Monday, October 27, 2014

Pseudonym? What?


I started actively using the internet in high school and, at the time, only some of my friends had online accounts. But by the end of law school some 10 years later, everyone I knew was online except for my grandmother. (Who, funnily enough, just joined Facebook last week so now I don't know anyone who isn't active!)  

Watching the internet explode, I can't remember a time in which people weren't discussing the prevalence of fake online ID's. You could be a 65 year old housewife in real life but online be a 25 year old cowboy. 

In fact, the ability to create online personas was one of the things that was (supposedly) very freeing about the internet. You could make yourself into whoever you wanted to be. 

Hence the attraction and the danger of internet dating.

So I have a serious question: When did it become the norm to believe that people weren't changing their personal information online? 

After reading the "catfish" article by Kathleen Hale, I had several initial impressions. First, I was horrified by the fact that an author stalked a blogger. Crazy sauce. I'm still reeling from the fact that she's not only okay with her behavior but proud of it. Also cray, cray. 

But my overwhelming confusion centered around the fact that Ms. Hale was upset/disturbed that the blogger (supposedly) used a pseudonym and changed information about herself, including but not limited to, her address, profession and photographs.

Uncovering these "deceptions" seemed to spurn Hale on, increasing her stalking behavior in an attempt to uncover who the "real" blogger was. 

The idea present in the article (at least, the way I read it) is that if you are lying about your name, your profession, etc. on the internet, your review/opinion is also a lie. 

This theory has been bantered around long before Hale's article. Many authors and/or other bloggers might find it acceptable to change one's name but not personal information. If you are a doctor, they don't want you to say you are a teacher, for example. If you have two kids, you shouldn't say you have none.

And it doesn't just involve bloggers. When Robert Galbraith was discovered to truly be J.K. Rowling, there were readers/authors/bloggers who found it disingenuous for her to have made up not only a different name but also an entirely different life

At first glance, this may make some sense. We frown upon lying in our society. Discovering your best friend or your neighbor or your college professor is a liar brings their entire credibility into question. You begin to wonder about their morals and whether or not you can trust anything that comes out of their mouths. Particularly if you catch them lying about simple things such as how many children they have.  


So when you "discover" a blogger has lied about who they are and changed personal data, the initial reaction to to say, "They're a liar so therefore nothing they have to say could be valid. The review he/she wrote wasn't really a review." 

But, to coin a phrase from one of my law professors, this is a "false dilemma."

A false dilemma is when you provide only two options. Either you're truthful about everything online OR you're truthful about nothing online.   

In other words: if I lie about my name and my address and my job, can I really give an honest review of a book?

Uh, ab-so-freaking-lutely. 

A blogger may have any number of reasons, personal safety being the biggest one, for creating a false persona online. It's possible you don't want authors like Ms. Hale showing up on your doorstep.

But personal safety might not be the only reason. 

If, for example, I was a high school teacher who loved to review S&M romance, you'd better believe I'd use a pseudonym with a fake address and change my employment info. I would tell you I was an insurance agent living in Baltimore with two cats. I wouldn't use a real picture of myself anywhere. I would change every detail about my real life online because I wouldn't want anyone from my job to able to find out what I was doing on the side. Or, even worse, the students. 

Does changing this information invalidate my review? No, it doesn't.

Does it make me a horrible person? No, it doesn't. 

Why? Because a review is my opinion and nothing more. For those of you unaware of what an opinion is, let me direct you to Webster's. Opinion: a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective. 

Key word in this: subjective. I'm not stating facts here that need to be supported by evidence or proof. This isn't a high school research paper. My opinion can be anything I want it to be. I don't owe anyone a justification or an explanation of my opinion. If I like something, I like it. If I hate something, I hate it.

Opinions are a matter of personal taste. I hate olives. My husband loves them. Which one of us is wrong? 

And while the argument can be made that pseudonyms allow us to say what we really think in a way that we wouldn't in real life...well, from an author perspective, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. 

