December 21, 2013

Annual Family Christmas Letter

Wow, hard to believe we've blown through another year! The French family has been challenged but blessed in 2013. In October, Lew failed the Reader’s Digest Crossword Puzzle Certification when he blanked and couldn't come up with a five letter word for “Name of current US President.” We’re still very proud of him, though, and look forward to the day he doesn't involuntarily shout, “Term for abstract expressionism!” or, “Beans named for Peru’s capital!” at the dinner table.

Our oldest, Vic, moved to Nashville this summer and started incorporating a musical saw into his beats. Surprisingly chill. Unfortunately, he has trouble getting it into club gigs because it’s mistaken for a weapon. His girlfriend, Claire, is a very talented painter. She recently scored a commission to paint Elvis playing strip poker with Miley Cyrus, Brad Paisley, and Amy Grant for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Coffee

Mark slid slowly into the kitchen chair. Head tilted back and eyes open just enough. Since I’d never seen my buddy first thing in the morning before, the full-on bedhead and rumpled clothes were a shock. This from a guy who always came to campus ironed and precise and with a briefcase no less. Now Thanksgiving morning, a group of us stayed at a friend’s house near the city after one helluva party and before we’d all go separately home.

Glad he sat down, I’d been waiting for someone to join me and our host’s mother. Everyone else was still asleep, including a friend under the dining table in the next room. She had coffee, thank God, and poured for us. Eyeing her young guests in the method of a true veteran-parent, she was quiet.

November 24, 2013

Daily Write: It Could Turn on You Someday

Once or twice a month, she’d bang her shoulder on a door jam. That third or fourth glass of wine brought out the old two-step waltzes, registering that she should probably continue the evening in a chair or on the lounger. The two-step or side-lurch or whatever arm gestures came into play when she lost balance were pretty obvious fails. If she knew anything, she knew herself and mostly stayed home so as not to elicit attention.

A door jam was rather innocuous. But the stone patio and grand steps leading out to the back yard, those were enjoyed. She and her husband spent hours with the landscape architect plotting out features just so. In July at the height of summer, she’d stroll out from the French doors off the kitchen (and wet bar) with her chilled pinot grigio, relaxed and satisfied.

November 3, 2013

How to Drive Traffic to Your Obituary

The Brownview Library Writers' Club invites you to the next seminar in their fall series: How to Drive Internet Traffic to Your Obituary

These days, getting your work read is incredibly difficult. And getting noticed, even in death, is surprisingly tough. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, the annual number of US deaths was just under 2.5 million. Legacy.com reports that 75% of deaths receive online and print obituaries. That’s an average of 5,000 published obits per day. Tragically, most writers toil for years and never get published or noticed.

This seminar offers proven methods to achieve at least a modicum of exposure to your work. 

You’ll learn how to:
- Get your death (and work) noticed in the tough post mortem market.
- Seamlessly insert your best fiction and plug your blog while honoring family and day jobs.

Some (but not all!) of the topics covered:
- Unconventional approaches, including first person examples: “I had a helluva run.”
- Action intros that grip readers: “Even the undertaker couldn’t wipe that smug look off her face.”

Bonus handouts include:
- How to repackage manuscripts after you’re gone.
- Go “viral” without writing schlock to do it.

Please call Nan Greenwell at the Brownview Library to reserve your spot!
* Light refreshments and cookies will be served.

October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween

Maybe it was lack of sleep that made her think the barista was really slow. Plus, this being Halloween, every coffee shop employee seemed distracted by their witch hat and vampire teeth. Ann, however, was a suit in a hurry. She had no time for low level people being silly or oblivious to her importance. Dressed for battle in pin stripes, she tapped her right stiletto loudly, as if that alone would teleport the skinny mocha into her hand.

“These people don’t get it,” she seethed. “And those dumb teeth. Uck. Half these gals would do well to get veneers or at least whitening strips if they ever want to succeed.” Ann comforted herself with the knowledge that her smile dazzled, enhancing the qualities that made her so worthy.

October 29, 2013

Daily Write: The Spreadsheet

Crap. 15 minutes til the meeting. I foolishly figured a 1 p.m. start would give enough padding to finish my report and even broke my rule about no food near the keyboard. (A near fatal accident for it some months earlier with a smoothie made me ban food and drink.) Coffee excluded!

So I grabbed my brown sack and peeled down the baggie over my Munster-cheese-and-lettuce on whole grain. Not a bad combo if you take time to actually taste it. I chomped quickly during the last proofread.

Hearing people head into the conference room, the report was as final as it was going to get. I hit the print key and looked down to wad up the leftovers. “What's up with this Munster slice?” It took a moment to understand that there was thick wax paper from the deli clinging to what was left of the cheese. My panicked assault on the sandwich revealed that, yes, I just ate a lot of deli paper and God knows what else.

I don’t remember much about the meeting. I do remember other things about that afternoon.

October 23, 2013

Daily Write: Oil on the Drive

Toward the end, he’d get fuzzy. Run-down and unsteady. So, she’d drive him over to the doctor in Mount Collingsford for a big dose of iron. A couple of times he got a transfusion, even. Almost 100 years old, his insides were described to her, in layman’s terms, as being “leaky.” Like an old car that seeps oil onto the driveway, his seals finally wore out.

September 3, 2013

I Forgot My Phone

The second viewing was like a slap. Not sure I can watch a third time.


July 1, 2013

Daily Write: Happy 4th of July!

Independence Day, 1976, was more anticipated and commercialized than usual, it being the Bicentennial. Everyone I knew would be at the beach tanning, sailing, or skiing. A lakefront friend invited me over to hang out and other kids were sure to stop by in boats to say hello - a constant flow of partiers. Dressed in red, white, and blue, I brought along my suit and towel. It was sunny and the lake was rockin’.

That afternoon, I climbed into a boat with my friend’s brother, having volunteered to spot skiers. As we prepared to pull away from the pier he explained, in honor of our country turning 200, he was going to drink 200 beers over the holiday weekend. Always a party guy, I couldn’t tell if he was serious and asked how many he’d had so far. “72,” he said, matter-of-factly pointing to tally marks inked onto his forearm. “But don’t worry, I’ve drunk myself sober.” As we motored past the no wake buoys, I checked my grip and seriously considered jumping. Settling the matter, the first skier flashed “thumbs up” and we roared off into the lake.

Facebook "Liking" Doesn't Make a Difference

From thedrum.com, Crisis Relief Singapore shows liking Facebook photos doesn't make a difference in a new campaign. Hands giving the "thumbs up" gesture were photoshopped into actual disaster photographs to illustrate how "likes," while increasing awareness, do little to deliver relief and support. Article here.
Credit: Crisis Relief Singapore
Is this an issue with Facebook, etc., or with certain charitable asks? (Large scale international and/or chronic regional.) Now that (social) media consumers are exposed to more information than they can possibly absorb or process, what is the most effective approach?

May 18, 2013

What Have You Got to Hide, Anyway?

updated March 7, 2017...

Watching The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits reruns as a kid, I couldn't understand why characters tolerated being spied on or controlled by unseen minders. It seemed melodramatic that defiant protagonists were successfully labeled trouble-makers and invariably shunned or jailed by faceless entities. I filtered these futuristic worlds through my actual childhood – hours on end spent unreachable as I rode my bike without a phone or camera or, for that matter, an adult in sight.

In heavy rotation online and on TV are commercials for home monitoring systems that promise peace of mind for working parents. “Imagine the relief,” a well-known cable-phone-internet corporation coos and guilts, “knowing you can watch your children arrive safely home from school.” The kicker, the piece I didn't account for as a kid watching science fiction, was the source of the surrender.

May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

I was not a tree climber as a small child. Terribly fearful about anything that did not have stairs or a railing; I ended up, as timid kids sometimes do in spite of history and reputation, trying something. After several half-hearted attempts to scale our apple tree, I got “umph” enough to elevate myself into its basecamp – the lowest necessary spot to begin any ascent.

Not sure how I got situated the way I did, with my left thigh wedged tight where the trunk split into a V. I found that I could not leverage with my right foot to push out or up and I wasn’t able to pull free with my arms, either. Bare-legged, the pinch of the tree began to hurt. Firmly stuck, I started calling out for my mother. Looking at the kitchen window, I willed her to see me.

April 28, 2013

Daily Write: The Dilation

The dilation kicked in while I read. Earlier, the ophthalmologist’s nurse put drops in my eyes and explained that it'd take 20 minutes, sending me back to the waiting room. I brought a book along, not grasping that light and more light would flood the print, making it difficult to look at the page or anywhere, really. Feeling a slight discomfort, I set the book down and closed my eyes.

An older couple sat to the left and the man, the husband I’m sure, moaned. “Ugh-h-h-h-h. Ohm-m-m-mnnn. Ooouuuwwww.” After the tenth or so set of moans, the wife cleared her throat and started to speak to him in a warm, low tone. “Dear,” she said, “give it a REST.” My eyes popped open. Their backs were to a large window and daylight blasted such that I couldn't make them out. Just then the nurse called my name and I got up and walked away. 

