've gone into the booth and voted for candidates instead of punching a straight party ticket since 2004. I do my homework and vote for the best person for the job, not just some faceless candidate who happens to have a (D) or (R) by their name.

Close friends and family know this about me. They also know that I am a struggling first-time author who is trying to find a niche and a way to be discovered by the public. "Don't dare post political things on your Facebook, Twitter, or your website!" I have been warned. "You don't want to be blacklisted for not being a staunch liberal!" "You'll never get noticed if you admit to holding any conservative values!"

Now, I do agree with them to a certain degree. I left my former publishing company, Fantasy Island Book Publishing, after becoming sickened by the owner's vulgar and hateful political rants, as well as his personal attacks against people who dared disagree with him in his views or the way he ran the company. Many of the authors still with the company are raging liberals and freely post their views for the world to see. But, I have taken the advice given by people I trust and stayed neutral. But when I really think about it, I have to wonder  why? Why should I have to remain silent? Should I really fear speaking my mind?

I am an unknown author so what do I have to lose by stepping out from behind my self-made wall and admitting here and now that I will be supporting Mitt Romney in the election this November? Nothing. And even if I were famous, why should I fear that support? Why can't I enjoy the same freedom of speech as my more liberal counterparts?  Why can't I be given the same respect for that choice? After all, isn't that part of the liberal mantra? Freedom to choose something without a backlash? Without fear?

I will be voting for Mitt Romney for many reasons, none of which have to do with President Obama's race (something people love to throw out at those who aren't supporting him), his religion (I could care less about his faith of choice), or his birthplace.  From the tax hike that is the Affordable Care Act and the problems that will come with it to the failure to revamp our economy, I tire of this administration. I tire of the constant "Blame Bush" rhetoric and the constant bypassing of Congress. I tire of the class warfare. (Trust me, I am NOT rich. My family pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck.) And don't get me started on the protection of Eric Holder after the Fast and Furious debacle!

These are just a few of the reasons for my rocking the red this year and I am more than happy to discuss them should you be curious.
In ending, I don't want live in fear of offending people, of harming my book because I happen to be more Elisabeth Hasselbeck than Joy Behar. I sincerely hope to one day have fans on both sides of the aisle, who are open to other views and ideas without being offensive or close-minded.  Because that is what life is about -- variety. How boring would it be if we all agreed 100%?  And my independent political views, however crazy they might be, have nothing to do with my book or what happens between their covers. As a matter of fact, my ARMS OF SERENDIPITY series is devoid of any political views.  There are none espoused in book one, HARBINGER IN THE MIST. Book two, FLIGHT OF THE GRIGORI, is currently being edited and is silent on politics as well. 

So, let the race to November begin, but let's not lose sight of the fact that in the end, we're all on the same team here. Berating each other, name calling, and outright hostility gets us nowhere. Perhaps someone should tell Behar that.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Fifty Shades of ... Oh My God!

Warning: Some might find this blog offensive. Consider yourself warned.

As you can tell from the title, I have become one of them. One of the crazed Christian Grey fanatics.

Wait. Before I plunge into this blog, which I have been mulling over in my head for a several days now, I have to have some music playing in the background.  (Just click play then read ... don't wait and watch the video.)

If you'd asked me two weeks ago, I would have had no clue who Christian Grey was.  Last Wednesday, my husband, spying the Kindle Ap on my iPhone, inquired as to whether or not I'd read "Fifty Shades of Grey" since some of his co-workers had been discussing it. I told him I'd never heard of it and he said that it was some kind of bondage romance. "I'll pass." I said.

As I was getting ready for bed Friday, April 20th, I threw the covers back, grabbed the family tablet, pulled up the Kindle Ap, and switched on the TV. It'd been a sucky day. My laptop had been pronounced dead and I realized that our budget wasn't looking favorably at a new computer for another few weeks. I decided to drown my sorrow in a good book.

Then I noticed an image flash across the television screen - couples spanking each other. I perked up, hit rewind on the DVR remote, and watched in awe. ABC's 20/20 was doing a segment on "Fifty Shades of Grey" and interviewing the author, E.L. James. (See interview here.)
Fifteen minutes later, I wanted to enter into the "darkness" and I bought the book on Amazon. From the family tablet. Which is registered under my husband's name ... and his Amazon account. My husband gets the alert on his Droid and, as he's walking down the hallway toward our room, he's laughing at me and saying, "Really? Seriously? Why did Amazon just thank me for buying 'Shades of Grey'?"  I look up from the tab... I was already well into chapter one.