Pseudonym reviewers allow me a rare chance to get honest, raw feedback. It may not be the feedback that I'm hoping for. It might include curse words and snarky gifs. But it's honest, far more so than I would have gotten with the person looking me in the face. And, for me, for my own professional growth and development, there is some value to that.*

J. K. Rowling not only chose to write under a pseudonym but a whole different persona. You may dislike her for that, but I actually admire her. She knew that any book after Harry Potter would always be compared. And untimely, all she really wanted was for the novel to be judged on what she'd written on the pages

As authors, it's what we should all want. Being nice on Twitter and sharing stories on Facebook about our pets is all well and good. We should be professional and personable. It will help people, reviewers, fans and bloggers to get to know you. But being personable is not why reviewers should give you 5 star reviews. Or 1 stars for that matter. Your review should be about your novel because, at the end of the day, the novel is what you are really selling. Your brand starts with your writing. Without the writing, you have nothing.  

And it shouldn't matter to us one bit if the reviewer is really a stripper from Florida pretending to be a janitor in Maine. The real question should be: Did they give their opinion about the book?

We should be thankful to every reviewer that does just that. 

*As a sidenote, I understand there are "trolls." People who say nasty things about the author or engage online in obnoxious and offensive manner. But let's be honest, I've met people on the street who were ruder than I could have ever imagined. I've been pushed on the train, cursed out in the grocery store, and almost had an all out brawl with a man whose dog went after mine. But guess what? That's life. You can't escape mean, ugly people whether walking the streets of a city or on Twitter. Some people just suck and getting pissed off about it or making yourself crazy over it only ends up hurting yourself and potentially your career. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

True Love Comes in Many Forms

When we think of true love, it's almost always in the form of marriage or significant others. But I have a story which proves "meant to be" can happen when you least expect it. 


Allow me to introduce you to Chocolate. Chocolate is a grumpy, old kitty with arthritis and a rumbling purr. 

He is also, to date, the love of my sister's life. 

My little sis, Katie, worked for a vet clinic for several years. Chocolate was one of their patients. From the first day Katie laid eyes on him, she was smitten. She used to talk about him. How much she loved him, how wonderful he was. 

Now my sister saw all kinds of cute, furry creatures every day. Kittens and puppies. There have been several litters the clinic has taken in and then adopted out. None of them she has ever wanted to bring home. 

But Chocolate...she was head over heels for him. 

Sadly, Chocolate found himself homeless. 

He was rescued by the clinic, who provided him with the medical care he needed pro bono. They believed, afterwards, Chocolate would be able to be adopted out, despite his cranky personality and behavioral issues.

My sister wanted to take him. Desperately. But she was currently attending nursing school and living in my parents home. At the time, my parents had several cats and a dog themselves. Since it was well known that Chocolate didn't get along with other animals, she felt it was better to find him a good home elsewhere.   

Still, she talked about him ALL THE TIME. To her, this was the best cat in the world. She loved everything about him. Every day there was a new Chocolate story. Being able to see him constantly was like heaven for her.  

Unfortunately, Chocolate then did something very naughty. He bit one of the clinic staff. 

This placed the clinic in a difficult dilemma. They couldn't, for liability reasons, adopt him out. What if he bit his new owner and they sued? They also couldn't keep him as a clinic cat because there was no way to guarantee he wouldn't bit another member of the staff or a customer.  

For Chocolate, it wasn't looking good. 

My sister came home from work in in tears. My parents listened to the story and upon hearing Chocolate's fate, told my sister to bring him home. They would find a way to make things work. 

It was meant to be.  

Two years later, Chocolate is the happiest, most spoiled cat you could ever meet. With all the love and attention my sister (along with the rest of the household) gives him, he has undergone a dramatic change. He's still a bit cranky sometimes, but only when he hasn't had enough sleep. Just like a little old man. Otherwise, he's the sweetest thing. He's one of the most social cats I've ever met. 

My sister adores him just as much now as she used to. He's her baby. And he knows it. He repeatedly kicks her out of her own bed, so so he can have the whole thing to himself. And Katie lets him. 

Happy Adoption Anniversary, Chocolate. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lost in Translation

Hubby went to Korea recently for a business trip. In preparation, he received a packet of information about the conference. It had all of the events, contact information for the hotel and a list of places to eat. Most of the Korean to English translations were okay but then we got to the restaurant section. 




We had quite the chuckle over Original Crap. I have a feeling the proprietor of the shop would be horrified to know what the restaurant's translated name actually conveyed. Come to think of it Nature House isn't much better. Whoops!   

All laughter aside, the translation served as a serious reminder to me. I'm a writer who loves to incorporate other cultures into my stories. If I create a character who is Greek-American, for example, then I know Greek could have been the primary language in the home. If the character goes to visit his parents, he would naturally use Greek when first speaking to them, even if they quickly switch to English. The character might also slip into Greek when angry or upset, such as Ricky Ricardo used to do on I Love Lucy. 

I adore incorporating these little touches to a story. It adds flavor and depth to a character easily. However, it's not enough to use Google Translate for this. I have to find someone who speaks that language fluently in order to ensure that I am using the correct words and spelling. It's a detail but it's an essential one. Diversity is important in our writing but it doesn't serve anyone if we can't be bothered to get it right. 


P.S. With a little trial and error, Hubby discovered some yummy Korean dishes he loved. He did not, however, eat at Original Crap, even though I double dared him to. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Hero Pooh Bear

I owe A.A. Milne a heap of thanks.




My daughter started first grade this year and she had the normal jitters. She'd been to kindergarten, of course, but first grade was in a new school. A bigger school. With older children. And my shy little girl wasn't so sure she wanted to be a big kid anymore.

So I found Pooh's Grand Adventure and read it to her. Christopher Robin starts school and Pooh, misunderstanding where his friend is, embarks on a quest to save him. Pooh does all kinds of things that are new and scary for him and, in the end, learns he can be strong. The book teaches a great lesson about overcoming your fears.

Additionally, there's this fantastic thing Christopher Robin says to Pooh the night before he starts school:

"If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together...there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart...I'll always be with you."

I reminded my little girl that just like Pooh she is braver than she believes, stronger than she seems, and smarter than she thinks. And even though we are apart, I'm always with her. And always close by if she ever needs me.

She's had a month of school now and she's doing great. And I know Pooh Bear's story helped her get there.



Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Commitments



I've officially been fished out of the pool. 

It's been a hectic summer and an even busier September. I went to the States for several months to visit and see family. We had a great time and did lots of fun activities. 

I also spent the summer editing and writing. Whoo, hoo! Go me. I got more accomplished in this area than I ever thought I would. 

Since we've come back to Greece, school started and I've been dragging myself and the kiddos through a new routine. Part of me is thrilled because the house is quiet for long periods of time. Most of me is sad to send those two cute little terrors to school everyday. I miss them. 

Anyway, the point is while all of this crazy activity has been great personally, it's been horrible for my blog. It seems this is the first thing to get chucked off of my list when my schedule goes haywire.  

BUT NO MORE. That's right. I'm (gasp) making a commitment. Every Monday, I will post something new. It has to become part of my routine, otherwise it will languish. 

So there you have it. The official start of fall and a new commitment from me. 

I'm back and ready to rumble!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

To Die For Chocolate Silk Pie

Easter has been over for about two and a half weeks. This is the time I generally end up with a whole bunch of half-eaten chocolate eggs and bunnies. No, seriously. My kids open each chocolate egg, eat half and then move on to the next one. See:



And that mound of chocolate doesn't even include the stuff my parents sent for Easter from the US. Of course, someone might have gone through the candy and removed a few special things like Jelly Belly jellybeans before delivering the package to the little ones. I will not point fingers nor will I accept blame. (Sorry, Mom. Better send my own package of candy as well next time!)  

Candy stealing aside, every year I end up with a pile of half eaten chocolate. Since my kids have the attention spans of hummingbirds, they will move on to other desserts (like ice cream, cookies, etc) and this chocolate will linger for months until I break down and eat every last drop of it. So, to save my sanity and space in the pantry, I use the chocolate for baking things like...drum roll please... chocolate silk pies. 

