Decorations – Now or Ever?

I don’t know what the stores are like where you live, but the ones at the mall down the road from us started decorating for Christmas before Halloween.

And not just decorating. Penny’s has a number of Christmas-themed products occupying prominent places on major aisles. Presents for pets. Santa-themed sleepwear. You name it, they’ve probably got it.

          

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked at seeing the decorating starting so early. Not when it’s been this way longer than I can remember.

The decorating is really ramping up now. The mall has placed two trees at the ends of mostly empty hallways. Soon they’ll hang the huge fresh-looking wreaths that require special equipment to reach high enough to put them in place. Santa’s chair and the related setting just appeared a day or two ago.

With “Black Friday” coming this week, I can understand the need to get everything ready for all the Christmas shoppers. This is the one time of year our mall doesn’t look dead.

I can recall helping decorate the Christmas tree when I was still living at home. My parents were very particular. I wasn’t to simply throw the icicles over the branches, but to drape them carefully, one by one. How tedious!

But also how effective. The extra care showed.

And that was in the days when the Christmas tree lights were a real pain. Some of you may recall the times when a strand wouldn’t light if one bulb had burned out. Think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

I’m not interested in doing much decorating now. Fortunately, neither is my wife.

Back when we had two cats–even when we got down to one–there was no way to safely have a Christmas tree on the floor. So we downsized from a nice pre-decorated tree to one we could put on the dining room table. We tried a Norfolk Island pine several years, but since we always managed to kill them eventually, we switched to a reusable tabletop-sized artificial tree.

It got in the way. Too many presents, I suppose. So now we don’t have  a tree at all. Kathleen puts up a few decorations every year, but nothing elaborate.

People might accuse us of being Scrooges, but I say, “Bah! Humbug!” to that accusation.

Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth. That’s the only thing that matters. And we don’t need decorations to do that.

Besides that, nothing can ever begin to match the original Bethlehem star.

Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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Thoughts about Gun Control

Although I’m not registered as a Republican, I wouldn’t consider supporting a Democrat for any office. Not unless I knew him or her personally and was convinced of his basically conservative outlook…at least on issues that really matter.

With that disclaimer made, I’ll admit I’ve always approved of the rights of every American to bear arms. I’m surrounded by registered gun carriers at church, although state law prevents them from having their guns in church. I wonder if that applies to the pastor as well. Or our female choir director. Or the men who stand guard in the hallways Sunday morning and evening and on Wednesday nights. I hope not. I feel safer if all of them are armed.

I don’t own a gun, although I spent several years thinking about buying one. Even though the family budget never had room for purchasing a gun, I did take a concealed carry course. But when I learned how many places I wouldn’t be permitted to carry it, I started changing my mind.

But that wasn’t what really made me decide not to buy one. It was learning that using a gun to protect myself or anyone else depended on firing at the proper time rather than hesitating while deciding if I should. I’m apt to take time making up my mind on most decisions. That wouldn’t work with a gun.

I rarely act in anger. But “rarely” isn’t “never.”

I couldn’t take a chance.  Better for me to be injured or killed than for me to harm an innocent person, no matter how good my intentions were.

After the Las Vegas massacre, do I still think every American should be free to bear arms? Or has that changed my mind?

I definitely don’t think the crazies should have them, but who can be certain who the crazies are?

And I’m starting to question why the average person should have the right to stockpile guns the way the LV killer did. Or to buy certain kinds of weapons or types of ammo.

Since in theory it may be the government we ultimately need to protect ourselves from, the idea of a government owned registry of all gun owners and what they own and perhaps even why they own guns seems like a horrible idea. But what about a registry only of people who have the kind of weapons so often used is multiple shootings?

I honestly don’t know the answer. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “Guns don’t kill people; people do.”

Samuel Adams said this, “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” See other great pro-gun quotes here.

I guess the real problem is how to prevent non-peaceable citizens from keeping arms.

Comments are welcome, as always. Please just keep them peaceable.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

P.S. The final book in the Altered Hearts series will be coming VERY soon.

 

    

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Me and Social Media

 


When it comes to me and the use of social media, some people might actually accuse me of being anti-social. I don’t believe that’s accurate, however. Not only have I made a number of new friends on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve also renewed old friendships that way.

I couldn’t tell you the number of former English students I’ve enjoyed catching up with on Facebook. I know some of them feel strange addressing me by my first name now–one fellow is so respectful I’ve just about given up on convincing him I really want him to–but at this age (I turned seventy-one yesterday) my old students and I aren’t that far apart in age. One of my most interesting former student reconnections is with Tom, who now lives and operates his own restaurant in Colombia.

