Books by Melissa Bowersock

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blog Awards!

What a wonderful surprise! I was out of touch for a week while I was at a meeting for work, and when I resurfaced, I found my blog had been awarded not one but two blog awards! These peer blog awards are a thoughtful and friendly way to recognize bloggers and let them know we appreciate what’s being written. So often we painstakingly send our missives out into the blogosphere and have no idea if anyone’s even looking. This is a nice way to recognize what’s out there and “pay it forward.”

Thank you to Charmaine Elizabeth for the One Lovely Blog Award. Charmaine’s blog is  

So what is the One Lovely Blog Award?
Rules for the One Lovely Blog award are to thank the blogger who nominated you, give seven facts about yourself, post the blog award badge on your site, and nominate other noteworthy blogs, notifying them you did so.  Here are my facts:

1.  I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old.

2.  My mantra is: This, too, shall pass. It’s so easy to think that whatever situation we’re in is going to last forever, but thankfully—or not—it doesn’t.

3.  I got my first gray hair when I was 13 years old.

4.  I’m a certified hypnotherapist and think hypnosis is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s easy, amazingly helpful and beneficial and it’s fun.

5.  I’m a Grammar Nazi.

6.  I cannot imagine life without a dog or a cat (preferably both), books, sunsets, music, clean sheets of paper, pens, clouds, wild animals, mountains, waterfalls, hummingbirds, fall color, chocolate, starry skies and butter, not necessarily in that order.

7.  I believe we are put on this earth to learn, to grow, and to help each other grow.

My award pick is: by Rosanne Dingli. Rosanne has several books that combine art, history, travel, mystery and fast-paced action into compelling stories.

Other blogs that I think are especially helpful to all writers:

Thanks to Sunni Morris for giving me the Liebster Blog award. Her blog is here:

What is the Liebster Blog Award?
The Liebster Blog Award is given to up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.  Liebster is German for pleasant, valued, and many other synonyms.  The rules for this one state that you answer the 11 questions asked of you by the Blogger who gave you this award.  You then nominate other blogs and leave your own list of questions for those bloggers.   

Sunni’s questions for me to answer are below.

1.  What is your greatest achievement so far and why?

That’s a tough one. I think my greatest achievement is living the life I want to live. I’ve heard so  many people moan about the city or state they live in, how they’d love to move but they can’t because of (choose one) job, family, economy/money. Although my life is somewhat confined by the need to earn a living, my husband and I have always been willing to move to places that fit our lifestyle and do things we enjoy. I have never been shackled to a location because of work, family, or lack of imagination. I live in places I love (Arizona), I go places that haunt me (Australia), and I do what I can’t imagine not doing—writing and publishing. It doesn’t get any better.

2.  How do you spend your free time?

Free time always seems to be at a premium; there are always so many “have-tos” to get done. My favorite enjoyment is (surprise!) reading. Beyond that, I absolutely love being out in wilderness places, watching wild animals, enjoying the sun, the wind, the clouds, thunderstorms and clear night skies.

3.  What is your favorite season and why?

I have always loved fall; love the feel of the air, the colors of the leaves, the breezes, the clouds. However, in Arizona, things are slightly topsy-turvy and we don’t have the fall color here I had in California or Oregon. Here in AZ, spring is the best, when everything starts waking up, greening up, budding up.

4.  If you could live anywhere besides where you do now, places today or times back in history, where would it be and why?

My two most favorite places on the planet are the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, and it would be awesome to live at either. I’m already close; after retirement will soon be closer.

5. To date, what has been your worst disappointment in life?

It may sound weird, but I can’t think of any. Oh, I’ve had disappointments, sure, but the worst? Seems like every disappointment I’ve had has been a springboard to something better. I got laid off at my job at the phone company after 21-1/2 years; I soon found my current job at the National Observatory, the absolutely hands-down best job ever. I’ve had rejection letters on several of my books that cut my heart out, but I’ve now published 10 books to date, both traditionally and self-published. How bad can a disappointment be if we overcome it? They don’t even rate.