Five minutes later, this was his status on Facebook: "Oh lord, just got an alert from Amazon that 'I' bought 'Fifty Shades of Grey' online ... I walk in the bedroom and find the wife watching a 20/20 episode about the soft porn book and the reading the first chapter on the tab. This will not end well."
Ian Somerhalder

And like that I became one of the millions of Greysessed women around the world. I stayed up reading all night and, with a tear-streaked face, immediately downloaded the second book - "Fifty Shades Darker." I read about half of it before I finally succumbed to sleep. I finished it later that afternoon. I read book three -"Fifty Shades Freed" - on Sunday. 
This week I have told every single female coworker (and a few of the males) about the book. One other woman has begun reading the series despite her needing to study for finals. We've talked about who we would cast in the movies, which scenes MUST be in them, how we hope they will be released on the IMAX screens, and how we'll be waiting at midnight to see them. <<swoon>>  

(For the record, my cast picks for Christian Grey are either Michael Fassbender or Ian Somerhalder, a brunette Eloise Mumford for Ana Steele, and the awesome Nicollette Sheridan as Mrs. Robinson.)
But what is it about these books that has so many women going into absolute lasciviousness? The answer is a multifaceted, heady thing. I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but here are my thoughts on why its appeal is so freaking strong.
Eloise Mumford

First, it's like "Twilight," for adults. Christian does to Ana what us more mature Twilight fans wanted Edward to do to Bella -- screw her freaking brains out. God knows she begged him to do it over and over and over again. And, quite frankly, her whining about it and his constant self-restraint got on my nerves. Then came the honeymoon and, as the lovely miss poetrytoprose wrote in her LiveJournal blog back in 2008 : (As a 'quote' from Edward himself) "So then I get all seductive and tell Bella to meet me in the ocean then I'm finally not a virgin anymore but now no one has any idea how fucking awesome I am in bed since the bitch author fades to black."
E.L. James has created a hero that makes Edward Cullen look like a pussy. She gave us Christian Grey, a man who is larger than life and sexy as hell. He oozes sex and most of us would willing drop to our knees in the playroom for him. She gave us a heroine that isn't a complete twit. Ana Steele is smart, motivated, and strong. Her leaving Christian at the end of book one is something Bella Swan never would have been able to do. James gave us scenes that made us pick up notebooks with which to fan ourselves while we read. 
Michael Fassbender
Secondly, James gave the world a series of books with language I frankly never thought I'd read in novel.  Using the search feature on the Kindle for book one, I see that the word clitoris appears 10 times, thrusts 12 times, wet 17 times, suck 26 times, orgasm and erection 19 times each, and the f-bomb a whopping 119 times. Seriously. My favorite line is Christian saying early on that, "I don't make love. I fuck ... hard."

I felt dirty, gloriously dirty while reading James' books. I found myself biting my bottom lip in front of my husband, longing to take him into elevators, looking at the neckties in his closet with keen interest, and pondering a trip to the local adult novelty store for a few things to spice up our weekend. Like many, many housewives, James has me back to the beginning of my relationship with my husband, when love and lust were in equal amounts, when we were "all tongues and breathing and hands and touch and sweet, sweet sensation."
Finally, she's given her fans a fantasy -- a gorgeous, filthy rich man who wants nothing more than to lavish affection, money, time, and, erm, talents on our sweet, innocent heroine.  How nice would it be to trade places with Miss. Steele just for day? When our biggest care is whether or not we'll be spanked? In the real world of budgets and kids and dirty houses and asshole bosses at jobs we can't afford to simply walk away from, James has weaved an escape through the written word. Hell, I'd probably go all Ana Steele and lose it right now should a Macbook Pro appear at my door. (Boy I miss my computer...) But instead of worrying about having to push back the print launch of my own book, instead of worrying about when I'll be able to work on finishing book two, I have found myself relishing in the many, many shades of Grey. All fifty of them.

