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Saturday, March 28, 2015

do a review!

Have you ever thought how important customer reviews are to other customers? Most of us have been used to the kind of reviews that a business will post where they are all glowing recommendations. The internet has changed that. Now there can be sites  devoted to putting down a product; so when a potential buyer goes looking, they find the pluses and the minuses. 

Reviews recently helped me understand why the last pair of tennis shoes I purchased in a store feel tighter than I expected based on my hurriedly trying them on. Reviews have helped me realize a dress should be purchased a size larger than I normally buy based on it being cut small. Reviews let me decide which food dryer was too expensive for what it was worth.  Reviews of our Tucson vacation home let other renters decide if it's for them-- and I always read reviews before I stay in a hotel or rent a house somewhere. I try to read them all, as one person's negative experience doesn't mean something is wrong for me; but when they go into why it was bad, that helps my decision.

These kind of reviews are ordinary people taking the time to write about something they purchased for the benefit of the next person. I am not talking about people paid to do reviews, but people who take time out of their busy lives. I've both bought products and decided against them based on reading a number of reviews for what other buyers experienced. 

Where it comes to indie writers, reviews of their books are very important. Having a lot of reviews can convince someone else this book is worth buying. This is why writers set up street teams where they give out books before their release in return for reviews. Now, honorable writers do not ask for positive reviews-- in return for a copy-- they just ask for a review. Doing this, is like salting a mine (except not dishonest) as reviews attract reviews.

There are those who buy all their books based on a New York Times or New Yorker book review. Others buy books that are never going to make those elite lists, but the benefit of a quality review from a past reader for a future reader is great.

When Round the Bend came out last Saturday, I had mentioned my trepidation regarding how it would be received. It is an historical romance about the Oregon Trail, but it's a long book (130,000 words puts it in the epic category). It deals with not only the hardships of the Trail, a love story, but also a very difficult family relationship.

The sales came in very well, better than I had expected even. I don't know if they will continue but that depends on how Amazon gets it into its rankings. I was fortunate to have been in a writer/reader group that likes pioneer romances, and I think that helped with early sales. Word of mouth and networking really is critical to getting books seen for any chance of being purchased. Yes, it takes a tribe.

Are writers like ranchers and farmers? It's always a case of-- but what about... And that was what I felt when the sales were good but what about reviews. There weren't any for days. I began to worry that people had bought it but not liked it. Maybe its length turned them off, and on my concerns went.

Then it got a review. Nervously, I looked to see what it said, and I can tell you reading it made my day. Not only did the reviewer like the book, but she got what I had hoped readers would.
"This is my first experience in reading one of Ms. Trueax's books and I wasn't disappointed. The story was exciting and never got boring. Amy and her family were traveling to Oregon along with Matt, his brother Morey, and father. It was a large wagon train so the storyline had many characters. I just loved St. Louis the Wagonmaster. He was the salt of the earth with so much experience in leading and understanding people. St. Louis had healing experience which was invaluable to those who traveled with him. I've never read a book like this with so many avenues that kept me fascinated. Amy and Matt were lifelong friends but he started feeling more than mere friendship. Amy actually began being courted by Adam, the Wagontrain Scout, but found out "the feeling" just wasn't there and soon realized her love for Matt was more than being a friend. Matt's brother, Morey, was disturbing in this book and led to the violence in Matt's life. The father was also part of the lies and deception that led Morey to hate his brother, Matt. I don't want to spoil this story for you so I won't go on. However, if you want an exciting, adventuresome and mysterious book, this historical western genre is for you. There is some violence and sexual content but the author did a great job in making all actions part of the story itself. I loved it!" 
I have had books that literally never got a single review even with sales.  And then this one got a second that made me also feel very good.
 Rain Trueax is at her best from the first sentence. Each phase of the plot and characters are richly developed.
The Oregon Trail experience, physically and mentally grueling, either built character in the hero Matt or caused dangerous psychopathic mental breakdown in Matt's brother Morey. The wagon master St. Louis Jones' experience went beyond previous trips on the Oregon Trail. He had lived with Indians and trappers. He had a depth of understanding of humanity. He was a believable mentor for Matt's amazing growth. Through him Trueax revealed insights to the Indian and emigrants' points of view and their conflicting interests. Obviously Trueax's writing reveals extensive research with exact details of folk and Indian medicine, cooking, weapons, and geography. On fly fishing I thought didn't exist until after the civil war but I was wrong and Trueax was correct to have dry flies and a bamboo rod. I am eager to read more of the series to find out if Loraine finds her true love and the destiny of Scout Adam Stone. Will they eventually get together?
I am not sure what accounts for a reader taking their own precious time to review a book, but I can only say that it means a lot to the writer when they do. Even if the book you read had a New York Times review, taking the time to do one yourself is a gift to other readers-- and yes, the writer. 