Now, my passion for chocolate won't allow me to use just some random recipe. Oh no. I've hunted, pecked and combined different recipes to come up with my very own famous To Die For Chocolate Silk Pie. My friends and family line up for this dessert. I spend a lot of time baking and, by far, this pie is the most requested item I make. I've had friends literally hide it from their spouses so they could eat the pie all by their lonesome. Which, in my opinion, is cause for divorce. I mean, this dessert has a buttery crust and a smooth chocolate center all topped with homemade whipped cream. There would be serious hell to pay if someone hid that from me!

Anyway, this pie is simple and easy to make. First things first, the crust. You'll need:
  • one package of graham crackers OR digestive biscuits
  • 3 TBLS sugar
  • 6 TBLS butter or margarine

Easy, peasy, right? Crumble the biscuits into pieces. You can use a food processor to do this or, if you're a consummate professional like me, just use your hands. When you're done it should look like this:



Then add 3 tablespoons of sugar and 6 tablespoons of melted butter. Give that a mix with a spoon or, you know, your hands again, until it looks like wet sand. 



Spread the mixture into a pie dish and bake it at 350 for 10 mins or so. You'll know it's done when the whole kitchen starts to smell like a buttery biscuit and the edges of the crust are starting to brown, like this:



Set your crust aside to cool. For faster results, pop it into the fridge or the freezer. 

After the crust has cooled, you're ready to make the chocolate center. You'll need:
  • 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 2 TBLS butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs, separated 
  • 4 TBLS sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream

Combine the chocolate and the butter into a saucepan. 



Melt the chocolate until it's smooth and silky. I know, I know. All the semi-professional chefs are screaming at their computers right now because I'm not using the double-boil system to melt my chocolate. This is my way to live dangerously. Just let me. 

Once it's melted, you want to add your eggs yolks to the chocolate and mix that together.


Then take your eggs whites, add 2 TBLS of sugar and mix until you have stiff peaks. (tee, hee...stiff peaks...sounds dirty...get it...stiff peaks...oh, never mind.)



As a side note, I have this awesome stand mixer but if you don't have that, you can use a hand mixer instead. It'll get the job done. 

Add the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and carefully fold together. 






Finally, take your whipping cream, add 2 TBLS of sugar and mix until it looks like something that comes out of those nifty whip cream dispensers at Starbucks. 



Then add the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture and gently fold that in. Now dump the whole chocolate mixture into the pie pan and spread evenly across the crust. You'll have something that looks like this:



Finally, the piece de resistance...the whipped cream topping. Take one more cup of whipping cream and 2 TBLS of sugar and whip until the cream holds the shape of the beaters. Then spread that fabulous homemade whipped cream over the top of the chocolate center. You can just slap it on and eat it like that or, if you are channeling your inner Martha Stewart (like I was), you can dust some chocolate over the top and pipe a whipped cream border around the edge.

You're finished product will look like this:



Pop the pie into the fridge to firm up and get nice and cold. Slice and eat. Give one piece to your spouse just to avoid the potential divorce, then hide the rest so you can eat it by yourself later. Oh, you know you will!


Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring is deadly...for my new plants...

Ah, spring...the season of new beginnings. It's the time when animals start getting randy and people flee their apartments chasing the sunlight and warmth. 

It's also when I have to dust off my balconies and actually do something with them. That's annoying. 

Don't get me wrong, I love using my balconies. There's nothing better than drinking morning coffee and listening to the sounds of the city waking up or lounging in my comfy chair with a nice glass of wine and a good book. It's awesome.

What isn't awesome - cleaning the damn balconies every week and keeping my plants alive.  

I have a confession. Most of my Greek counterparts clean their balconies in rain, arctic chills and earthquakes. I don't. In fact, I rarely step onto them in the winter so why in the hell would I waste 45 mins cleaning them every week? That's not only stupid, it's a waste of my time. I'd much rather be writing, or playing with my kids, or hell even exercising. Almost anything would be better than spending time cleaning a balcony no one will care about until the weather improves. 

But now spring has arrived and I actually have to make the balconies look decent. This means scrubbing them till they sparkle. Housecleaning - not my favorite activity. Also, you have to decorate them so they are inviting and pleasant to sit around on.  
And how to you make a balcony look like someone gives a shit? That's right my friends, you add plants. 

Which creates my second problem. If plants were people, I'd be in jail right now for involuntary manslaughter. 




Oh I try. Every year, I try. I keep thinking that my mother genes have to exist in me somewhere. She can just look at a plant and the cottenpickin' thing blooms. I look at them and they turn up their leaves like I have the worst case of halitosis this side of the Atlantic. 


Up until now, the only causalities of my foliage murdering ways has been the plants and my pocketbook. This year, however, things have changed. My son and daughter decided plants are the most fun things ever and want to help me decorate the balconies.




Why? I have absolutely NO idea. I hated when my mother took me to Home Depot's plant department. It was like a lesson in boredom wrapped up in mulch and weeds. To this day, she starts talking about the plants in her yard and I immediately go into a coma. 

Anyway, in an effort to find some new victims plants, we went to a plant fair. Loads of every kind of flower, shrub and seedling you could imagine stretched out as far as the eye could see. I stifled a yawn. My kids, however, - really, my kids, I gave birth to them and everything - were running around looking at all the colorful blooms and talking like two old people planting a garden together. Definitely my mother's love of plants skipped a generation. 

My son, God bless him, was the easier of the two. He took two plants I'm almost certain I'll be able to keep alive. And if I can't, I can easily replace them. You know, like the pet goldfish that mysteriously changes colors slightly while you're at school cuz your mama kept killing it and buying a new one so you wouldn't find out about it. 

My son's selection. I have absolutely NO idea what they are but I've seen them in tons of flower shops so...easily replaceable. 


My daughter, on the other hand, was a bit more determined when it came to her plant. She wanted...a rose bush. A freakin' rose bush. Now roses are beautiful and smell pretty and all that jazz, but they are also notoriously difficult to take care of. I don't have slightest clue what to do with a rose bush. My knowledge of plants is basically water them until they die. That's it. Pruning back a rose bush...fertilizing a rose bush...providing it just the right about of sun. Impossible. I went into a small panic at the flower fair. 




Of course, I tried to talk her out of it. I pointed out all the other lovely, easily replaceable plants - pink ones, purple ones, even some pretty blue ones. She wasn't having any of it. If she had switched to mean, cranky kid it would have been easier but NOOOOO, she was all sweet, charming, cuddly kid. "Please, please, mommy. I really, really want the roses."

ARGH! There's a little secret my kids haven't figured out about me and I secretly dread the day that they do. I can be firm and strict with a tantrum throwing child-terrorist who is screaming and crying for something he/she wants. I cannot, however, be strong when faced with the sweet, polite child who is asking for something in a loving way. 

So, my daughter succeeded in melting my resolve. I just couldn't say no. And of course, when I did say yes...her face broke out into the widest, sweetest smile and she hugged me before doing a happy dance. After that, I had to stop myself from buying every rose bush in the fair. I felt like a million bucks and the best mom in the world. 

That is, until I got the damn thing home and realized that I actually have to keep it alive.  



Gorgeous right? By the end of the summer, it won't look nearly so pretty, I promise you.

Of course, if the blasted thing dies, I'll be the worst mommy in the world. The plant killer, the crusher of childhood memories. (My kids never forget anything - they are like baby elephants with crazy good memories. I'll be eating mashed food in the old folks home and my daughter will be telling HER kids about the time she had this lovely rose bush until I killed it and made her cry for a week.) Therefore, readers, I promise to water it, prune it, fertilize it and hang all over it like it's my first grandchild. Damn thing better live. 

Rose plant aside, I've been hard at work scrubbing, re-potting and getting my fingers nails dirty. The results are: 


Balcony one


Balcony Two

My little helpers: the one with the shell is Julia, the furry one is Louisa