The interesting part of being a Greysessed fan is that I keep hearing songs that remind me of Christian and Ana. Music is a big part of their world -- from Christian's piano musings in the middle of the night to the iPod soundtrack in the playroom. (I'm sure Cold Play is thrilled that we're all downloading "The Scientist" and listening to it as Ana would in book two.)

But I've found shades of Grey (no pun intended) in so many songs on my own music list. Obviously Nine Inch Nail's "Closer" is my Fifty Shades favorite, but there's also Madonna's Erotica and Justify My Love, 50 Cent's Candy Shop, Counting Crow's High Life, Dave Matthew's Crash Into Me,  Britney Spear's Slave 4 U, and, much to my chagrin, the Counting Crow's Anna Begins

"Anna Begins" is one of my all-time favorite songs. I wrote the near-sex scene between Lindsey and Eli in "Harbinger in the Mist" to that song. (To those in the know, it's the song playing in the background.) It's a song that is playing during a dramatic scene between them in book two as well.  Yet, when I hear it now, I hear it as if from Christian Grey's iPod, not Lindsey Foster's.

I look forward to Lindsey and Eli reclaiming it in book two -- Flight of the Grigori.  

I also look forward to being able to retain certain scenes in the second book thanks to a door that Ms. James opened. I was worried that they were too graphic, that I'd be ask to tone them down,  but James has given me hope that there is a market out there for such wantonness. For that reason, I'll not sulk too much at the song taking on a new meaning to me for now.

As I close this blog and hand this borrowed laptop back to its owner, I want to thank E. L. James for such an amazing love story and beg her to please rewrite the first novel from Christian's point of view. I absolutely loved the tantalizing tidbits revealed in the Shades of Christian! 

Until I have the opportunity to blog again, laters, baby!

Monday, April 9, 2012

How do you spell relief?

I might be showing my age here, but do you remember that old 1980's commercial where Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach walked around the city with a funky, silver microphone asking people, "How do you spell relief?"

Of course, the buinessmen and women would always say "R-O-L-A-I-D-S!"

This past weekend was one of those weekends where anxiety, over indulgence of food, and lack of sleep left me seeking any kind of relief today. You see, when I'm nervous, I eat. And when I eat, I eat big. Good food is my Valium. And I started OD-ing on it Friday. You'd think Rolaids would be my answer, too. But it's more complicated than that.

I had gone to be Thursday night knowing in a few hours the big, freebie weekend ushering in the the debut of my novel Harbinger in the Mist would begin. It was to be available to be downloaded for free all weekend. I went to bed wondering if anyone would notice it was free, if anyone would download it. I worried that I'd end the weekend depressed because it had zero downloads. I caught only a couple of hours sleep that night. After taking my oldest to school Friday morning, I went about making chicken parmesean instead of waking the laptop and logging on to the Amazon KDP site to see if I'd gotten any downloads yet.

Now I make a mean chicken parmesean. Seriously. It's not some slapped-together-from-frozen-chicken-patties-and-spaghetti-sauce thing. This is a from-scratch, rolling-in-breadcrumbs, hour-long dish to make.  It's time consuming but yummy. If you want the recipe, let me know.

By 11 a.m., I'd already eaten breakfast (something I never, ever do) and had a meal baking in the oven. The antsies got the best of me and I log into my KDP account. I sent my husband a text half in shock that the book had already been download 117 times and half wondering if that was a halfway decent number.
I turned the laptop off and did some laundry, made a refrigerator chocolate cheesecake (uber yummy and easy to make ... maybe I'll have to start posting recipes here...), and played a game on the Wii. I even picked the Galaxy Tab back up and began re-reading The Hunger Games. Nothing eased that ever growing tapping in the back of my mind, like a leaky faucet while you're trying to sleep. I had to log back on, just had to. But I resisted with the help of a pint of strawberries. 

Once I'd picked my oldest up from school, I came back home and took a nap with the toddler. My husband came home from work and began reheating food. The aroma woke me. We ate dinner and I succumbed to temptation and logged back on. I nearly peed my pants. Not only had the number gone way up, but the book was No. 6 in the Amazon Top 100 Free Downloads for its category... which is the same as the Twilight saga. I took some screen prints and posted this on my Facebook page:

604 downloads was twice the amount I'd hope to achieve during the three-day freebie.