I’ve also become friends again with an old friend from high school. Who would’ve thought she’d end up living in Richmond when we’d been in high school together in Norfolk? Or that she’d become one of the most enthusiastic supporters of both my writing and my music? My wife and I enjoy getting together with her periodically for a meal out.

And who would’ve thought I’d find another old friend–this young lady from one of my previous work places–who was at that time living in Brazil and had written her first novel? When I asked her to email a copy of it, my wife and I both love it so much I connected her with my original publisher; she ended up with a three-book contract. Yes, the original book was long enough to cut into three shorter books!

Probably most of my Facebook friends are fellow authors I’ve met at conferences. But I have been blessed to meet some of my readers on Facebook, too. Truthfully, those are the people I’d most like to get to know better.

One real failure on my part is not always staying up-to-date with my wonderful daughter and her terrific family. It’s certainly not lack of interest. I just can’t seem to make myself get on Facebook to see what’s going on in other people’s lives. If people post on my timeline or send me a message, I always respond. But doing Facebook just to do it isn’t my thing.

Twitter is more of an enigma to me. I honestly don’t get it. Maybe if I were a teen…

I occasionally tweet blurbs about an author friend’s books and occasionally about my own. But authors are cautioned to not do too much tweeting (or Facebook posting, for that matter) about their books. So I don’t. And the easiest way to avoid that is to rarely tweet at all.

I’ve met a couple of interesting people on Twitter, however. My favorite is Meggie Jenny, a Christian actress/screen writer/director/producer/you name it-er. Interestingly, she followed me first. I have no idea why. I admire her tremendously, so I’m careful not to bug her. And with that kind of relationship, I can count on her to tweet back.

I have Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest accounts. I rarely pay attention to Pinterest, although it’s amazing how many times people have re-posted some of my pictures from a tour my wife and I took of the Martin Guitar factory a few years ago.

Although my blog posts automatically go to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I’ve never figured out what to do with LinkedIn and I don’t need one more app on my phone to really take advantage of Instagram.

The thing is, I really do like people. Even though I enjoyed the solitude of computer programing for a number of years, now that I’m retired and spending all day at home writing while my wife is out making a living, I find that I do miss people. Walking at the mall in the early morning gives me some vital human contact, but–no matter how it might pain me to say so–so does my limited participation on social media.

But social media is far from being an addiction for me, and that’s a good thing, too.

What about you? Are you a media addict or do you use it reasonably…or not at all? Your comments are welcome.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Help Your Favorite Author…Even if It’s Not Me

Most readers don’t realize that authors have to do most–sometimes all–of the marketing for their books. Many–perhaps most–authors would prefer to spend their time writing the next book and feel very intimidated about marketing the current one.

I’m one of many authors who have read so much about marketing that it all runs together. Regardless of what anyone says, there’s no guaranteed way to make a success out of any book.

Word of mouth is supposed to be the best marketing tool. Too often, however, readers fail to share their opinions about a book with people who might benefit from reading what they think.

And by that I mean writing a review on Amazon and/or Good Reads.

Some readers feel intimidated when they look at other people’s reviews. They read a scholarly-looking review and think they can never match it. I’ve read a number of reviews that would make me feel that way!

The truth is, readers don’t need to write something like that. An honest sentence or two actually helps to balance out the lengthier, more professional-sounding reviews.

Here’s a simple four-star review for The Devil and Pastor Gus:
“Interesting to see how the devil gets into hearts and lives and humans try to play both sides. Pastor Gus was a fun character.”

Who wouldn’t be comfortable writing something like that?

A simple review can even mix the good and the bad: Here’s a three-star review for Pastor Gus:

“I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. It made me think about how Satan is the real enemy, more so than people. Unfortunately, I think Satan smarter than this character portrayal.”

Many of my friends have read Rosa No-Name and raved about it to my wife or me, but only nine people have written Amazon reviews.

Five thousand copies of the original edition of Found in Translation were sold, but only twenty-seven people left reviews. The original edition of Lost in Dreams (we’ve renamed the new edition A Season of Pebbles) sold twenty-five hundred copies. Only seventeen reviews.

Can you imagine how much better those books might have done if their readers had been willing to share their opinions in a review?

Even bad reviews can help. Not every book is for every reader, and it’s good to point out what someone else might not like in a particular book.

Found in Translation and A Season of Pebbles are now available from Winged Publications, along with Overshadowed, the previously unpublished third book in the Altered Hearts series. I’m currently editing and revising The Flowers of His Field, which is not only the final book in the series but a sequel to Rosa No-Name.