April 18, 2013

A Senate in the Gun Lobby's Grip: How to advocate in writing

Gabrielle Giffords wrote about yesterday's Senate vote on gun control. I think it is an excellent piece of persuasive/advocacy writing. She brings weight from being a gun violence victim and a politician-former-legislator. Her rendering of the attacked children and description of politics, while brief, really delivers impact. Importantly, she maintains energy and the call to action to fight on. Read it in the New York Times here.

April 17, 2013

Daily Write: Breakfast

My first job out of college, I had the exact same breakfast every day. Sick or healthy, hung over or rested, running late or early, it always played the same way. Exactly. I’m sure I didn’t realize that first morning how the routine was becoming established. Would it have mattered?

After getting off the train, I’d walk with the masses through the station to Dunkin Donuts and line up in front of the same register for a chocolate-covered cake donut. Depending on the wait to reach the counter, I’d cheat on my beloved by furtively gazing upon the jelly-filled, white powder-sugared, fried something braids, and Danish-y pastries. The store, built to fit in a rail station’s narrow stall, smelled like someone had painted the walls with a sugar-grime paste. Sometimes my teeth itched in anticipation.

April 14, 2013

Daily Write: The Report

It wasn’t so much that Karim had been stabbed to death, though that part of the autopsy report was certainly disturbing. The examination revealed how the first blow was a mortal one, severing an artery just outside the heart. The killer had no way of knowing this. Almost immediately after the fatal wound, Karim somehow landed face down across his unmade bed and absorbed ten more stabs in the back from a 6 inch blade. That was that.

April 6, 2013

Copywriting - Lose the Typos!

I intended to highlight two articles regarding copywriting tips. Both contain timely, useful information for writers. Both also have typos of the sort easily caught with careful proofreading.

Rather than link to pieces with typos, I decided to post this obvious bit of advice: Read what you write out loud, as if you're seeing it for the first time.

Another tip: Record yourself reading the article, story, or pitch and listen to it without reading along. Goofs, duplicate words, and weak spots tend to jump out when you do this.

Want to feel (somewhat) better about your typos? Here's a link to The Atlantic's "The Best (Worst?) Typos, Mistakes and Correrctions of 2012." Enjoy!

March 24, 2013

Daily Write: Lunch Break

“I wish they’d make these packages a little smaller,” a thin voice said. “This one is a lot of money and I don’t think I can eat everything before it spoils.” Not sure if he was talking to me or himself, I looked over. Smiling, the frail old man gave a shrug toward the grocery shelves. Uncomfortable that someone had broken into my personal space, I replied flatly, “Uh, yeah. Yeah, it IS a lot." Grabbing a can of soup, I walked away.

During the drive home that evening I remembered him and, come to think of it, the other folks shopping. Even the cashier was retirement age. Such was the area: a down-on-its-luck suburb on the city’s edge, full of modest post-war houses. I could see in his cart - a handful of carefully chosen, single-serve items. He probably wanted contact and I shut him down, but good. And, why not? Naturally shy and eternally preoccupied by work, I only walked across the parking lot from my office after forgetting a lunch bag on the counter.

Use Humor When Email Subscribers Opt-Out

The post, Fight for every unsubscribe, from Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That!, draws attention to an oft neglected task. In this case, create a productive response to email subscribers who opt-out or unsubscribe from your advocacy or business newsletter/promotions. Using humor and paying that extra bit of attention may not retain a subscriber, but it can provide useful feedback and good will.

March 18, 2013

Does Your Company Listen To Social Media?

There's more data being collected than most organizations and small companies can digest. While everyone concentrates on measurements and rankings, it is important to engage viewers and followers, and to listen.

From Fast Company:
"If you have to make choices with lean budgets, I'd urge you to put more funds behind actual human listening. For those customers interested in your brand:
What are they actually saying about it?
What else are they interested in?
What are the larger discussions happening online, among communities who care about the larger issues your products and services are looking to address?
Read entire article here.

March 14, 2013

How to Use Google Like a Pro

from Tech Talker, Quick and Dirty Tips:

If you don't know these tips already, a useful article regarding Google searches. And, don't forget to read the comments, too!

"Here are my 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for faster and easier Google searches:
1. Use the tilde, minus, and quotation mark keys to narrow down your results.
2. Use Google for instant math solutions and even value conversions in one click.
3. Search within individual websites to find a direct path to the content you’re looking for."
Read entire article.

Pew Research: Teens and Technology 2013

From Pew Research Center: Teens and Technology 2013

Main takeaways for non-profit fundraising and client outreach (emphasis mine):
"In overall internet use, youth ages 12-17 who are living in lower-income and lower-education households are still somewhat less likely to use the internet in any capacity — mobile or wired. However, those who fall into lower socioeconomic groups are just as likely and in some cases more likely than those living in higher income and more highly educated households to use their cell phone as a primary point of access."

- Think mobile and smaller screen size when designing campaigns and outreach programs.
- Ability to donate quickly is paramount. As is the ability to access client services.
- Always have a prominent link to switch from mobile to traditional website or page view.

March 9, 2013

Daily Write: See You Back at the House

Even before the slap came, Gloria knew he was gonna hit her. No talking to Len at this point, he was very drunk. Best to stay focused on getting through the fight and away from him. Not like other times where he had her pinned in a corner, this was up in a Ferris wheel at the county fair. Dumb move getting on the ride, but she hoped to calm him. Continuing his attack without caring who saw it, the small carriage swung back and forth. She held on tight and looked straight ahead while they rose up, stopped to let on new riders, rose and paused again.

March 4, 2013

What Non-Profits Can Learn From Cat Videos

Timeless tips regarding the importance of storytelling.

from Jessica Mason of YouTube for Good at the Social Good Summit:
"We all know the Internet loves cat videos on YouTube, but did you ever stop to think about why?
Jessica Mason of YouTube for Good did, and she says it comes down to their universal appeal.
"Cats, animals, babies, they do well on YouTube because they transcend boundaries," Mason said on stage Monday at the Social Good Summit. "They make boundaries, language, cultural barriers, irrelevant."

Non-profits can learn a lot from cat videos, but Mason distilled her take away points into three core principals: tell universal stories; engage regularly; and be surprising, original and action-packed. Mason pointed to one of this year's most popular non-profit videos — the image and emotion-rich video "It's time," from Australia's Get Up — that didn't use a single word to get its message across. Like cat videos, "It's time" appeals to an international audience, because it doesn't rely on language or localisms.

Mason's second point, regular engagement, applies to organizations hoping to reach either a hyper-local or multi-national constituency. You should give your supporters video content on at least a weekly basis, sharing different aspects of your non-profit, from success stories to behind-the-scenes peeks into your office. However, not all non-profits are trying to reach a global audience — and that's okay." Read Mashable article here.


March 2, 2013

Daily Write: Decoupage

Alone for an hour while her daughter ran errands, she stirred a batch of homemade paste in the glass mixing bowl. The one used for countless peanut butter cross cookies, birthday cake and pancake batters. Cheerfully, she brushed glue over all those twenty dollar bills from the strong box. Funny how that old box, once so valued and protected, now registered the same as her metal napkin holder.

Smoothing the bills on top of the living room’s end table, she sealed her artwork with a final glaze. Shellacking over water stains, kids' toy scratches, and that cigarette burn Emily Stover never did own up to. Well, who can remember Emily, anyway?

12 min 38 sec, 115 words

March 1, 2013

Behind the Kitchen Door

Would you like a real eye-opener with your coffee?
Author Saru Jayaraman discusses her book, "Behind the Kitchen Door" -

"Women earn less than men across the board, and one of the key issues for women is actually that the minimum wage of tipped workers of $2.13 is concentrated mostly among women. Seventy percent of all tipped workers in the U.S. are women. And the thing about this most people have a hard time understanding is that there are livable wage jobs in the industry for people who live in New York or D.C., or L.A. but think of a server as a tall, white, fine-dining server, but in fact the majority of servers in America are servers working in Middle America in IHOP or Applebee’s or Olive Garden—and those are a vast majority of women.

Many of them are single mothers who struggle with low wages and lack of benefits to take care of their children. And that is what’s hard to understand. When we talk about segregation and discrimination, we’re talking about giving the best jobs—serving and bartending positions in fine-dining restaurants, but that’s by no means the majority of wait staff. America’s servers—the vast majority of whom are women—are working graveyard shifts for very low wages of $2.13, often in Middle America.

So there’s a race question, in terms of getting to those fine dining establishment serving jobs, and a gender question, in that the restaurant industry is the only industry in which it’s pretty much legal to pay women less. And I say that because the industry as a whole for the regular minimum wage is half and half, men and women, but when you look at the far lower-tipped minimum wage, the vast majority is women."
Read article at: http://www.aflcio.org/atWork#/people/65351

11 Small Words that Crowd Your Copy

In most cases, you can reduce your word count by a third, even a half and still pack a punch.

Take a look at VerticalResponse Marketing's: 11 Small Words that Crowd Your Copy. Don't forget to read the comments, too.

February 27, 2013

Daily Write: Night School

The one cop was barely able to talk he laughed so hard. The other just kept grinning and shaking his head. Sitting behind them in a classroom with an auditorium-style incline, it was easy to eavesdrop and also stare at the handgun holstered to the first cop’s calf. Man, they could not stop laughing at those fire department responders from earlier in the day.

Some guy, distraught, was clinging to an expressway overpass. Apparently, the fire department is supposed to stay clear and wait for the police to talk people down. The big joke was that the firemen got out there anyway and the guy jumped, getting killed in traffic. My classmates laughed and laughed until Public Budgeting started. 

13 minutes, 119 words - MPA class at UIC

Dr. Seuss and Copywriting

From Amanda Clark at Grammar Chic:
What Dr. Seuss Can Teach Us About Copywriting

Remember, it doesn’t matter that Dr. Seuss wrote children’s books and stop thinking there is a divide between how to appeal to an adult reader and how to appeal to the interests of a child. It’s one and the same.

“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger—you’ve got to force them to turn it.” Read article.

Hunger in the US has jumped

from Daily Kos Hunger:

Viewers literally watched a hospitalized child die of starvation in the 1968 CBS TV documentary and the public was outraged. There were 10 million hungry Americans then, and now there are 50 million, in spite of good efforts inspired by the film's revelations.

When public pressure grew, then Senators McGovern (D) and Dole (R) joined forces to tackle this problem. The food stamp program was the highlighted result of congressional effort and for a time the problem seemed to be under control. But the problem was not to go away. Read article.

February 25, 2013

Fight Unhealthy Food

from The Guardian:

Yes, let's take a step back and look at the source of the problem for everyone, not just the overweight:

"Nutrient-deficient chemically-processed "food" in increasingly larger sizes is bad for all of our bodies, whether we're fat or thin or somewhere in between."

"The prices of the worst foods are artificially depressed, the big food lobbies have enormous power, and the biggest loser is the American public, especially low-income folks who spend larger proportions of their income on food but face systematic impediments to healthy eating and exercise."
Read entire article.

February 24, 2013

Copywriting Tips: KISS Your Prospects and Customers

Good-to-note web and email copywriting tips via Debra A. Jason.

1. Start out with short, simple sentences.
Start your copy with a sentence of 8 words or less. This is the average sentence length in the English language, and it is considered very easy to understand. Here’s a breakdown of how longer sentences are interpreted by your readers:
- 11 words – easy
- 14 words – fairly easy
- 17 words – standard (average reader)
- 21 words – fairly difficult
- 25 words – difficult
- 29+ words – very difficult

Read article here: Copywriting Tips: KISS Your Prospects and Customers

February 21, 2013

Daily Write: The Toaster

Not sure what made me look inside that toaster. Probably because the outside was so fingerprinted and gunky. It wasn’t like the shiny, clean toaster at home, thanks to my mother wiping and shaking it out. This toaster was in a rooming house during college, in a worn and dark basement kitchen.
Looking down past the coils while holding my bread at the ready, I saw a dead bee. A bit shocked at the location when I was only trying to make breakfast, it briefly occurred to me to either skip toast there forever or clean. Instead, I pushed my slice down, browning to medium-dark. Checking each day thereafter before pushing the lever, I watched the bee carcass get smaller and smaller until it disappeared.

February 20, 2013

Junk Food Science

The NYT's article, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, covers the marketing/money angle of junk food as much as the science. "The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating."

Makes me realize how difficult it is to fend off nutrient-poor foodstuffs or understand what we're being offered and fed. Armed with information, however, people can advocate.

February 19, 2013

Daily Write: The Tree

I looked down at the passenger seat at the pile of my coat, purse, some papers, gloves. Took only a second to get my right hand in the purse and feel around for that pen. Boom! A big noise and jolt from under the hood made my eyes shoot up to the road. Except there was no road. There was a big tree coming up fast. I had driven over to the right and up the curb and onto the parkway. I jerked the wheel back hard to the left. By God’s grace no one was in the oncoming lane since I overcompensated some. It took a few for me to get my bearings and realize what I had done. The kids, strapped in their car seats behind me were, thankfully, oblivious. Too young to rat me out. I continued the drive to Julia’s house and breathlessly told her what awful thing I had done. She replied without missing a beat, “Don’t ya just HATE when that happens?”
I love you, Julia.