That’s what I like about the South

What makes a great blog?

1. A clever topic

2. A great writer who’s passionate about that topic

3. Nice design and photos

I’m delighted to introduce you to Stuff Southern People Like (“all manner of dixie delicacies and doo-dads”). Enjoy, y’all.

Rules for fiction writers

fiction writing, writing rules, Elmore Leonard, The Guardian, Seattle Speculative Fiction Writers Meetup

Thank you to the leader of the Seattle Speculative Fiction Writers Meetup for pointing me to this recent article in The Guardian. It’s called “Rules for Writing Fiction” but it might better be called “Rules for Fiction Writers” — you’ll see why when you read it.

It includes tips from Elmore Leonard and Neil Gaiman. Leonard says:

Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

I’d add to that: Avoid using the word “somehow,” and never, ever, use it multiple times in the same story. The only exception to this rule is in dialogue or narrative spoken by a highly confused character.

Thank you, Seanet

This week I did something that can be risky and even traumatic for a small business: I changed my internet service provider.

This was particularly tough for me because I’d been with Seanet, one of the best ISPs in Seattle, for about 15 years. They installed DSL at my house in Wallingford at a time when I was one of the first broadband customers in North Seattle. Ten  years ago, when a change in DSL service required that I move from another telecom service to Qwest service, they walked me through it. And when the old DSL service got shut off before the new service got turned on, they went to extraordinary lengths so that my business was online and none of my clients were inconvenienced (this was in days before coffee shop wifi).

However, I no longer use the email and hosting features of my Seanet account. And Qwest technical support service has improved to the point that I am willing to let them handle the ISP portion of my account (which I’d been paying for, but didn’t use.) It was a way to save a significant chunk of change every year.

At any rate, it’s done. I’m completely shifted over to Qwest service, and just had a very pleasant farewell call with Seanet. I’ll sure miss them.

Old media 1, Amazon 0

Read novelist John Scalzi’s color commentary on the Amazon vs. MacMillan catfight this weekend.

Three reasons to read novelist John Scalzi’s color commentary on the Amazon vs. Macmillan catfight this weekend:

1. You followed the Tweets and blog posts documenting the mysterious disappearance of one-sixth of’s books (those published by Macmillan) from the website Friday evening and want to know what was going on behind the scenes.

2. You tried to ignore the back and forth, but want to know how it ended and why.

3. You are a public relations or marketing professional and you want to follow along as Scalzi documents all the ways that Amazon set the scene for a PR disaster and  made things worse every single step of the way.

Round-the-clock drives people round the bend

24/7A list I follow pointed me to a Jan. 9 article in The New York Times which predicts a new generation that expects instant replies to its queries for information. The author, Brad Stone, believes this is the generation his 2-year-old belongs to, a generation that will view even the current 20-somethings as “Old Fogies” when it comes to information technology.

Stone quotes Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who has written “Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.”

Dr. Rosen said that the newest generations, unlike their older peers, will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won’t have the patience for anything less.

“They’ll want their teachers and professors to respond to them immediately, and they will expect instantaneous access to everyone, because after all, that is the experience they have growing up,” he said.

I’ve got news for Rosen and Stone. People who expect instant responses have been around for centuries. They’re called “tyrants.” They can also be known as “bosses” and “clients” (or even “spouses”) to those unwary or unwise enough to get involved with them.

I’ve had some amusing experiences along those lines recently. All too recently. Last night there was a message left on my phone at 7 p.m. by a businesswoman I’d never met saying that she wanted to talk with me about doing some writing for her website. In the message, she asked me to call her back later in the evening. “I work from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week — this project is so important,” she said in a highly dramatic tone. “You can call me any time, so we can get started as soon as possible.”

I called her back this morning, on my way to a meeting in Olympia. It took quite a bit of conversation to politely get her to hear that I was saying “no” to working on her Very Important project. What I didn’t tell her, though I was sorely tempted, was that it was not my current busy schedule, or the quality of her project, that prompted my firm “no.” What turned me off was her insane approach to the project. Clients who don’t have any balance between work, friends/family, and play in their own lives will never understand that I insist on having that balance in my life.

I am sensitive to the balance issue because of a bizarre experience I had a few weeks ago. (NOTE: Details are changed to protect identities.) I was working with an out-of-state client on a long-range project that involves routine phone meetings. He emailed me saying that, hey, he had some free time the morning of Thanksgiving Day, so why didn’t we do an hour-long phone meeting then?

I didn’t know whether to be more astonished by someone asking to have a routine, hour-long meeting on Thanksgiving than I did that he hadn’t even acknowledged in the request that there might be something unusual about expecting me to be available on a major national holiday that focuses on friends and family.

It felt awkward to be reminding him that, er, I had plans, so would not be available for a Thanksgiving meeting.

This rant has a happy ending. I don’t believe that Stone’s daughter and her toddler friends are going to grow up to be tyrants and demand that everyone be available to them all the time. They’ll learn that some things are worth waiting for. And that some things, by virtue of being demanded rudely, will cease being available at all.

Twitter calms down

Shih Wei points to this SFGate article by Howard Rheingold as the best “why use Twitter” piece she’s seen. What I like about it is that it’s something you could send to a non-Twitter user, even someone completely uninterested in social media, and they’d “get” why many people like Twitter.

As Howard points out at the beginning of the article, Twitter is settling in to the online landscape, and there’s a shakeout happening. The trend-happy types are decamping for the next hot thing, and a core Twitter community is emerging.