The success of those books will depend largely on honest reviews. I’m not talking about financial success. My only concern is the lives my books will have a chance to touch.

If you’ve read one of my books and haven’t reviewed it on Amazon, would you take a couple of minutes to do it? Yes, I know it’s a nuisance. But just think of the hundreds of hours it took me to write and edit each of those books.

And if you haven’t read any of my books, I hope you will.

Not because I’ve suggested it, but because you look at the reviews and think, “Why haven’t I read this book before?”

Please keep what I’ve said in mind about your favorite authors, even if I’m not one of them.

Your comments are welcome.

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Not Every Good Idea Is Mine

          

          

I’ll be seventy-one next month, and I hate to admit it, but I’m running out of fresh ideas regarding anything and everything. I not only don’t have any idea what my next book will be about, I’ve almost reached the point of not being too concerned about it. After all, I still have a number of unpublished manuscripts to get published one way or another.

I hope I’m not the only person in the world who grew up thinking that his ideas were the best. And resenting the fact that not everyone agreed with me. And wondering why. Like why my former agent saw the great value in all of those manuscripts he was never able to sell but publishers didn’t.

This blog post isn’t about writing or publishing, though. It’s about accepting the fact that other people have good–sometimes GREAT–ideas, too.

In particular, a couple of years ago our pastor shared with the congregation the idea of building a first-class picnic pavilion on our property across the road from the church building proper. Interesting idea, I thought at the time, but we don’t really need that, do we?

I didn’t express opposition to the idea, though. I’d matured enough by then to realize I could be wrong, no matter how much I thought I wasn’t.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think the pavilion project required anything from the church budget. Different people contributed time, talent, and materials to making the pavilion happen amazingly fast.

I opened my eyes one day, and there it was. Complete and ready for use. Not long after that, our choir director, who’s also in charge of Operation Christmas Child (OCC) at our church, held a church-wide meal to raise money for OCC. Although our members contribute enough items to fill around 2,000 shoe boxes a year, it costs thousands of dollars to pay for shipping them overseas.

The event was a huge success, and my wife and I won a fantastic gas grill we couldn’t use and gave to someone we thought could use it more. Maybe this pavilion wasn’t such a bad idea.

But this summer has really proven its success. Rather than have the normal evening worship services at 6:00 p.m. and then go home, the church held shortened evening services during the month of July, followed by a special event at the pavilion. One featured hot dogs, chips, and cookies. Another was watermelon. For a third, the church actually paid a snow cone vendor to bring his truck and provide free snow cones for everyone. And of course there was a homemade ice cream social!

The attendance at those evening services was amazing, and we were able to meet people who normally attended the opposite morning service from us. People who–by no fault of their own–we hadn’t even seen before because we weren’t normally in the same place at the same time. Quite a time of much-needed fellowship.

Yep, I think I may have been a little short-sighted about the picnic pavilion, and I don’t mind admitting it. I’m sure glad the world isn’t dependent on my good ideas alone and is willing to overlook my bad ones.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The Death of a Mall

A friend and I have recently been discussing the condition of the mall I walk at most mornings. She asks if the smells from the Food Court aren’t distracting while I’m walking. What smells, I tell her? Even by 9:00 a.m. there might not be anyone manning places in the Food Court, much less cooking anything.

She can’t picture just how far down Virginia Center Commons has grown. Grown down? Strange way to describe something that “dead” or “dying” seems to describe better .

I wonder whether American Family Fitness knew how badly VCC was dying when they bought and totally redid the  property on the other side of this wall. It’s one of the few places that are thriving, but it’s not even owned by the mall.

I recall how much fun it was to go to VCC  back in the 1990s when it was new and thriving. After years of going to a mall that was further away, a two-story mall, how amazing it was to be in a single-story mall that was oh! so spread out. With skylighted hallways–one that reaches from the Food Court all the way to the back and a shorter one off to one side–and decorated with humongous (live) palm trees.

Even though I know now that I can walk from one end of it to the other in five minutes and make a complete circle in fifteen, it was so crowded back then that it would probably have taken two to three times that long to move through the crowd at a snail’s pace.

As if I had any reason to rush then.

The Food Court wasn’t humongous, but it had a good selection, and right beside the front door was a Ruby Tuesday’s. Along with the variety of kiosks and normal-sized shops–the best I can recall, there were no empty stores–the mall housed a J. C. Penney’s, a Sears, and several other larger “big name” places.