They say that reviews are only meant for the reader, but I know from other writers that writers cherish getting them. Even an indie writer, with hundreds of reviews, and I know some who have had that many, each new one is important and valued. Sure, when a review is negative, it's not so much fun, but it can be educational and help a writer to see an aspect they may have missed.

So whatever product you buy, give a thought to adding a review. Amazon lets people review products they did not purchase there. They won't say verified purchase, but the reviewer can tell from where they did make the purchase. A review might not seem like a big deal to you, but the time you take is a big deal to both future purchasers and the person/company behind the product.

When I bought my last pair of tennis shoes from a store, I got almost no info from the sales person. I came home, read Amazon reviews and found out not only what my problem had been (these tennis shoes were cut narrower in the toe than usual) but also that my favorite style of tennis shoe was still out there-- something the store never told me. I ordered them; and when they come, you can bet, if they are as they were last time, I will add my review.

I make a lot more effort now to do reviews, but admit I used to do none. It's not just when we are irked at a product that it's good to take some time but also when we love our experience. It contributes to the pool of knowledge and helps the community. Viva la internet :). 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Whales and mankind

  The Green Man is a symbol of rebirth and of spring. The mythology is part of many ancient cultures but was only called the Green Man in the 20th century. In its various forms, it is a symbol of hope... and some of us need all the help we can get right now.

Pretty much, I assume that most who read this blog are well informed on climate change. They know the Antarctic is melting faster than experts had expected. They know the likelihood of an ocean rise of 10 feet is what most scientists assume will be the result. They also know that sea life is being much impacted by these changes. 

This year, since January, 1100 starving baby seals have been found on the California beaches. Some could be saved but many could not. This starvation is most likely due to their mothers having to leave them to go farther for food because the food supply is not where it always was.

Human climate is seeing changes of greater storms, less rain some places and more others. Colder some places and warmer others. In my part of Oregon, our rainfall hasn't been that much less, but the mountains got virtually no snow, which will impact rivers this summer. Our own farm may not be able to irrigate for long, but it's been because of heavy logging on the hills around us, which means the land holds less water when the rains do come. 

Mankind is responsible for a lot of what happens in nature because of our numbers and habits. Some of that can be changed-- some maybe not. So while humans argue over taking any responsibility, what do you imagine it's like for the intelligent mammals that live in the ocean. I am not so much thinking of the seals now as the dolphins and whales.

Into this mix of change coming, I learned of something that kind of blew me away. One of the writers, who I know through the Internet, was heading for Baja and a whaling experience. The idea is the tourists stay in shacks on the beach of the Sea of Cortez. They ride out to the sea on pangas operated by guides to interact with the whales. 

This place is known as a breeding grounds for whales. Since the 1970s, it's been known for something else-- a place the whales will come up to the humans in the boats and let them touch them.
"highlights of any trip to this "Mexican Galápagos": tickling implausibly friendly grey whales under the chin, listening to humpback whales singing their haunting, unearthly songs, and enjoying unforgettably close encounters with gargantuan blue whales." from Telegraph
When I first heard about this happening, I thought-- this can't be good. Animals should never trust humans that much. Almost every species of animal out there keeps its babies away from humans at any cost. And yet, these whales were not only letting their calves do this but encouraging it. The whales are not forced or chased. They make the decision, and many do just that. So what's up?

After reading the experiences of my writing friend and seeing her videos and photos (definitely spend time with her link above), I was scratching my head. What is going on? Her father's cousin said that this all began with one man in the 1970s, a fisherman who said a whale came up to him and let him touch it. His community did not believe him. He took others out, and they saw for themselves. The whales chose to do this. They still choose to do this. 

What I am about to suggest will sound wacky to practical minded folk-- even though most know whales are the most intelligent in the sea and some think they are smarter than humans (and considering the cockeyed values of a lot of humans, that's not too hard to imagine). Here's what I wonder: what if the whales sense the changes in the oceans, the pollution, the feeding grounds being threatened? What if they understand that humans could help them if they would?

I know-- Bambi complex. Or is it? Do we not give animals enough credit for understanding what is happening? They are being threatened before we are by these abrupt climate changes. Can they sense this? Do we give them credit for realizing it and thinking what can they do about it? I know humans who believe they can communicate with whales and claim they very much can know and reason.

The Sea of Cortez, where the cows nurse their calves until they are strong enough to make the long migration to the Alaskan waters for feeding, provided a safe place. Maybe because of a reef, maybe for other reasons, the orcas, who would eat the babies, don't come into this breeding ground. They do though kill a lot of the young ones on their way north in places like Monterey Bay. If the reef is a factor in their safety here, then having humans supporting them has been a benefit. Many human governments need an economic reason to support any cause. The government of Mexico can see an economic benefit in the people coming down there on tours that aren't cheap. There is however, another benefit for the whales. The humans who do this are interacting with a wild creature in a way that educates the humans and makes them care about these mighty leviathans. 

Does it also give these humans a reason to support efforts to protect them, seeing them as kindred spirits? It will take that kind of love and a strong purpose as human actions are constantly making their lives more dangerous by examples like the one described in the following link. It will spoil more fisheries. It's a Mexican company but a subsidiary of an American one (no surprise that). What will it take to stop it? 

In our modern world, true love is the only thing that I can think of that can be more powerful than dollars! Some humans say we can't fix it all so why try to fix anything. Others say-- one step at a time and we can make a difference. That's my philosophy.

Finally, this is a link to a video made from that trip--  

Definitely check it out as the music, seeing the whales interacting, ends this on an upbeat note. Maybe we can keep it that way! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

spring and new life

We have five coins to spend in life: opportunity, time, talent, money, and energy. 

I don't know who said it, but it's on a post-it above my desk. It seemed a good reminder to go along with lamb pictures. Spring is here. The ewes and lambs are making the most of the sunshine and fresh grass.

This little one was born the smaller of a set of twins. She didn't seem she'd make it, but Farm Boss gave her some milk-replacer to bolster her strength. Then her stronger twin suddenly got diarrhea and seemingly instantly died. Because the stronger twin had been the ewe's favorite, Farm Boss skinned it and tied the hide to the back of this one. After being penned together a couple of days, the ewe accepted the offering, and soon the hide was not needed. This little ewe deserves to grin.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Questions without answers?

My dreams had been a mix. There was of one of my movie dreams. The main character, who was out to pick blackberries, was about to be attacked by a bear. (The dream dictionary said about seeing a bear in a dream-- 'To see a bear in your dream represents independence, strength, death and renewal, and/or resurrection. Bears are symbolic of the cycle of life. You may also be undergoing a period of introspection and thinking.' That fit, since when I woke, I was thinking very philosophically.

I had a friend, at one time, who was oriented to herself and how things impacted her more than anything else. Even with the good deeds she might be doing for others, it was how it made her feel better than others for doing them. Whenever I had a conversation with her, she rarely seemed to hear what I said. Basically, she appeared convinced she was right on everything and on a higher plane of life than more ordinary folk-- like me. I came to see her as selfish.

Selfish. What exactly does that mean? Dictionary says: "concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure."

When I was a little girl, my mother and father told me I was selfish when I wanted something for myself. It was drilled into me that what I did should be for my parents' and the family good. Family mattered more than the individual. If someone did something bad, it would be how did it reflect on the family-- not how did it impact the one doing it. It didn't sound right to me; and when I raised my own children, it was not part of my philosophy.

Except, what is the difference between living a self-centered, self-aware life, where your own good comes first, the philosophy I now want for myself, and being selfish? Waking up the other morning, I wondered if my friend had skipped the steps of struggling, which I have gone through, and went right to it. Was centering first about one's self, and what was good for them, the same as selfish?

We live in a culture where we are told both things are true-- do it all for others-- do it all for ourselves. Even in voting-- should we vote for what we think would do the most for us or that which will do the most for others? 

I am no longer worried if someone calls me selfish. It took me a long time, but I understand more what self-interest means. When I do something for someone else, it's because it's also good for me. I don't fool myself into thinking it was magnanimous. Charity can very much be about doing something for ourselves-- you know that warm glow. Same thing with doing it for the family when it makes us feel good. Was that not also selfish? Same thing with working for the environment or animal causes. Is it noble and self-sacrificing or actually selfish because it makes us feel good?

Even now, I tend to believe that pure selfishness isn't always a good thing because it can be very shallow. It can be doing what we think benefits us but with no clue as to the long run even for ourselves. The self aware/self centered person might do the same things, but the impact on their character would be totally different. I think when we talk to someone for awhile, maybe work with them, it does not take long to know which it is for them. Do we recognize ourselves as easily?

So what I woke up asking-- Is being centered first as to what we need and making our life predominantly about what benefits us a bad thing and selfish? Or is it what life is truly all about: learn what that 'one' thing is that will work for us? And when we know it, we will know how to balance the needs of others with our own. 

Interestingly, when I finished writing this, I opened up our Costco magazine for this month and saw an article on Wild, the film starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed. I had, of course, read about the film, although I have never read the book. Strayed had a quote regarding Witherspoon that puts a kind of coda to what I've been thinking.
"She's going through her late 30s and moving on to her 40s, when women say, 'I'm not going to look for validation from outside. I'm going to define myself on my own terms.'"
I read a lot of books in my 40s, books like Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Those were the years when I was doing clay sculptures (the ones above are mine). I also engaged in some counseling with a psychologist (who said it would take a lifetime to get me to where I wanted to be-- I didn't give him a lifetime just six months) and later, over those years, two professional counselors in various schools of thought. 

These were the years to look at Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and ask where I was at on the pyramid-- even to question its validity. Like that top one-- lack of any prejudice. Does that mean the inability to judge right from wrong or make assessments on what is proper or does it mean being biased without a reason? Lots of things to question once you start really thinking.

someone at Facebook posted the above from Pinterest. 
During my 50s, I investigated what in my world had been the taboo-- visiting some psychics for readings, exploring astrology, buying and learning to read Tarot decks, and other parts of the metaphysical world. I began to step out in ways I would never have done earlier. Did any of that help me get there then? Not so much. 

At 71, I think, I am still getting there. On the plus side, I feel far less need for approval from others. I am more aware that I won't please everyone in my relationships but especially with my writing. I kind of like that there is more growth ahead and that I don't have all the answers. 

Likely, given my mind, which travels all over the place, I won't have all the answers I might want-- even on the day I die. I think though that it's unlikely I'll be giving up on finding them. The accusation that my parents used to throw at me, that I thought too much, is still there. It just doesn't seem a bad thing anymore :).