Friday, February 25, 2011

How Not To Win Friends and Influence People in the Facebook Age

The other day I blogged about a complete and total jackass ex-classmate of mine who contacted me out of the blue on Facebook looking for a favor (which I granted----several favors, actually), only to have her throw it in my face. I'm still reeling from the sheer audacity of this person, but having chatted with some other people about this very issue, combined with some other rude and/or disrespectful behavior that I've dealt with online lately, I thought I'd do another post about it.

The Internet and Facebook in particular are great for keeping people connected (especially people who've been out of touch for a while----Facebook has helped me rekindle several wonderful old friendships over the past couple of years), for spreading news (personal, national, and otherwise), for marketing (I've got 4000 Facebook friends and 2500 Twitter followers, most of whom read my books), and even for engaging in friendly political debates. Like anything, though, Facebook and the Internet in general are just tools. They shouldn't be used as weapons (but unfortunately, they often are). And they're also easy tools to abuse.

Over the past year or so (and the past couple months in particular) I have seen far too many people use Facebook chiefly as a means for using and taking whatever they can get (including people), without ever once thinking about the consequences of that behavior. It's just "me, me, me" all the time----and fuck everybody else, basically (sorry, but I think the F-bomb is appropriate here). If I get one more out-of-the-blue request for a favor/gift/advice/whatever from another ex-coworker who treated me like crap in the office when we actually worked together, or barely-remembered classmate who was one of the "cool kids" back in school (here's a clue: I wasn't one of the "cool kids"), or complete and total strangers who email me demanding that I drop everything and give them my full, undivided, and completely uncompensated attention (and then harrass me when I don't), I am going to scream.

Here's the thing, people. I'm a very busy woman. I work an average of 50 hours a week these days (my freelance writing business has really taken off). Plus I've got a toddler (and no child care, natch---though that's finally changing starting next week). And I've got a husband, and a marriage, and bills to pay, and a house to take care of , yadayadayada. Time is the absolute most precious thing I have. If you want some of it, be prepared to pay handsomely for it. And on the off chance I decide to give you some of my priceless time and/or expertise for free (and I'm known to do both on occasion), you sure as hell better appreciate it.

Furthermore, I'd like to talk a little bit about the true meaning of friendship and camaradarie. One of the things Facebook is great for is keeping you in close touch with your friends----new and old. As I've said, I've rekindled many wonderful friendships that way over the past year. On the other hand, some of those same friendships abruptly ended when people "defriended" me for no reason---at least no reason I could see. I've guessed it may have had to do with my strong opinions, left-wing politics, Buddhist/agnostic religious beliefs, tendency towards dry humor, whatever----but these are people who have known me long enough to understand that's a part of who I am. I certainly don't defriend people just for their politics (as leftie as I am, I count several right-wing Republicans as my friends), or their religion, or their occasional tendency to fly off the handle sometimes (after all, I'm occasionally known to do the same.). These same people wrote to me seeking advice, asking questions about things I'm an expert in (like writing)---which I freely gave, seeking nothing in return but their friendship----and I didn't even get that.

Then there's the people who ask if I can help them with something, which I agree to do (also for no pay). We agree on a time, which I set aside from my uber-busy schedule, and then they either don't show up or reschedule at the last minute. And reschedule again. And again. Ad nauseum. After a certain point, I am no longer interested in helping them (for obvious reasons) but yet, they still ask. Ask, ask ask, take take take----and they give nothing back.

You know what I call people who do shit like that? Users. Users and takers. Superficial, one-dimensional, self-absorbed people. The same types we all see on reality TV shows and laugh at/despise. They're not just on reality TV, folks. They're everywhere. (And if you don't see it, it might be because you're too busy staring at your navel.)

We've become too polarized as a society these days largely because people seem to have lost the ability to see things from anyone's point of view but their own. Both sides of the political spectrum spend a lot of time demonizing the other side, without ever once trying to understand where the other side is coming from or finding any common middle ground. I even have friends who refuse to associate with people who are not carbon-copies of their own political/religious/whatever selves (they're all lefties like I am---except ironically, I'm usually further left politically than they are). Which I think is a real shame. They're missing out on meeting some great people that way.

I don't expect everybody I know or am acquainted with to agree with me all the time. Hell, I don't even expect my husband to agree with me all the time (if I did, we'd have divorced years ago). I think I have a much richer life as a result of that attitude. People of diametrically opposed viewpoints and belief systems can be great friends---even lovers or spouses. (I know this well, trust me). And yet, there are people with whom I've had friendly online debates with (I wouldn't even call them arguments---and people who know me well know that I love a good argument, provided it's done respectfully) drop off the face of the earth, defriend me, block me, pretend like they never met me, without one drop of explanation----even if they wrote to me seeking advice/help/whatever just a week earlier. I've also noticed that these same people often seem completely unwilling to compromise on anything, ever (I think it's no coincidence that many of them are still single and/or divorced well into their 40s and 50s, natch)

People, can we not do this? Can we all at least make an effort to do better? I try to do better every day. I don't always succeed, but at least I try. And before you judge me or cry foul that I'm even bringing this topic up, know this. Anyone who has known me personally for any length of time knows that I am very generous with my friends and colleagues. I am thoughtful, I am loyal (almost to a fault), I respect people (including their differences), and I treat them with dignity. I go out of my way to do it, in fact. Is it too much for me to expect other people to do the same?

Think about it.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seriously. Don't Do This.

Okay, so those of you who follow my blogs know that I like to post from time to time about writers behaving badly (or as I affectionately call it, Stupid Writer Tricks). Well, I have got the ultimate be-all end-all in Stupid Writer Tricks to tell you about. And in all fairness, I'm included as one of the stupid in this story, because it wouldn't have happened at all if I hadn't been such a sucker.

I get random emails and Facebook IMs from random people wanting me to help them get their books published, help them get agents, write their books for them, donate my organs to them (well, maybe not that one, it just feels like it) EVERY SINGLE DAY. Usually I just delete those messages, unless I actually know the person and have reason to believe said person actually has a chance in hell of knowing what he/she is doing. So when I got a Facebook IM from a high school classmate I hadn't heard from in 20 years asking me for erotica writing help, you can understand why I was tempted to delete it along with all the others.

But this message was different. It was very well-written, it showed the person had done a lot of background research into my work before contacting me (indeed, another high school classmate of ours suggested to her that she get in touch with me), and showed she had already done considerable research into the erotica publishing market. She asked politely for some publishing advice if I was able to offer it. Since this was someone I remembered as being pretty nice in high school, I thought I'd do the world a good turn and respond to her. We ended up striking up an interesting conversation, and I eventually agreed (against my better judgment, but more on that later) to take a look at a sample of her work.

She sent me some sample chapters to read, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that her writing was nothing short of excellent, as good as any of the best erotic writing anywhere. Having been an erotica editor myself, I know how rare that is, and (again trying to do the world a good turn) I offered to hook this person up with my agent. This was a very generous thing to do on my part, mind you, because a) my agent is currently closed to submissions, except by referral by one of her existing clients; and b) I do not refer people to my agents and/or editors unless I think their worth is top-notch, since it can reflect poorly on me if I refer amateurs or people who are not quite ready for prime time.

Needless to say, my old classmate was very appreciative of this---or so she seemed at first. She gushed about how wonderful I was, and how grateful she was, and she was practically in tears with gratitude. Which is nice and everything, but as I cautioned her, I just made the referral---there was no guarantee my agent would offer representation, of course. So after getting my agent's permission to pass along her contact information, I told my classmate to do the query submission, and I alerted my agent to look for it.

A couple of weeks passed. My classmate's submission was sitting in my agent's review queue (she's very busy). Then, out of the blue (again) I got a Facebook IM from my classmate, which went something like this:

"Hi, I've been doing some research and I've determined that literary agents are completely unnecessary. I don't want to give up 15% of my income to somebody else, and besides, I'm a lawyer [with zero publishing experience or creds, natch], so I can just do all of that work myself. [and other arrogant, idiotic misconceptions to that effect, yadayadayada]. So I wanted to let you know I'll be withdrawing my submission from your agent's consideration. Okay, bye!" Edited to add: this is my very watered-down paraphrasing of her email. The actual email was absolutely hair-curling in its arrogance and rudeness.


After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I typed a very polite yet firm response, in which I informed her of all the various and sundry reasons why her "research" (which I'm sure included a combination of disgruntled writers' message boards and scam publishers) into literary agents was incorrect. I also informed her that the decision to have an agent or not was hers alone (hey, it's her career, if she wants to throw it into the toilet, that's her business), and signed off. After I did that, I immediately fired off an email to my agent, informing her of this exchange, how rude this person acted, and to expect her submission (which she couldn't have made without my generous referral, natch) to be withdrawn.

Oh, and it gets better.

So about 10 minutes later, I get a very neurotic response from my classmate (NOT my friend, let's just be clear on this) in which she says "Oh, you must think I'm a total flake now." (Really? Ya think?) She blathered on about "this publishing business is so intimidating, I'm getting conflicting advice, but yours has been the most frank and informative" (maybe you should have followed it then, hmm?), "I'm such a doofus" (yes you are), blah blah blah. Then she basically said, "Maybe it's not too late to salvage this, I haven't actually emailed your agent yet."