The mall still has Penney’s and Sears, although the future of both chains is–from what I understand–up in the air. Burlington occupies one of the big store sites, but a good-sized Macy’s closed down many months ago. Interestingly, it’s for sale, not for lease. But what wise businessman (or woman) would want to invest so much in a place too few people shop at anymore?

Probably the most successful place is American Family Fitness. No wonder. The mall doesn’t own it and its success isn’t dependent on mall customers.

My wife helped me do a survey a couple of days ago. It’s hard to count while walking, but we ticked off the numbers on a tablet as we went along, so I believe these figures are relatively accurate.

  • Stores and kiosks still open: 47  (includes one that’s about to open)
  • Stores closed in the side hallway: 21
    • Stores open in that hallway: 3
  • Stores closed in the main hallway (includes two in the process of closing): 17

I detest walking in the one hallway that has lost twenty-one stores. It’s depressing.

This problem seems to be at least partially a chicken-or-egg problem. Which happened first–stores closing because customers were no longer coming to the mall or too many stores closing for customers to find going there to be worthwhile? I’ve heard several people claim that groups of teens hanging around there made customers afraid.

While that might have happened sometime in the past, I’ve never seen dangerous looking teens there. I rarely see a crowd at all. This is what the Food Court area looked like around 6:00 p.m. a couple of days ago:

In all fairness, Monday evening seems to be the most consistently empty time of the whole week. But it never looks anywhere close to full.

This picture is of the hall that branches off just past the Food Court. This is the one that only has three businesses–a LensCrafters, an optometrist’s office that’s all but officially a part of LensCrafters, and an African hair braiding place.

 

Some months ago the mall was sold to someone who supposedly likes to fix up malls like this one. I hope he can. He hasn’t done much so far. The lines in the parking lot are so faded it’s hard to be sure I’m parking within the lines.

Virginia Center Commons is just a mile down the road from us, and we do shop there–to whatever extent we can find what we want or need. We want to see it rejuvenated. Do we ever!

Any comments?



    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

A Walk through Daily Life

I enjoy walking at the local mall, and I do that at least five days a week in the early morning. Early morning is either 8:15 or 8:30, depending on which security guard lets us walkers in. There doesn’t seem to be any agreement about which time is officially correct.

Although a number of my fellow walkers walk with other people, I prefer to walk by myself. The practical reason is that the echoes in those empty hallways make it very difficult for me to understand what other people are saying. But the real reason, other than the fact that I enjoy my own company at that time of day, is that I enjoy God’s company even more.

Yep, I like to pray while walking. Although I make it a practice to always pray about certain specific needs (usually not my own), I try to leave my prayer time open to whatever God lays on my heart to talk to Him about.

Several days ago my prayer time revealed something I’d never thought about before. Walking at the mall has many similarities to living my daily life.

In both cases, I’m at it before much of the day has a chance to get away from me. And I’m not necessarily all that alert yet at the beginning, even though I’m theoretically wide awake.

Each activity has a definite starting and ending point. My day goes from bedtime to bedtime, and my walks go from the Food Court entrance back to the Food Court entrance…and then back to the same car I came in…and to the same house I left forty or so minutes earlier.

Just as I expect to see a number of familiar fellow walkers, custodians, and early store employees, my daily life involves a number of familiar activities–a mid-morning snack, working a while on my WIP (work-in-progress), lunch, afternoon nap, putting away the clean breakfast dishes in preparation for suppertime dishwashing.

I could keep going, but there’s no need to belabor the point.

Occasionally my walk involves a surprise. Maybe I see someone I suddenly realize I haven’t seen in a while.  Or I end up walking a short distance with one of the walkers I know is a Christian, too. (I’m not really anti-social.) Or seeing that an interesting looking new store is about to open.

Of course, the surprise may not be the least pleasant. Like when the security guard is really late letting us in. Or when I have to break my stride to tie a shoelace keeps coming loose. Or when I notice one more store going out of business.

Good or bad, my walk still resembles my daily life to a certain extent. Sometimes I write more words in my WIP than I’d expected to. Sometimes fewer. Sometimes something special comes in the mail. Or something unexpected interferes with my routine. Like the tire pressure light coming on in the car and having to get the charger out of the trunk and deal with it.

I wish I could recall more of the similarities that came to me while praying that day. One thing is certain, though: I’m always glad to safely reach the end, whether that means I’ve completed my walk and can sit down for as long as I want to or that I’ve plopped into bed at the end of the day, satisfied that I’ve “run the good race” that day, accomplishing whatever I wanted to accomplish, and thankful to have had God leading me each step along the way.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger