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I write novels for teens and adults. Visit me here & on my website http://www.jenniferarcher.net

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tattoo? Or Tatnot?

Imagine this scene...You walk into your favorite coffee shop, walk up to the counter to order your skinny latte or black C.O.D. The barrista turns around. You gasp. It's Johnny Depp -- perhaps he's dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow; this is your fantasy, too, make him look however you want. There's only a few rules to this scenario: For one, his tattoos are visible. You know, the ones on his right arm. And what the heck, let's give him a earring or two. Good morning!" he says and smiles, flashing his white teeth. "How can I be of service." You bite your lip to keep from saying something inappropriate. The muscles beneath his tawney biceps flex as he places his hands on the counter. The overhead light makes his dark hair gleam. Getting a grip on yourself, you place your order, tell him how much you love his work. He thanks you and says he's had enough of the big screen. He's a full-time employee at this coffee shop now. Your cup is filled in record time. You sample a sip and note it might be the best coffee you've ever tasted. Johnny thanks you for your business and bids you farewell as you head for the door. "Come back again," he says. "

My question: will you? Will you return? Think long and hard before you answer...be honest. Because chances are good that if you live where I do and you're a middle aged person, man or woman, you won't. Well, okay, if the barrista was Johnny Depp, you probably would, but if the barrista was Joe Blow and had those tattoos and earrings, you would not. That's what I learned at my "Do Something New" challenge this week. Read on.

On Thursday night, I participated in a focus group for a marketing firm that had been hired by a coffee shop. They needed people between the ages of 35 and 55 to answer questions, and I fit into that age range so I didn't hesitate to say "yes" when I was asked. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I write AT LEAST two mornings a week in one, and I often stop in at another after exercising with my mom at Curves a couple of times a week. Sometimes I even eat lunch at one particular coffee shop in town called Roosters. They serve homemade food after noon and I just love their quiche, not to mention their pie. Yum. Besides all that, I just thought it might be fun to participate, and interesting. I was right. And I met some really nice people. But I came away from the evening with something I did not expect -- something confirmed that I'd always suspected. In a lot of respects, I see the world differently than most folks--at least most folks around this part of the country. The other twelve or so people were all in agreement that they don't like their coffee served by someone with tattoos or piercings.
I said it didn't matter to me, as long as the person was clean, friendly, and did a good job. And this was weird--I have a completely different idea of what a "cafe" is than they did. When I think of a cafe, I picture one of two places: either a small bistro-like place, intimate, that typically specializes in one type of food--say Italian, for instance, and very personal service--such as the owner or manager walking around the tables, asking how everything is. Or the small-town Texas/Southern sort of cafe I grew up with. The kind with vinyl booths alongside the windows, and a counter across the aisle that overlooks the grill. Patrons at the counter sit on swiveling round stools and eye the pies in the glass-topped case at the far end. My fellow focus group members' idea of what constitutes a cafe was more like what I call a deli. Order at the front. No wait staff. Sandwiches and burgers.

Anyhoo...that was the "new" thing I did last week. I'd love to participate in more focus groups. For anyone, and a writer especially, it's a great way to get a glimpse into peoples' minds.

Speaking of tattoos, someone had a blog post a while back (can't recall the writer) about what writers are willing to do in the name of book research. It called to mind my strangest research experience. I was writing MY PERFECTLY IMPERFECT LIFE, and one of the characters is a drag queen. Whenever I was writing scenes that took place in the drag bar, I'd get stuck because I had never been to such a place. I knew my niece (in her mid-twenties)had a close male friend who is gay, so I asked Nicole if she'd find out if such a place existed in our small city. Turns out we have more than one. And Nicole had been with her friend before, so she offered to take me. My sister (her mom) went along. We arrived just before the floor show. It was "Trailer Park Beauty Pageant Night." I'll sum the night up like this: Fun, hilarious, bizarre, surreal. I learned several things: (1) Drag queens are friendly to others who stick out like 3 white crayon in a box filled with chartreuse ones. (Yes, my sister, my neice and I were the oddballs that night in our boring jeans and tucked-in t-shirts.) (2)Girls really do just wanna have fun, even when they aren't really girls. (3)Some men look drop-dead gorgeous in spiked heels, short tight skirts, and low-cut skin-hugging tops. (4) Some men don't. (5)If you're going to wear a bustier, you should wax your chest hair. (6) If you plan to wear silk stockings, shave your legs first. Please.

WHAT I'M READING: I'm about to re-read ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN' by Rick Bragg, the Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist. Amarillo College is bringing him into Amarillo to speak at the Globe News Center the evening of October 7. It's free to the public. If you live around these parts, you should go! It's a fantastic book and I've heard Mr. Bragg is a fantastic speaker.

Happy Reading,


Sterling Pen
Freelance Writing, Editing
& Author Services


Monday, September 15, 2008

A Redneck Weekend (a.k.a. Don't Mess With Me MoFo!)

That's me meeting the challenge I made to myself to do something new each week. On Saturday I shot a pistol for the very first time. A Colt 45 that belonged to my grandfather-in-law way back during WW1. Don’t I look like a natural born bad-ass? Just look at that Bond-girl stance. The deadly calm focus. The steely set of my jaw. (Trust me, it's steely.)

I chose to learn to shoot for several reasons: (1) As a born Texan who has lived in the Lone Star State most of my life (I took a few detours along the way), seems to me that this is a part of my heritage I’ve ignored.
Mind you, I’ve never been crazy about guns. I’m not for banning them, but I am for gun control – for strict screening of anyone wanting to buy one. Will that keep criminals from getting their grimy little hands on them? Probably not, but it sure won’t make it any easier for them, either. And I’m all for making life tougher for criminals. Also, I think even most law abiding citizens don't have a need for certain kinds of weapons. I tend to agree with what Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention... "The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Seco
nd Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

That brings me to my second reason for learning to shoot: (2) Who knows? I may decide I want to try to be chosen as a candidate for Vice President of the U.S. in 2012, and I’ve recently learned that knowing the ins and outs of hunting and shooting and such is one qualification for the job. I don’t reckon I’ll ever kill or gut a varmint – that is, unless the political race gets tight and I need another point in my favor, something to reassure the common folk I’m just a good ol’ gal, too. I already have PTA mom and hockey mom on my resume, and I think it's a mistake not to finish my training. So now I have pistol-packin' mama on there, too. Let me tell you, now that I know how to organize a school spaghetti supper, understand the meaning of ‘hat trick,’ AND know how to shoot, I’m feeling a lot more confident that I have what it takes to run the country!

And finally, my last reason for learning to shoot: (3) I spent the weekend in the mountains with two men—my husband and our friend Joe. Joe’s wife Jayme couldn’t go, and so it was just the guys and yours truly. I knew it was going to be a real redneck weekend when Joe asked what he could bring and my husband replied quite seriously, “Your fishing pole, a chain saw, your gun and beer.” (Actually, he said “Scotch” not “beer.” But Joe brought beer, anyway, along with the Scotch. And ‘Scotch’ sounds a little too high-brow for a redneck, so it’s easier for me to make fun of them if I just mention the beer.) I figured, if Jayme's not here for girl-talk and wildflower gathering I might as well join Billy Joe and Bobby Jeff. But I’m picky, so I chose imbibing and target shooting over fishing or sawing down dead trees. (Don’t worry—we shot first and imbibed later.)

The verdict on my new endeavor? FUN! I LIKE firing off a few rounds into a dead tree stump. Who would’ve thunk it? All the way home, I tried to analyze the reasons for
that. Maybe it’s the challenge of hitting that tiny little knothole. Or maybe it’s feeling all that power in your hands. Or maybe it’s the tension release factor; bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Take that editor X! That’s the last time you’ll reject one of MY manuscripts.

In other news, I just finished reading HOLES by Louis Sachar. I watched the movie long ago, but had never read the book. Loved, loved, loved it! What fun, quirky characters and what an unusual puzzle of a story. I enjoyed watching the author make all the pieces fall gradually into place.

Finally, I’ve become addicted to ONE WORD, ONE RUNG, ONE DAY AT A TIME, my friend and fellow fiction-writer Travis Erwin’s blog. His way with words and his perspective on life never fail to make me smile—and often have me laughing out loud. Check it out! You’ll feel better. Happy reading,


Jennifer Archer

Sterling Pen
Ghostwriting, Editing &
Copywriting Services.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Secret of Staying Young

"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age." -Lucille Ball

Who is this man?

A) The German Ambassador to the United States ?
B) A Spokane, Washington serial killer?
C) The guy who opened the Republican National Convention?
D) The CEO of Haliburton?


He is...

If you're too young to know who the Monkeys are, I don't want to hear about it. Wow, I would not have guessed that was M.N. in a million years. People change in a lot of ways as they age--and not just our appearance. Some of the changes are for the good, some aren't, and some depend on your point of view. A woman I know just slightly older than I am recently said to me: "What happened to my generation? When I was in college we were all about revolution! About equality and peace and celebrating difference and making the world a better place for everyone. Shame on us for going along with the status quo as we got older! Too many of my generation now supports the issues we used to despise. We've become the old people we couldn't stand!"

When I look at myself and the people with whom I grew up, I see a mix of changes. Here are only a few: wisdom, maturity, growth, laziness, disillusionment, loss of energy, a new outlook, a refusal to move on, staleness, freshness, stubbornness, a more open mind, the courage to speak up, the insight of when to shut up, the lack of insight about when to shut up, self-righteousness, cynicism, a greater capacity to accept differences in others, the stubborn refusal to do so. I see all these traits in myself at different times--even the ones that conflict.

Over the past couple of weeks, a few of the more negative ones have sprouted inside me--traits I used to bitch about seeing in the older generation. I'm not going to stand for that! I'm going to work harder on developing the trait of wisdom and remind myself to live and let live. If people don't see things as clearly as I do, that's their problem. :-) I've finally figured out that, unless you're an optometrist or an opthamologist, people don't appreciate it if you tell them all the reasons you think they need glasses. I don't blame them, I guess. I've never admired self-righteousness in others, and I admire it even less in myself.

I love Lucy's secrets for staying young, but I think there's at least one more she didn't mention--trying and/or learning new things. When I was young, I was always up for a new experience. I pushed myself--usually in a good way. I was more spontaneous. I think most people were, and I think those of us who lose that trait over time, get mentally and emotionally older faster. So I'm issuing a challenge to myself today and to any of you that would like to join me: Each week I'll either do something I've never done before or learn something new. Sometimes they'll be big things, sometimes small. I'll try to post what I did every Monday.

Now, I admit that some of the "new experiences" I tried when I was young were idiotic and could've landed me in jail--or worse! Luckily that never happened, though sometimes I paid the consequences in other ways. I'll try my best to avoid those types of new experiences this time around! (I hope I can count on a few friends to bail me out, though, if in trying to recapture some of my youthful exuberance, I recapture some of the youthful stupidity, too ...he-he-he.)

Happy Monday!



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