Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Losing My Religion

Not that writing was a religion, per se, but I used to write religiously.

There was that particularly intense year. 2009. You know. I’ve told you about it. Every day for one full year, I sent out a query, article, short story, contest entry, haiku, button slogan, greeting card idea, and did my regular freelance work. Had a lot more of it back then.

Sold my novel that year. Won a few contests. Got some T-shirts. A fountain pen. Made a little money.

Had high hopes.

Today, not so much.

I don’t write any more. Not like that. There is no hopefulness left in my writing. Which sounds defeatist, but is truly realistic, without any whining. Seriously. There is no crying in baseball and there is no whining in realism.

I’m still writing. I still get assignments from my newspaper and a magazine. I still have my opinion column. I recently heard from someone for whom I used to write greeting cards. He wanted me to come up with an idea for a drawing, which was fun to get back to. Here's a card I did for him many years ago.

See more of Scott Austin's great designs at http://www.SnafuCards.com/ and buy them.

Mostly, though, I write for my vintage purse pages, which I am hoping (so, see, there's some hopefulness, just not 2009 hopefulness) become more profitable. I’m good with that sort of writing. It’s promotional, like advertorial work, but it fills the creative and financial (somewhat, almost) need.

It also takes the pressure off. No longer do I have to think about writing that blockbuster, because I know it’s not going to happen and I'm OK with that.

But… if you have a drawing that needs copy or want a slogan about PMS, let me know. I love that stuff.

Wrote it. Sold it. Badge of honor.

Wrote and sold this one, too. FIRST.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's A Mystery to Me

I put my resume on Monster, just because, you know, someone may contact me about a writing job. Or a museum job.

I’ve been getting emails asking me to sign up as a Mystery Shopper.


Because over twenty-five years of writing experience and a pending certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies qualifies me to go shopping. Which I hate. I mean dislike. (My husband tells me not to hate.)

While I do enjoy thrifting and antiquing, I do not like most other types of shopping, particularly the department store variety. I can, however, be mysterious at times, but that generally involves lack of sleep, a cold gifted to me by my grandson and his preschool germs, and half the adult dosage of Nyquil, which is all I can tolerate. Thus, the mystery becomes what it is, exactly, I’m trying to convey to the people who live here. My children mock my inability to complete a sentence, which doesn’t even require the foggy trinity of insomnia, a virus and medication. I often finish a thought in my head instead of aloud, while only under the influence of myself. It drives everyone I know crazy.

Anyway, here’s one of the emails in its entirety, except for the name of the guy who sent it to me, even though it may be a pseudonym for Automatic Email Generator. I left in the company’s name, because I suspect they send out a million of these emails to everyone who has a resume on Monster, from freelance writers to nuclear physicists, so it’s not as if I’m defaming anyone. (Note that their company name is a registered trademark. That's legitimacy right there, I tell you.)


I am ________, Recruitment Specialist with Sights On Service Inc.“We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate". Secret Shopper® has been in business since 1990. We are a charter member of the Mystery Shopping Provider's Association (MSPA), the professional trade association for the Mystery Shopping industry. There is no charge to apply to be a Secret Shopper® and information is protected. Secret Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. Its fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail.
                                                                    ABOUT US
Secret Shopper® is the premier mystery shopping company serving clients across America and Canada with over 500,000 shoppers available and ready to help businesses better serve their customers. Continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies coupled with over 16 years of know-how means working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience. Secret shopping as seen on ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, L.A.TIMES.Since 1990, Secret Shopper® has delivered actionable intelligence to our clients, helping to drive exceptional bottom-line performance. Nearly 1,000 shoppers have registered this week, performing millions of mystery shops throughout North America and the Caribbean. When coupled with our continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies, you can rest assured that working with Secret Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience.Secret Shopper® is also a charter member of the industry trade association, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Benefit from partnering with America’s premier mystery shopping company. We have been building our tradition of excellence for two decades.

Stores and organizations such as The Gap, Walmart, Pizza Hut and Banks. One amongst many others pay for Secret Shoppers to shop in their establishments and report their experiences. On top of being paid for shopping you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. Secret Shopper® NEVER charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers.Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both. Secret Shopper® has available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any walmart in your area. You are to shop secretly. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shopping, you will visit a location and make several observations asregards the customer service. You will be required to interact with the shopper clerk. You may conduct the shop alone or as a couple. The assignment will pay $350.00 per duty and you can be able to get up to 2- 3 duties in a week depending on how fast you are able to execute the first assignment. Kindly Fill Out the application form below and we will get back to you shortly with the assignment:

First Name:
Middle Name:
Last Name:
Street Address:
City, State, Zip Code:
Cell Phone Number:
Home Phone Number:
Current Occupation:
Email Address:

We await your urgent response. Thank you your willingness to work with us. We look forward to working with you.

Secret Shopper®

In other news, the Orange County Register is making its reporters deliver newspapers. In other, other news, it's still a better job than being a mystery shopper.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

RV Having Fun Yet?

Just got the news that another of my editors is leaving my newspaper.

I’m sad. Again.

I blame the Internet. Curse you, Internet!

See, what happens is people want their news RIGHT NOW, so they go online and read a jumble of inaccuracies that end up being corrected in about the same time as it takes to get tomorrow’s newspaper.

I know, right? But that’s how it goes.

My duties as a freelancer are allegedly not going to be affected, but I’m thinking my opinion column may be coming to an end. No one has actually said this to me. Still, I’m a big girl and am completely prepared for it when it happens. Because it likely will. I mean, why buy the stringer when you can get the wire story for free?

It is not a secret that I have been considering a post-midlife career change. You already know I’m working toward a certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies. And that my final project in the program is a feasibility study about the creation of a brick-and-mortar vintage purse and fashion museum.

Because I tend to get over-involved with non-tangibles in order to change them into real things so I can compulsively touch them with my ridiculously tiny hands, here’s how that project has evolved:

RV Purse Museum

Rolling Vintage Purse Museum - Where the Handbag Meets the Highway

Check it out and let me know if you think this is frying-pan-into-the-fire or totally awesome. Either way, I’m still gonna do it.

Because I can’t just sit here and wait for more "workforce reductions." I simply don't have the energy to do air quotes anymore.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Reduction Junction What's Your Function?

There was another round of layoffs at my newspaper. And by layoffs, I mean “a reduction in workforce.” 

21 people were workforce reduced, including one of the editors I worked with. I mean with whom I worked. Whatever. Screw it. Who cares about grammar?

OK, I do. But not right now.

I’m not a real journalist anyway. That is, I know that many newspaper staff writers see freelancers as wannabes, unless the freelancer was once a staffer. That’s fine. I don’t have the college degree or the beat-the-streets-get-shot-at-and-live-through-it background that most real journalists do. Often, when I interview someone for an article (or, more often, an advertorial) and they want to email photos, I tell them to send them directly to the editor because “I’m just a freelancer who works outside the main office.”

“Just” being the operative word. “Outside the main office” meaning part-time, at the cluttered desk in my home office, with no makeup on and my dog at my feet. Not exactly Lois Lane, Girl Reporter. Even though I have the wardrobe.

Vintage Pendleton suit. Fake bun. Haven't had that much real hair since the '80s.

My lack of inner sanctum/newsroom experience does not mean I don’t sympathize with those who’ve lost their jobs. It is particularly distressing to know that at least one person who was laid off had been there 25 years. He has good skills and some connections, so my hope is that he finds another job soon.

But the reality is that if you look at writing jobs now, most organizations aren’t looking for seasoned professionals to whom (good grammar, right?) they have to pay a living wage. Nope. I’ve seen ads for “writing interns,” which means recent college grads who live with their parents and will take any crappy job that pays their car insurance.

I’m sorry this isn’t one of my wittier posts. I’m just not feeling it today. Please forgive me. To make it up to you, here’s a key chain slogan I wrote and sold (for $75, I think) to a social expression company about fifteen years ago, when I used to be fun.

"Just" being the operative word.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Have Some Thinks Before You Call

I have complained way too many times about people not calling me back. For this I apologize.

But I’m once again sharing this cartoon thingy. (IT’S NOT A MEME, because “meme” means something else, says My Daughter Who Has A Bachelor's Degree in English. What do I know? I'm just a little ol' freelance writer with a degree in Bullwinkle Studies from Whatsamatta U.)

Here’s when you don’t have to call me:

Three or more days after I have spoken to you, because it’s highly likely I have finished the article and turned it in already and have moved on to the next article or two or six. I am sorry if you forgot to tell me something during our interview, but I won’t be able to add it because it is usually too late. Also, I will generally call you within a day of our interview if I feel the article is missing something or if I need to do any fact checking.

Oh, yeah, and don’t call me after 5:00 p.m., because even though I work at home, I would prefer you not call me in the evening (or on weekends)—unless we have a prearranged time for a return call—because I am doing family stuff, like making dinner and giving the grandkid a bath and putting him to bed and reading him “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think.”

It’s a very good book. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Blogging for Dollars

For those of you who are too young to remember “Bowling for Dollars,” it was a TV show I watched when I was a wee lass. I believe the host was the inimitable Chick Hearn. There’s also a “Dialing for Dollars,” which I only knew about from this song.

I’m a little depressed right now. It probably doesn’t help to listen to Janis. But, oh, that voice. Those bracelets.

I’m in my last quarter of CSU, East Bay’s art museum and gallery studies certification program and am now doing a feasibility study. Meaning, I'm trying to figure out if it's feasible to open a vintage purse and fashion museum in Southern California. Part of this study involves creating a business plan, so I hit up an organization that offers start-ups free advice from retired execs.

Yesterday, I put on my 1940s mustard-colored silk blouse and a gray pencil skirt that looked better about ten pounds ago and some uncomfortable-yet-fabulous heels and met these guys at the local chamber of commerce.

Here are the heels.

Fabulous, am I right?

The execs talked to me about the pros and mostly cons of opening a museum, which was very good advice and which I appreciated. It was also very discouraging. I’m not going to get into that part, because I still have to write my business plan, no matter how discouraged I am. But this is not the point.

Because this is my writing blog, the point of this post has to do with writing. When the two retired execs—gentlemen I liked very much—found out that I am a professional freelance writer, they encouraged me to stick with it. One of them said I can make good money blogging. Which is probably true. For some people. Not me. (Note: I do make a little money on Google ads, mostly on my vintage purse sites, Vintage Purse a Day and The Vintage Purse Gallery. I am not trying to sound ungrateful. I am, in fact, very thankful for those clicks. It's just that it's not make-a-living income.*)

He was quite adamant about the blogging, but also mentioned ghostwriting. Also not for me. I know these things from over two decades of experience selling my writing. The other gentleman felt I should expand my writing business, even though I explained that I’ve written everything—from articles to button slogans to press releases to novels to... everything.

I want to do something different. I want to take my vintage fashion hobby and turn it into a business. Which I now believe needs to occur on a much smaller scale than I envisioned. Which is also not the point.

The point is that I know all about being a writer and these guys don’t. They don’t know that it’s extremely competitive and it’s very hard to break into other aspects of writing because even an established writer doesn't get consideration. For instance, I’ve registered on several different freelance sites and bid on jobs, only to see some grad student (note: nothing against grad students) charging a lot less—or worse, just doing it for a byline—get the job.

As for blogging, that’s changed so much in the last ten years that to make money at it you have to pretty much have a *full-fledged commerce site—not just a simple blog. 

But what do I know? I’m just a writer. With fabulous-yet-uncomfortable shoes. Which is kind of an analogy for where I'm at right now. I wonder if Janis had a song about that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Price of History

I’ve been doing my regular freelance newspaper work, plus newsletter and magazine writing gigs as they come up. Occasionally, I’ll get people asking me when I’m going to write the next book, but that’s not on the horizon. Not the immediate horizon, anyway.

My huge, time-consuming project lately has been working on the unpaid* (more about that below) internship portion of the CSU, East Bay certificate program in Art Museum and Gallery Studies.

This quarter, I took notes from videos and films that were archived at the Strathearn Historical Park & Museum in Simi Valley, where I live.

Thanks to the intrepid (also very cool and awesome) park coordinator who applied for and received a grant, a number of films and videos were digitized and put on an external hard drive. Most of the videos, which started out in 1980s VHS format, were oral histories from members of pioneer families. These “old-timers” shared their earliest memories of life in Simi Valley, from picking apricots to riding to school in a surrey to performing in amateur operettas at the community center to plowing through an angry farmer's haystacks in a Ford Model A to... you get the idea.

I took the drive home, plugged it into my laptop and watched all the films and videos, while taking notes in MS Word on my desktop. Some of these films were three hours, and took me all day to look at, mostly due to sound issues (the videos’ and my failing hearing—thank you, 1970s punk rock concerts). I'd have to start and stop and restart and stop and listen carefully, over and over. I wrote down what was on the tapes—usually general things, but some transcription, including what I felt were useable quotes, should the museum ever decide to do a compilation of the area’s history in a modern video.

Here's the deal: I live in a very stereotypical Southern California suburb. Seriously. We now have three Walmarts and a population of about 127,000. I moved here in 1988 when there were no Walmarts and fewer than 100,000 people and I was pregnant with my first child. Yeah, it was different then, but it’s an understatement to say Simi Valley was a lot different a century ago, when there were mostly farms and ranches in the area and no tract houses or strip malls. I heard one early resident say there were 5,000 people living in Simi Valley when she was here in the 1920s.

So, what did I get out of this?

An enormous education about Simi Valley history. 

A huge curiosity about my surroundings. For instance, my house is where Patterson Ranch used to be. I wonder if the avocado tree in my back yard and the walnut tree in my neighbors’ were part of that ranch. 

An understanding as to why the folks who grew up here in the 1910s and ‘20s were so unhappy (on those VHS tapes) about the city’s “progress” in the 1980s.

A profound sadness. Yeah, it’s the circle of life and all, but most of the people on the tapes are gone and that makes me sad. I can't help it.

Gratitude. I’m happy these tapes were made and you can figure out why. I don’t have to tell you.

This was the best *unpaid job I ever had because it paid so very well.