To which I replied, "Oh, it's defintitely too late to salvage it, hon. Because maybe YOU haven't emailed my agent yet---but I have. I told her you were extremely rude, and arrogant, and all manner of other adjectives, and if she has half a brain on her shoulders (here's a clue: she does) she will not waste a single solitary minute more of her time with you. And neither will I. And by the way, don't email people at random for the first time in 20 years seeking advice and favors, then turn around and throw both in said favor-giver's face. Goodbye, have a nice life, and by the way, don't contact me ever again."

The moral of the story is twofold. One, there is a reason why most established authors don't go around granting favors to every random yahoo who emails them asking for one. (because the one time you do it, you can have THIS happen to you). And two, in the extremely rare event an established author goes out of his/her way (i.e., exchanging emails, giving publishing advice, taking hours out of her busy schedule to read your manuscript for no pay, making a very generous agent referral), it would generally behoove you not to behave like a complete idiot asshole.

Seriously, people. Don't do this.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Blog Tour stops

Today I'm interviewed at Seriously Interviewed, and Part Two of my interview at Boxing the Octopus is up today as well. Enjoy!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blog Tour stop at Boxing the Octopus

I'm blogging today (as Jill Elaine Hughes; the first of 2 parts) on writing and ebooks at Boxing the Octopus:


Friday, February 18, 2011

Blog tour in progress

I'm spending the next month or so making "appearances" at various writer- and book-related blogs. I made my first appearance last week at Dusk to Dawn Romance, and I'll be doing several more. I'll be blogging about such things as the romance genre in general, what it's like to be a full-time freelance writer, how I choose my novel storylines, and more. I'll try to remember to post links to each blog appearance here, but for the latest news watch my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

In honor of the blog tour, TENDER IS THE KNIGHT is only 99 cents at Amazon Kindle, & FREE @ For a limited time only, so take advantage!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weird week

It's like something you'd see on TV----a frozen pizza sent me to the emergency room.
(Actually, it wasn't even the frozen pizza, it was a tiny piece of cheese the size of my fingertip that fell onto my kitchen counter after I put the damn thing in the oven that sent me to the emergency room, but I digress.)

I'm a good work-at-home/fulltime writer/housewife, and as such I cook dinner at home for my family most nights. Many nights it's a multi-course affair, and I frequently cook from scratch, but not every night. Some nights (like when I'm on deadline) I just pop a frozen pizza in the oven and make a side salad. Such it was last Wednesday, when I popped a locally-made Gino's frozen pizza in the oven, and like I've done so many times, popped one of the stray pieces of cheese that fell off the pizza onto the counter into my mouth. I did it without even thinking, like I've done hundreds of times before. (and I keep my countertops fastidiously clean, as anyone who's been to my house can tell you).

Almost immediately, I started feeling very strange. First off, the cheese didn't taste at all like cheese. It tasted more like Comet Kitchen Cleanser. Odd, since I know the company that made the pizza (a family-owned company in Crystal Lake,IL, just about 15 miles from my house) makes its own real cheese using milk from Wisconsin cows----one of the reasons I bought the pizza in the first place. Cheese isn't supposed to taste like Comet Kitchen Cleanser, that's for damn sure. Not only did it not taste right, I started feeling really weird. Like sick to my stomach. And dizzy, and then I began to gag, and even feel my throat swelling shut like it does when I go into anaphylactic shock after being stung by a bee. (I already carry an epinephrine shot everywhere I go because of that).

It immediately struck me that I might have been poisoned somehow----like the pizza I got was laced with cyanide or something. I called my husband's cell phone to see where he was on his commute (he was already late getting home by that point). Turns out he was still on the train, and the train was stuck in a snowdrift, so God only knew when he'd be getting home. So I bit the bullet and called 911, and told the dispatcher that I suspected chemical poisoning. For a little while I was worried I was going to die. (Death By Frozen Pizza---crazy, I know.)

So the ambulance and the fire truck show up at my house, followed by several curious neighbors (I live in a very quiet neighborhood). The EMTs say I need to go to the ER, and my next-door neighbor offered to watch my son until my husband got home. I get to the ER, and the ER doc tells me that I haven't actually been poisoned, but I have had an anaphylactic allergic food reaction, likely to the preservatives in the tiny crumb of frozen pizza cheese I ate. (Imagine what would have happened if I'd eaten a whole slice!) I got treated with prednisone and eventually left with instructions to go see an allergist.

I went to the allergist yesterday, and I'd say her job title would more accurately be described as Master Torturer. I got 48 different allergen scratch tests (24 on each arm), plus 13 (yes, 13!) subcutaneous shots (which hurt like a BITCH, by the way---this is coming from the lady who had 30+ hours of unmedicated labor with my son, mind you). After all of those tests, I discovered that I am not only allergic to multiple food additives and preservatives, but also chicken, soy, coffee, and peanuts. Who knew???

So now, I'm on an elimination "detox" diet, where I can basically eat only fresh foods that I prepare myself from scratch, with very little added to them. Chinese food is out due to the MSG (try that when you're married to a Chinese person), as is pretty much all frozen, canned, or otherwise processed food. I have to go back next week for more tests, and possibly even a year or more of allergy shots. Not only that, I've suddenly become hypersensitive to all sorts of foods and food additives---things are tasting different and strange, and making me have odd reactions (like today when I tasted a small amount of my son's Lofthouse sugar cookie and thought I'd eaten a mouthful of Drano).

I've never had a food allergy in my life, at least not until last week. How on earth did this happen? The allergist explains that as we age, we can acquire new allergies spontaneously, and that our bodies also can become hypersensitive following any anaphylactic event. Hence the elimination diet---I need to "reboot" my system so that I'll eventually not be allergic to everything I touch.

The bottom line is, this sucks. I love good food, and I love variety, and I also love the convenience some prepared foods offer me as a busy mom. But for the time being, I'll be eating nothing but unseasoned pork loin and plain white rice because that's all my body can tolerate. Le sigh.

Oh well. At least I'm not dead.


Monday, February 7, 2011

TENDER IS THE KNIGHT, as advertised in RENAISSANCE magazine!

Just got copies of RENAISSANCE magazine in the mail today. My publisher Decadent Publishing paid for a full-page ad in the February issue for TENDER IS THE KNIGHT. There's an article on the Society for Creative Anachronism (where the novel is set) on the next page. Nice placement!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stand back, folks. I'm a professional.

This week I've been weathering the Blizzard of 2011, an epic storm even by our tough Chicago winter standards. All in all I only lost about a half-day of productivity as hubby and I worked to clear the 2 feet of snow from our driveway and walk, but then it was back to business as usual. Not that we had much of a break---my husband was still expected to put in a full day's work from home for his corporate banking job, and I also put in a full day's work as a freelance writer-slash-mom.

Lately my freelance writing income has really picked up, to the point it is now roughly equal to what I earned working full-time in the corporate world. (This notwithstanding the fact that on a strict hours-worked basis, I am still only working part-time). People ask me how I do it. I tell them it's my livelihood, and since I have bills to pay, somehow I manage to muddle through. Which is not always easy when you're also caring for a busy three-year-old boy, mind you.

A while back a local playwright friend of mine marveled at the fact that I don't keep my "creative" writing and my "business" writing separate. In the theater world, it is pretty much de rigeur for people to have "day jobs" that they work their theatre lives around, and that's also true for many playwrights. But I'm a writer by trade and profession, and as such I consider playwriting to just be another kind of writing that I do for my livelihood, so I don't see any need to keep it "separate." (It's not as if I'm doing a lot of playwriting these days anyway, since I prefer to devote my attention to writing for a living, as opposed to for fun. I do get paid for my playwriting, mind you, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what my other writing pays). This same playwright also doesn't have any children to worry about feeding, so I guess that probably plays into her decision to compartmentalize her writing life.

Some people in my playwrights' collective have been wondering where I've been lately since I don't make it to meetings much anymore, and I just tell them I've been busy working. "Doing what?" they ask. "Writing," I reply. Which is usually met with a puzzled look, then silence.

To me, either you write for a living or you don't. Plenty of people wax on about how they would love to write for a living, and yet they don't treat it like a job. If writing is your job, you get up every morning, and show up for work. (And if work is your laptop in your living room instead of an office, you still show up.) A typical day for me will include setting up interviews for the articles I'm required to file as a freelance journalist, writing an article or two and filing with an editor, then maybe plugging away at my current novel-in-progress. There might be an email or two into my literary agents or my editors, plus general housekeeping, keeping track of earnings and taxes, whatever. If I'm lucky I'll also have some time to read for pleasure (which I also consider part of my job as a writer, since reading other writers is the best way to keep your writing chops up). And remember, on top of all of this, I'm caring for a three-year-old, with no child care help.

So let's just say I really have no patience anymore for people who say, "Oh, well, I've been meaning to write, but I have writer's block," or "I really want to finish that novel I started, but I don't have time," blahblahblah.

Well, I've got the perfect cure for writer's block. It's called the mortgage payment. Deal, folks. And if you can't, leave this writing stuff to the professionals. I've already got enough competition as it is.