That was all she wrote. I spent most of Friday night refreshing the KDP page. And with each refresh, a couple of more downloads were added. I slept for a few hours before jumping up and jerking on jeans and a tee shirt. I managed one quick data check before running out the door to meet the uber-awesome Lorrie Gunn for a lunch day full of website stuff and general frivolity.

Holy smokes, I was over 800 downloads and holding strong to the No. 3 spot on Amazon.

I posted the following on my Facebook as I slipped my feet into a pair of old Crocs:

"As of 10:20 a.m., the book is THIRD in the Amazon Top 100 Free ebooks for its category (wich is the same category as the "Twilight" series) and its been downloaded 863 times here in the US, 80 times in the UK, and 21 times in Germany (that's was .de means, right?) Nice!"

But the entire time we were at the restaurant, I was sneaking peeks at the data and watching it sneak toward 1,000 downloads.

As the evening passed, I managed to spend some quality, computer-freee time with the kiddos. We colored eggs, jumped on the trampoline, fed the ducks at the duck pond, made sun catchers, and ate dinner. But that same tapping was pulling at my brain. I snuck a peek on the iPhone while the kids were looking elsewhere.  We were at 1,042 downloads. I texted my husband again. He, too, was excited because up until this point, the book had been little more than a poorly written file on my computer. The rewriting and editing process with Ragz books had been gruelling, but these stats told me -- an unknown author -- that it was all worth it. Here were real people downloading this book, reading it even.

My supper began to churn and I turned the computer off. I took a long, hot bath, helped the Easter Bunny with his job, and collapsed into bed. I hadn't had very much sleep the past couple of nights so, thankfully, sleep found me quickly.

 Sunday morning showed a slowing of downloads, which increased the anxiety. After seeing the 1,150 stat, I went into Easter mode. I manage not to check in again until just after two when I peeked with my phone. I took a screen captured and texted it to my husband. It seemed that theflurry of readers had slowed to a trickle.

But still, 1,340 downloads was so much more than I'd hoped for.

I was sad as the rate crawled through the evening. Then shocked as it sped back up that night. At 10:05 p.m., I sent a text to my husband telling him that we'd just hit 1,472 downloads and that "I sooooo want to hit the 1,500 mark before the freebie ends."  I knew it was doubtful that I'd make that mark, but I could dream, right?

It must be noted that my birthday is November 11th. In numerology, 11 is a master number that is never broken down. 11/11, 11:11, or 1,111 are also seen by some as "angel numbers." It's always been a number that I've found magical in a way, so it came as a big shock when I picked up the iPhone in the middle of a movie and checked the stats. Note the time and the downloads number.

With time waning and downloads slowing again, I went to bed happy that I'd had five times the number of U.S. downloads for which I'd originally hoped.  No matter what, I can always say that, "I am a published author. People have read my book."

I might never name a cent off the novel, but I know that at least 1,500 people - not counting my family and close friends that already had copies of the ebook - had voluntarily downloaded and read something on which I had worked so very hard.

I lifted some candy from each of the girls' massive Easter hauls and cuddled into bed with mixed emotions. All these people downloaded the book. Now what?

Would they like it? Would they hate it? Would I be strapped with a bunch of reviews giving me 1's and 2's?

I mentioned this anxiety to a group of fellow authors and was told to calm down and to understand that the numbers would virtually cease  for the next few weeks until everyone had read the book and (hopefully) started to tell others. Even then, the numbers would be a trickle, that the book really needs to be out at least a year before the numbers start rolling in.

<<big sigh>>

I checked my stats this evening, curious as to what the final promo numbers were. I was excited to see that I had not only gotten 71 more downloads after I turned everything off  Sunday night, but that sometime during the day I had also made a couple of actual sales. Only in my house would an author be tickled over selling a measly six books. But I am. It means that there are other people out there interested in a story that has been playing out in my brain since 2003.

 Looking back, I finally know that answer to Staubach's question. How do I spell relief?


Sure, after all I ate this weekend, a roll of Rolaids might be beneficial, but it wouldn't be pure relief.  Because nothing would be more therapeutic than knowing that other people love Lindsey's story as much as I do.

So, will I ever find "relief"? Only time will tell.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The problem with 'perfection'

The term 'Perfect' is defined as the absence of any flaws, defects, or shortcomings. But as human beings, is that ever possible?