I’d been drifting away from Twitter in the past couple of months, using Linkin for professional networking and FaceBook for personal networking. It didn’t help that my Twitter account got hacked last month and I had to grit my teeth and apologize to hundreds of people for the inconvenience spam messages from my hacked account had caused them (it was the first time in more than 15 years online that I’d  been hacked). But the advent of a lists feature in the Twitter interface has made things more manageable and encouraged me to give Twitter another try.

Heart-felt gift suggestion

Does your child’s or grandchild’s school need an AED?

It’s boxy. Yellow and blue. Weighs five pounds. (Why would I give a gift that homely?)

It costs more than $1,000. (Why would I spend that much?)

It might be months before the recipient even opens it up to use it. (Does this woman know what she’s talking about?)

As a matter of fact, I do know what I’m talking about. The bulky, yellow-and-blue item is an automated external defibrillator — a device that really changes lives. Because it saves them.

My client, Joe Hage, the director of marketing communications for Cardiac Science, just sent out an email offering special pricing on Powerheart G3 automated external defibrillators for schools. As of Friday afternoon, he has 19 units left.

Here’s why he’s doing it:

Each year, 7,000 children in the U.S. die from sudden cardiac arrest. The deaths often occur in gym class or on the sports field, where undiagnosed heart conditions first kick in. Sudden cardiac arrest is just what it sounds like: the heart stops beating and the victim collapses. At that point, there’s a rapidly shrinking, 10-minute window in which to get the heart to start beating again before the story ends in serious brain damage or death.

The work Joe does, and the work I do for him, often puts us in the position of interviewing parents who have sent a perfectly healthy child off to school, or to basketball practice, and never seen that child alive again. Everyone involved is distraught — even more so when it turns out that no AED was available.

AEDs don’t guarantee survival, but they sure change the odds. Consider this: The sudden cardiac arrest survival rate in the U.S. is about 5 percent. But a study published in the August 11 issue of Circulation found that in U.S. high schools with AEDs on site, the cardiac arrest survival rate (for adults and children) rises to more than 60 percent.

Joe’s the parent of two little boys. The numbers, and the stories, haunt him.

Joe and I have also had the opportunity to interview parents, teachers, coaches, and school administrators who just can’t stop talking about how amazing it was to save a life using an AED. And we’ve talked with kids like Kaitlin Forbes. She collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest while playing softball and was revived with her school’s AED.

Joe, who donated an AED to his own sons’ school, is offering the remaining 19 Powerheart G3 AEDs for schools at $1,495 each. With every purchase, he’s including a set of pediatric pads ($99) and a wall unit ($189) to keep the AED prominently displayed and easy to access.

Does your child’s or grandchild’s school need an AED? You can reach Joe here.

Holiday greetings

For every Scrooge you might offend (“Bah humbug! Wasting time writing holiday cards when she should be editing my annual report!”) you’ll have a dozen other clients who get the “warm fuzzies.”

There are plenty of good reasons to send holiday greetings to the clients of your small business.

Allena Tapia, the Guide for Freelance Writing, writes that for every Scrooge you might offend (“Bah humbug! Wasting time writing holiday cards when she should be editing my annual report!”) you’ll have a dozen other clients who get the “warm fuzzies.” Or, at the very least, notice that you’re organized enough to do a holiday mailing.

This year I’m sending out a mix of printed cards and email greetings. I was rather astonished to see that I have two significant clients (both with out-of-town companies) for whom I don’t even have snail mail addresses!

Desk candy

Staples now offers a full line of OXO GoodGrips office products.

No, not the Halloween leftovers. When I say “desk candy,” I mean really cool, ergonomic office equipment.

OXO Good Grips magnets
OXO Good Grips magnets

An email from Staples today informs me that they now offer a full line of OXO GoodGrips office products.

OXO — the people who brought the smooth-edge (gunk-free) can opener to my kitchen — are now going to expensively restock my desktop. Offerings include the handheld stapler (non-slip grip and 20-sheet capacity); scissors with a box-cutter setting (how well they know me!); a ruler with sides for drawing and cutting; and a push-pin dispenser with a telescoping magnet wand so you can grab pins without having a mini-acupuncture session.

There’s also an intriguing assortment of retractable markers and pens, though nothing to woo me away from the Uni-ball Vision Elite airplane-safe pen.

Do you dare me?

I’d stop reading blog posts full of tips except there are always those few that stand out from the crowd and offer some information that significantly changes the way I approach a project, a client, or my career.

Sometimes I think the blogosphere is tipping over.

I find myself swamped with emails and blog posts that are chock full of tips for this and tips for that. I’d stop reading the stuff except there are always those few tips that stand out from the crowd and offer some information that significantly changes the way I approach a project, a client, or my career.

Is it that they are targeted at exactly my level of experience in a particular area? Or is it that they are written in a particularly engaging way?

Those factors certainly help, but I think the key factor is that they needle me to be outrageous, to take risks, to go the extra mile, or to look at something in a contrarian light. They dare me.

Sometimes I find myself initially offended by the tips, but there’ll come a point during the day when I think back on them…and a little light goes on. And gets brighter.

Who does this?

Seth Godin.

Chris Rugh.

Joe Hage. (Read “The first three questions.”)

Freelance Switch.

Full disclosure: Chris Rugh and Joe Hage are clients of mine, and I’m a client of Freelance Switch.

%d bloggers like this: