Category Archives: Empowerment

Compassion is a Bitch

0fd5dd1e246d6c7e6cca2ce7b2859c72-wildlife-paintings-bird-paintingsBlack Bear came to a meeting late and said, “I’m feeling frazzled after dealing with my cubs. What if I don’t feel compassionate?”

Raven said, “Fake it.”

That doesn’t seem honest,” said Black Bear.

It doesn’t begin with honesty,” said Raven.

~Zen Master Raven Stories by Robert Aitken Roshi

Here we are, a new year, yet again. Most of us are in familiar resolution territory: fitness, nutrition, save money, and write that book. I’ve given a lot of thought to Raven’s advice above. Fake it. For much of the past year I’ve struggled with compassion — especially relating to one person in my life.

In pursuit of compassion I’ve seen a counselor, an acupuncturist, and a yogi on a regular basis. They all help, to some extent — the balance of yoga building physical and spiritual muscles. Yet it wasn’t until October 2nd in Ann Arbor, Michigan when a stop for gas turned into one of those before and after moments. A man committed suicide, jumping off a roof of a parking garage. His lifeless body less than 100 feet from the gas pump.

I realized then my compassion was still present. Just buried under many many… MANY… layers of anger.

So here I am on the cusp of a new year. Much of the same old same old. I resolve to be healthy, slim, solvent and prolific. Less angry. More compassionate, too. Eventually. For me, compassion is still a bitch, contended with on a daily basis. My greatest challenge.

In the meantime, maybe we can all benefit from Raven’s advice and fake what we really really want until it becomes our truth.


Calling all Janes

women hands.jpg

I like this photo for all its differences. Not just skin tones, but strong hands and slender fingers, painted nails and bare, jewelry or not, and is that one faintly hairy wrist? All reaching to the center. Go, Team Women!

When I create characters, I often start off thinking of them in archetypal terms: hero, villain, leader, trickster, warrior. Even as I flesh them out with unique characteristics, some of that primal core still shines through.

For me, one of the “base line” characteristics is — especially in a romance! — who is the hero and who is the heroine. But though the words (and sexes) are different, the arcs are strikingly the same: both have wounds, both have hopes and fears, both have dreams they don’t quite dare reach for. I like to play with giving the “hero” traditionally feminine characteristics, while the “heroine” explores some masculine traits. From that, I’ve seen that men and women are more alike than different even while their differences add to the diverse beauty of our world.

So today, I hope women are empowered to pursue all their potential. And I hope men get a chance to cheer for the women in their lives — and maybe consider the archetypal heroine in themselves. And for anyone who identifies somewhere in between or outside those binary poles… We’ve got a long way to go, baby. But meanwhile, Happy International Women’s Day to all Janes everywhere.


Mentoring Awe and Success

LogoCampAs Jessa explained, we’re doing a month worth of mentoring posts in honor of October 11  International Day of the Girl, a day marked by UN resolution for “promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.” In my day job, I teach physics at a community college and being a woman in a predominately male profession, recruiting women into Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is especially dear to my heart.

Last year, I received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant aimed at recruiting and retaining more female students in Information Systems (IS). One project that came out of that grant was a day-long Information Technology (IT) camp for middle school girls where they learned about computers, coding, and networking. We held that first camp earlier this summer.

My colleague Michele and I planned on running the camp with some of our current female IS students’ help. We started meeting weekly with those students to come up with a plan for the event. We had budgeted for about five students to help us out.

At the very first meeting with these IS students, it was very clear that we were going to be working with some amazing women.


1st surprise: Nine students showed up to the initial meeting, eight of those remained with us for the project’s duration.

2nd surprise: Instead of waiting for our guidance, the students went off and did their own research, and then presented a day-long curriculum that would teach hardware, software, and networking by installing and configuring the popular game Minecraft on Raspberry Pi micro-computers.

3d surprise: When asked to think about marketing, the students showed us a logo and a flyer that they had already designed. They wanted t-shirts with the new logo made for each of the campers. And they wanted each of the participants to be able to take home their Raspberry Pi.

At this point, it was very clear to us that we should take a step back and let the students run the show. We helped them create lessons plans to achieve the outcomes they wanted, but they took ownership of everything else. Because of the school’s administrative rules, we had to set up registration and advertising, but on the day of the camp the students were the ones in the classroom teaching the middle-graders. My colleagues and I were the gofers who collected permission slips, got snacks ready, and picked up pizza for lunch.

During this project, Michele and I became the mentees as much as we mentored. And our IS students became the best possible mentors for the middle school girls. The 88 girls who attended the camp were surveyed before and after the event. We had some amazing results. Here are the three questions that had the highest percentage change in the number of girls who strongly agreed or agreed:

  1. I know what a software application is. (increase 59.9%)
  2. I am comfortable with programming. (increase 30.8%)
  3. I am proficient with technology and computers. (increase26.1%)

MineCraftThese percentage change figures are unusually high when compared with other camps of this kind and similar questions, which usually produce figures in the 5% to 20% range.

Our IS students were also praised by the camp participants:

“I think this was a FABULOUS camp and I would really recommend that the college does this again!! :)”

“The college students mentors were very helpful and explained everything really well.”

“Today was an awesome way to learn about computers and to make new friends. it was an awesome experience I learned so much and it will be helpful in the future when it comes to picking a job. I don’t regret coming here even for a second. also when I first came here I didn’t know much but now I now more than I thought I would even learn in any other class.” 

I’m convinced that the success of the project is due entirely to how fantastic our IS students were. They lead hands-on practical activities instead of lecturing to the students. And of course, the middle school students related much better to our twenty-something college students than they would to middle-aged professors. J

We’ll repeat the camps for two more summers, that’s how long the NSF grant lasts. Maybe we’ll be able to find additional funding after that. I hope so, because our Day of IT truly became a day of magic.