Someone very close to me wanted to particpate in an anti-circus protest here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. She contacted the woman heading the Ringling Brothers protest and was pleased to be accepted as a member of the group. As she began to compile documents and videos to use during the protest, she had a disagreement with this woman over a political post on Facebook. From there, the woman became very nasty and degraded her for not being a vegan. "You would probably make a great advocate for the animals, if  would stop eating their flesh." the woman, a Ms. Carol Herard, wrote. She went on to say that she didn't think Pam could be a successful animal rights activist because of her onmivore diet. (The icing on the cake, in my opinion, was her ending with calling my friend pompous. Seriously?)

Ms. Herard's nasty word seemed to convey one message: If one if not a full-blown hippy vegan they simply cannot be an animal advocate. If you aren't going to save every single animal from any and all harm, then you can't act to save any. You are either a perfect animal rights activist or you are nothing.

I eat meat and I care about the welfare of animals so Ms. Herard's hauty attitude infuriated me. The awesome Steve Irwin was not a vegetarian, but his impact on animal awareness, preservation, and welfare cannot be questioned. Can she honestly say that he was a nobody for the animals because he was an omnivore?

Ms. Herard's close-minded vitriol got me thinking about the concept of perfection. I became hyper-aware of it all around me.

The day after I read about the argument between this vegan woman and my meat-eating loved one, I happened to tune into The Schnitt [radio] Show. I noticed the callers to the show were all lamenting over the fact that none of this year's candidates are 'perfect.'

There was that word again. My ears piqued as I listened for the next half hour. 

The host kept telling callers that "there's no perfect candidate out there ... we all have issues in our past."   But the callers kept challenging him on their candidate of choice and his perfection over the others in the pool.

When the "he's not perfect so he's not electable" diatribes became too much to stomach, I switched the radio over to the saved audio files and quickly lost myself in some Luke Bryan. (Hey, I'm a Southern girl. We love our country music!)

This past weekend, my husband and I were talking to our oldest daughter about upcoming opportunities for things like community soccer and gymnastics. Little Izzy not only inherited my flare for the dramatic but also the inability to to walk across level ground without tripping. She became all woeful over her inability to do various physical activities and adamantly refused to let her dad sign her up for either sport.  I offered the local children's theater since Izzy is more artistically inclined. She cheered at that thought.  Later, she was in her room playing games on her Wii. I hear the Wiimote hit the floor with a thud. She emerged from the room a few minutes later grousing over the game she was attempting.

"I can't do it!" she moaned, obviously frustrated.

"Honey, you have to keep trying. You're never going to get it on the first try and you won't get it if you don't keep trying," her father reassured her.

"But you beat the levels each time you play," she shook her head at my husband.

"I've been playing Super Mario Brothers for over 20 years, sweetheart."

He was right but Izzy wasn't buying it. She stomped back off to her room and started watching a TV show.

I tried to get her to try the game again, but she refused. Her "I can't" had quickly become an "I won't."

And that attitude bothers me. It's something that has taken root in our society and is growing like a bad viral strain.  The drive to become better has been replaced with apathy. IF one doesn't get something on the first try, they quickly give up and wallow in self pity, waiting on someone else to do the task at hand for them. And instead of being encouraging, we enable them, we do the work for them because we don't want to hear them moan and groan and we don't want to wait on them to "get it." We want it done now and we want it done perfectly and if the person in question can't do it right the first time, we do it for them.

For example, I would normally go into my daughter's room, turn the game back on, and get her past the level stumping her. I would enable her desire to see what the next world looks like without having to do the work to get past whatever goon is in the castle. This time I didn't. If she wants to get to the next level, she must earn entry for poor little Mario.

I am not perfect at anything. I am not not the perfect mother, wife, friend, co-worker, or writer. I make mistakes, I get angry. I get depressed. I don't have a perfect figure nor the perfect eating habits. I sometimes stumble through my day holding on to nothing but a prayer.  No, I am nowhere near being perfect. Nor do I ever want to be.

I allow my imperfections to filter through my fingers into the keyboard of this laptop and into the characters I create. Lindsey Foster isn't perfect at all -- she's shy to a fault, a little naive, and a very indecisive. Her mother is an emotional wreck. And even Eli has problems keeping his head on straight at certain times. Their faults and stumbles define them and make them exactly like you and me.

Sure, I am their creator and I could have made them all shining and intelligent and ... perfect. But where's the fun in that? Because, quite honestly, where do you go once you've attained perfection? What fun is life without a challenge to be better?

Perfection in human beings, or should I say the perceived perfection, only seems to lead to hautiness, superiority complexes, and condescending attitudes. 

I choose to be imperfect but still trying.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What ever happened to customer service?

This week's  blog is going to be completely off topic. I probably shouldn't be posting something like this here, but I am going to anyway. The topic is just too important.

I am only 35 years old, but I remember being a kid and going shopping with my dad. I remember the butcher at the local grocery who wrapped your order in brown paper and the cashier who punched in item costs by hand -- no prepackaged meat or bar code scanners. But most of all, I remember how nice everyone was to each other. If you were in store, the associates were happy you were there and went out of their way to help you.

I have noticed a dramatic change in this over the past 10 years or so in the way customers are treated. Instead of businesses being grateful that a person has chosen to spend their hard-earned money with them, the customer is treated like a burden, like a complete pain in the arse.

Yes, I know some people can be irritating to deal with. I worked retail pharmacy for years and had to learn to smile, take a deep breath, and count to ten in my head before responding to someone who was particularly nasty. I have had my fair share of people bitching and moaning just to get a manager to give them something free to shut up.  Those people exist, no doubt about it, but they represent only a small fraction of consumers.

To be honest, though, I don't think "those" people have anything to do with the way customer service has gone downhill. I think it has to do with lack of respect for consumers and the hiring of  employees who feel their job is beneath them, who are more concerned with what they're going to be doing with their friends later than the quality of the job they are performing. 

I can't begin to count the times I've had a cashier texting or talking on their phone while ringing up my purchases.  Or how many times I've had to hunt down an associate to help me get an item down from a top shelf, all the while giving me that "Oh my god, are you serious?!" glare.

I work hard for what money I earn and will not spend it with an establishment that mistreats me or acts in a poor a manner. I have been pondering how to deal with such a situation and it is with that in mind that I write this post tonight. There is a certain store with which I will never, ever do business again. Ever. 

Back on November 27, 2011 I met my Dad and sister in Columbia, S.C.  We were going to spend the day together -- do a little shopping, have lunch, and see the Body Works Vital exhibit at the State Museum.  Columbia is the middle point for us as we each live two hours away from the city.

My sister suffers from horrible migraines, so I was thrilled that she was making the trip. When we were planning our meeting time, she expressed a desire to go to the mall so she could buy some stuff at her favorite store -- Forever 21.

When I get there with my children, my sister is standing outside, visibly upset. She tells me that she was denied a purchase in the store. We proceed to go in and she shows me three shirts she was going to buy, each were on a marked down rack. One of the shirts rang up full price and the stupid bitch cashier all but accused my sister of changing the price on the tag. We pointed out that all the tags were written in the same ink and the girl just rolled her eyes, twitched her neck, and goes, "Well, we are not selling it for that price. SOMEONE changed the price, trying to shoplift."

There were other customers in the store and here we are being talking down to and accused of being shoplifters by a snotty, 19-year-old bitch. I was PISSED. 

 I asked for the distract manager's number but she REFUSED to give it to me. She told me to "call back tomorrow and talk to Matilda." I asked if she was the manger of the store and she said no, then told me to try Sara. Huh? Then why the hell are you telling me to ask for this Mitilda?

So, I call the store the next morning. Manager Sara proceeds to feed me a line about how the shirt was mistakenly marked down.  I pointed out that it's illegal to advertise a product for one price then mark it up on the consumer. It's not the customer's fault that someone effed up. So I ask, again, for a district manager. Sara, too, REFUSED to give it to me. She wouldn't give me a corporate number either.

So, I hit the internet and find the number for the corporate office in California. That number, in case you ever need it, is (213) 741-5100.   I explain the situation to the operator and that I was in search of a district manager's number. The operator was shocked and told me to call Kelly at (919) 208-1372

So, I call Kelly and tell her the whole story.  She is all horrified and complaining about how the Columbia, S.C. is the worst store in her area and that she was going to speak with Sara at the store and they were going to get to the bottom of it and they'll call me back. Yadda, yadda, yadda. That was November 28, 2011.

I sent a text to Kelly in mid December "reminding" her and she said she was working on it, that she was just bogged down with the holidays.  Bullshit. They think that I'll just give up if they give me the run around long enough.  Well, I've given them two months. I'm calling the corporate office on Monday.

And based on the massive amounts of complaints I've seen online, this is par for the course for Forever 21. They have lost at least three customers in this debacle.

And it's not over by a long shot.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm captivated by you baby like a fireworks show ...

I love that line from Taylor Swift's "Sparks Fly."  It summerizes how many of us view the early stages of attraction. Now, I've been with my husband for over 11 years and am still absolutely head-over-heels for him. But I remember those days during our first year when he could do no wrong, when everything about him made my heart flutter and my breath catch... when I was totally captivated by the essence of him. Those are moments we live for, moments we love to experience first hand of through the eyes of another.

Love, love, love!

Yes, I'm obviously one of those women who love a good love story be them fiction or real life. There's just something about the whole chemical response to love, longing, lust, turmoil, and happy endings. And, based on the full theater of females at both the "Beauty and the Beast" and "Breaking Dawn" showings yesterday, I am not alone.

Seriously, the theaters were full both times. How many of us spent $12 per ticket and a good $30 at the concession stand to take our kids see a movie that we have on DVD at home? And how many Twilight fans have honestly NOT seen "Breaking Dawn" yet seeing how the movie opened back in Novemer?

But none of that matters, much to the chargin of our boyfriends and husbands. We'll go again and again and again. We want to be a part of the story, even if just as a bystander. We want to experience the magic of Belle falling in love with the Beast and getting her happily ever after. We want to watch as Bella marries Edward and struggles to bring his child into the world. We want to experience their hardships -- Belle escaping Gaston or Bella struggling with her feelings for Jacob. We want to experince their joys, their passions, their tears, their fears.

We seek out forms of enteratainment to fullfill that desire -- books, movies, songs, and plays. We lose ourselves in these stories despite the snide comments about them from our loved ones. My husband, for instance, never fails to make fun of my obession with love stories or football (read: Tim Tebow) when he gets the chance.

Classic example: Last night, as you already know, I went with some girlfriends to see "Breaking Dawn: Part 1" ... again. (I love me some Jacob Black!) Well, stupid me, didn't realize that I was going to miss the first half of the Broncos/Pats game. My dear hubby made sure to keep my up-to-date with texts about my man Tebow. 

Being an Eagles fan, he takes great pleasure in other NFL teams losing. And, being a Tebow hater (blasphemy!), he was no doubt chuckling as he sent each score update last night. I finally told him to stop watching the game because he was jinxing them. You can see his response, which was the icing on his hater cake.

That is honestly how he sees stories like Twilight. He thinks they are porn for women. Something to which I just close my eyes and shake my head. 

I digress, though. The point of this blog is about my love for love. 

I began conceiving the Harbinger in the Mist trilogy while living in the swampy, live oak rich town of Walterboro, S.C. In certain areas, Colleton County is timeless, romantic.  The idea of ghosts, angels, and demons walking beside us, interacting with us intrigues me. And, in such a history-rich area, the story seemed as real and possible as the lives of the people waking down Main Street.

I could see vividly Lindsey's predicament, Eli's infatuation, and the twins unending mirth. I could feel the instant attraction, the budding love affair, and the inevitable separation of Eli and Lindsey. I began jotting down pieces of their story in a Dollar Store notebook that I carried with me everywhere. I poured over Gustav Davidson's "A Dictionary of Angels: including the fallen angels" at the local library. I checked it out so many times that the libarian once asked why I didn't buy a used copy off Amazon.

Those notes eventually took the form of a 45,000 word story and steadily grew over a two year period.  I have finished the first two books and am doing research for the third. This brings me great joy because the story, like everything else in life, is constantly evolving.

Lindsey's story has grown to include a second love interest and a conflict with her best friend. Her mother's past troubles her and she spends a lot of time pondering right verses wrong. She doesn't always think clearly or do the right thing. Sometimes you just want to slap her.

But that's what I like about a love story -- something that makes me passionate about the characters.

As I start writing book three, I hope that my readers feel the same way about the characters as I do, that they want to scream at them, applaud them, to hug them. I hope they feel bursts of emotion and flutterings of the heart. I hope that you are utterly captivated by them and their affairs.

And isn't that what a good story is all about?