6.  How did you get interested in writing?

I have been writing stories since I was 5, too long ago to even remember why. I guess I’ve just always been a natural-born story-teller.

7.  What advice would you give a new writer?

Stay true to yourself and your story. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a lack of confidence, by contrary “advice” given by “experts,” but no one knows the story that’s in your heart and mind like you do. Accept constructive criticism cautiously, mull it around, lay the blueprint of your story over it and see if it fits. If it does, great; you’ve made your story stronger. If it doesn’t, throw it out! You are the only and best authority of what you want to write.

8.  If you could start all over in life, would you change anything?

The only thing I would change in my life would be the timing on my own leap of confidence (see 7 above). I spent too many years believing others knew better than I did what I needed to do or write. I spent too many years trying to make other people happy instead of taking responsibility for my own happiness.

9. What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?

Exciting, hmmm. Para-sailing in Hawaii? Zip-lining in Costa Rica? Adult Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama? Digging fire agates out of a mine in California? All fun and exciting, but the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done was going to Machu Picchu. I’ve wanted to see this place for myself ever since I first heard of it as a kid and it was everything I’d dreamed and hoped it would be. It is one of, if not the, most amazing places on earth.

10.  Are you scared of anything, or do you conquer all your fears and do it anyway?

Ha! I have a horrible fear of heights and my favorite place in the whole world is the Grand Canyon. Go figure. I doubt I’ll ever “conquer” my fear of heights, but I contain it as much as possible to be able to enjoy my small adventures. I have pushed through enough to go para-sailing and zip-lining, both hugely fun even tho terrifying. Sky-diving? Never!

11.  What are the best five words that would describe you?

Positive, confident, thoughtful, encouraging, imaginative.

My award for a great blog is: by Lynn Kelley. Lynn has a knack for writing as and about kids, something that eludes me. In reading just a bit of her latest, Double Digits, I realized that she has nailed the life of a 10-year-old.

Now, my questions to my awardee:

1. Who do you most admire and why?

2. What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve ever overcome?

3. What has writing taught you about yourself?

4. What’s your favorite book (not your own) and why?

5. What inspires you?

6. As a reader, what’s your biggest complaint?

7. What are you grateful for?

8. What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?

9. What’s your perfect environment for writing? (Place, time of day, peripherals)

10. What’s your first consideration for choosing books to read?

11. Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.

Thanks again for the awards! Now get out there and pay it forward!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Living and Dying by Reviews

We’ve all heard the phrase:

If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword.

For no one is that truer than for writers. Writers are artists; when we write, we are creating a picture for our readers, a picture made of words. Some may believe that writing can be formulaic or mechanical (an opinion I do not share), but any writing is creative. From the entire text of War and Peace to the one sentence describing tonight’s 8PM sitcom, writing is crafted to interest, engage and invite the reader in. As such, like any creation, it contains a part of the person writing it. All creations are open to interpretation, which lead to opinions, which lead to

>#$&> REVIEWS. <#%&<

Reviews are the bugaboo of any artist. We all struggle to convey that story, that image, that dance or poem we feel inside, but convey to whom? To our audience. We may write the definitive novel of a generation or paint the most iconic picture every conceived, but if it’s hidden in a cabinet so no one sees it, what’s the point? We have, at this rate, only covered half the distance we need to go. Our creations cannot be fully appreciated until they connect with another person.

Therein lies the problem.

I have been handed a copy of what a friend says is the best book he’s ever read; I can’t get past the first chapter. I recommend what I think is the best book on the planet to another friend; she says, “Meh.”

What’s up with that?

How can two individuals have such widely diverse opinions about the same thing? Actually, it’s easy. When we approach a creation, be it a book, a picture, a performance or a building, we are looking at it through filters. We all, as we are growing from childhood to adulthood and beyond, add filters. If you’re bitten by a Weimeraner dog at the age of 5, you may develop a sense that all gray dogs are evil, especially gray dogs with yellow eyes. If you eat too much pecan pie when you’re 8 and get violently ill, you may hate pecans in any form (even if you actually liked the taste of them). By the same token, if you have your first Shirley Temple on your 10th birthday which just happens to be the best day ever of your life so far, you associate Shirley Temples with fun and feelings of happiness. We all have these types of experiences that, over time, transform into opinions and expectations. Because they become reality for us (and we’ve carried them around all our lives), they are transparent to us, but we are still looking through the colored lenses of them at everything around us. My experiences were different than yours; my lenses (filters) are different than yours. We may both be looking at the same thing, but we see it differently.

Obviously these examples are grossly simplified; most associations like this are much more subtle and complex. So much so that we may never know the beginnings of our biases, and in fact we may not even know we have them. But we all have them.

Enter reviews. We’ve created our masterpiece, it’s up on and  …. OMG! Someone gave it FIVE stars! Yahoo! I wasn’t the only one who thought the book was good. And look what else they said: “compelling,” “riveting,” or “a must read.” A good review is like warm sunlight starring the heart, like the swelling pride of accomplishment, like the contented satisfaction of a job well done. Basking in this kind of light is validation that all the hard work, the research, the stops and starts, the frustrations―all of it was worthwhile. We can stand tall with our head held high.

This is every author’s dream.

But hold on; here’s another review and they gave it only ONE star! For any writer, this is akin to a knife in the gut. And it gets worse. The review itself uses such words as “trite,” “boring,” or even “terrible,” pretty much the same as twisting said knife in ever vicious ways. We read the review with held breath, wanting to look away but needing to see. Each word is a new wound. Each word lands on us with dark weight, slumping our shoulders, burying us, squeezing the breath from us. The book―and the author by association―is a failure.

This is every author’s nightmare.

I remember back in the late 80’s when I had sent a manuscript to a publisher for consideration. I got it back with the simple, generic “Doesn’t meet our needs” rejection letter, but something else was stuck between pages of the book: the worksheet of a reader. It was handwritten on yellow legal paper, obviously notes jotted hurriedly while reading. It was the most jarring, dismissive, condemning thing I’ve ever read. I know the publisher did not mean to leave that in there; I know it wasn’t meant for me to see, but I did see it. Even now, almost 25 years later, when I don’t even remember which book it was, don’t remember which publisher it was, I still remember how I felt when I read that. I felt eviscerated.

So how do we handle this dichotomy? It would be easy to believe that the positive reviewer was a sensible, intelligent, honest individual with sterling taste, and that the negative reviewer was a narrow-minded, ignorant jerk, but the truth is more likely neither of those. The truth is people are different and they have different opinions. Every reader sees through their own set of lenses, a collection of their own experiences, biases, and expectations. No one ever looks at any creation with a completely objective eye.

I’ve learned to consider reviews carefully. Of course I love the good ones and hate the bad ones, but I have to consider them all. The first thing I might have to do when dealing with a bad one is leave it and go do something else. The initial emotional response to a bad review is not conducive to rational thought. When I feel that I’ve calmed down enough to be rational again, I will go back to the bad review and read it again, but this time I will be open to the reader’s opinion. I will mentally hold the review up next to my book, really take it inside the deepest, truest part of me and see if there is real truth in what was said. Sometimes, as painful as it is to admit that, there might be. Sometimes there isn’t, and I really can dismiss the review as an “off” opinion. Maybe the reader had a bad day that day. Maybe they were expecting something different and didn’t find it in my book. There could be a zillion reasons why someone didn’t like the book, but obviously I can’t write a zillion versions of my book in order to please everyone. I can only write what I believe in, what I think has value, what I enjoy and want to share. Some will like it and some won’t. Fact of life.

As an illustration, just the other day I got word that one of my books has been nominated for a Best Biography award by a military writer’s society. Quite an honor and a very pleasant surprise. That same day I happened to check another booksite for reviews of the same book, and found one that said, “Not worth the price.” Ouch.

You live by the sword and you die by the sword.

But you keep on writing.