Moments I Wish I’d Celebrated Better

BalloonsWhen we dream big, it’s easy to lose sight of the successes that happen on the way to our big goals. As I prepare for the release date of my debut novel, I realize there were plenty of moments on my path to publication that I should have celebrated instead of being discouraged by rejections and other setbacks. I should have had cake, or at least put on a tiara.

You probably have experienced the same or similar unrecognized triumphs in your own creative journey. So, please join me in celebrating these moments of significance and success:

First time someone called us artist/painter/musician/writer/etc. My friend Holly was the first person to call me a writer. She did it while explaining something I now can’t remember, but when she said “us writers,” it took me a moment to realize she included me in that group and it floored me. I’d never before thought of myself as a writer, I wasn’t confident enough to do so.

First time someone we shared our work. The first time I submitted my work for a critique, I was shaking with nerves. Luckily, I’d found a supporting and nurturing critique group who were honest and constructive in their feedback, but never hurtful. With their help, my writing became stronger and I started producing regularly enough

First query or pitch. I pitched before I ever queried, and it was a disaster. Luckily I had a strong community of other writers who supported and encouraged me to keep going. And I had more disappointments, but also some successes.

First rejection letter addressed to us personally. Before I received my first “Dear Ms. Bradley” rejection, I had a stack of query letters that were simply stamped with “no” or “rejected.” In that pile there were also a few “Dear Writer” ones (those did not fill me with the same joy as when my friend used that title).

First rejection letter with feedback. Only other creative people understand that there are good and bad rejection letters. Good rejection letters contain encouragement, maybe some praise, and best of all, suggestions for how to make your work better. My first good rejection letter contained phrases like “loved the opening” and “see a lot of promise in your writing,” but also “didn’t feel the chemistry between your hero and heroine.”

First request. Actually, we probably celebrated this one, whether it was a partial or a full, but let’s put it on the list and celebrate it again, because it is a big one. Mine was a partial request that turned into a request for more chapters, and ultimately a very nice rejection.

First time we performed. The first time I read my writing in public, I was so nervous I lost my place twice. A very kind and patient audience had to wait while my very shaky finger found the line where I’d left off.

???????????????????????????????First time someone else performed our work. This happened just about a year ago for me during a workshop. It was done anonymously, so nobody else in the room knew who’d written the pages. My words coming out of another person’s mouth sent chills down my spine. It was such a nerve-racking and yet thrilling experience.

Every time we create new work. Being creative requires sacrifice. We give up time with our family and friends, TV watching, reading, and other fun activities. And we do this despite rejections and other disappointments. From now on, you should acknowledge how big of an accomplishment sitting down to create really is. It is truly a moment worth both a tiara and cake.

What moments of your journey do you wish you’d celebrated better?

Deb Werksman on Leadership

In honor of MarcDebWerksmanh 8 being International Women’s Day, the blog’s focus this month is women entrepreneurs and leaders. In that spirit, I am super excited to present Deb Werksman, Editorial Director of Romance Fiction at Sourcebooks as our interview guest today.

Before joining Sourcebooks, you ran your own small publishing press. What would you say are the major challenges and advantages of being your own boss vs. having a leadership role in a larger company?

Running my own company, I wore a lot of hats, some of which didn’t fit very well. I didn’t love negotiating with the printers, or choosing the paper, or designing covers. Not only did I not love those things, I wasn’t particularly good at them. So when I joined Sourcebooks as an acquiring editor and editorial manager, I got to start from a position of strength and grow from there. There is always something new to take on and new directions in which to expand. I wanted to join Sourcebooks so I could be part of a championship team. That allows me to pass the ball and know that there’s enormous talent picking it up.

Sourcebooks is the largest woman-owned trade book publisher in North America. Does this influence the culture at the company?

Our culture is fairly non-hierarchical and everyone pretty much checks their ego at the door. We’re very collaborative, and every manager is a working manager. We have a culture of transparency and accountability. I’m not sure these are strictly the results of being woman-owned, but certainly our culture keeps us focused on the mindset of our customers.

Leadership means playing a big game and expanding the game all the time, and then finding the resources so the team can get out there and play their hearts out. ~Deb Werksman

What does leadership mean to you and what do you think are the main traits/methods of an effective leader?

What a great question. Being in a leadership position for me is all about empowering others—what does my team need from me to get the job done? Lots of listening required, and enrollment. I have to carry the vision forward, and keep a weather eye on the vision at all times. When anyone on the romance fiction team gets overwhelmed, we call “all brains on deck” and figure out how to redistribute the work so the priorities are met. Leadership means playing a big game and expanding the game all the time, and then finding the resources so the team can get out there and play their hearts out.

You’ve had a long career in publishing, what upcoming business or career events are you excited about?

This year I have a lot of travel scheduled, including Heather Graham’s writers conference, RWA Nationals, RT Booklovers Convention, NINC, and Book Expo. I look forward to every one of these opportunities to see people and hear what’s going on and create the future together.

More about Deb:

Deb Werksman has been with Sourcebooks, the country’s largest woman-owned independent publishing house, for the past fifteen years, before which she had her own publishing company. She is the editorial director of romance fiction and acquires single title romance in all subgenres, as well as historical and women’s fiction. Sourcebooks publishes 8-10 romance titles per month, in print and ebook formats simultaneously. They’re known for their sales and marketing, as well as their focus on building authors’ careers.

For more information about submissions, please read the Sourcebooks submission guidelines. For more information about Deb: read her submission wishlist, follow her on Twitter, and check out the Sourcebooks Casablanca Authors blog where she posts once a month.

(Full disclosure, Sourcebooks is publishing my debut novel this November.)


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