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Sunday, February 25, 2018

My Take on (some of) the Oscars

I watched a foreign film last night titled The Square. It is up for an Oscar for best foreign film, and although lately the foreign films seem to leave me wondering why I bothered to watch them, I still wanted to see why this one was nominated.

The movie blew my mind. I could not stop thinking about it, and just now, when I read a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, I realized why. He said, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” The Square fits that description perfectly. A good-hearted guy who is the curator of an art gallery gets embroiled in a series of incidents that become sad, funny, scary, and sometimes ridiculous, yet it’s all believable. The film mocks art at times yet mimics it at others. I can’t recommend it more highly without giving away more. Even if I told you the whole plot, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.

When I see a good movie, I have to respect the writer, the director, the actors, and the producers. When I watch a bad film, I blame the writer. Actors can’t make a good movie from bad dialogue, a principle demonstrated clearly in another film I watched this week, Baby Driver. The absurd dialogue in Baby Driver made me wonder how Kevin Spacey kept a straight face while delivering it. I can only imagine him bursting into laughter time and again, with the frustrated director yelling, “Cut!” The puns, the alliteration, and the other literary ploys that writers use might be fine in the written form, but people do not speak that way. My jaws clenched when I listened to the unrealistic dialogue. Okay, the film is intended to be an action film set to music, but even action films need good dialogue. Baby Driver gets my vote for worst writing.

On the other hand, The Big Sick, a movie for which I had low expectations, thrilled me to the bone. In it a stand-up comic born in Pakistan falls for an American woman, but their future is anything but rosy. The film was a joy from beginning to end and had all the elements an audience could love. It had comedy, romance, drama, and redemption. Written well, all the dialogue comes off as natural, as it should, because it is based on a true story. It’s no surprise that the movie has been nominated for best original screenplay. Kumail Nanjiani, who lived the experience, wrote the screenplay with· Emily V. Gordon. I highly recommend The Big Sick.

Have you watched a movie with good writing lately? Tell me about it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Circle of Life

About a month ago I noticed a Krispy Kreme store being built only three miles from my house. Yay!

It wasn’t opened yet, though. Boo!

Although I did not go that way often, whenever I did, I watched the construction getting nearer and nearer completion. Yay!

It was being built on the wrong side of the road from me, though, across a divided highway. Boo!

I could access it easily, though, when coming home off the highway, so I could work out the problem. Yay!

Weeks went by and I passed by the store a couple times. It still wasn’t open. Boo!

Yesterday I passed by it on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Cars filled the parking lot. A billboard over the new store advertised its glazed doughnuts. It was open. Yay!

I was on the wrong side of the road, going in the wrong direction. Boo!

I could stop by on the way home, though, which would be even better. Yay!

On the way home I slowed to get into the parking lot of the brand-spanking new Krispy Kreme store, but traffic cones blocked three-quarters of the driveway. Boo!

I carefully steered through a small opening in the cones, entered the filled parking lot, and found one open slot. Yay!

Before I turned off the engine, a woman wearing a jacket with the Krispy Kreme logo on it walked over to my car and said, “We’re not open yet. We’re in training.” Boo!

She added, “If you drive out the back way…” She pointed. “There’s a woman out there giving out coupons.” Yay!

I maneuvered my car to where the woman had pointed and saw another woman wearing another Krispy Kreme jacket. She pointed to the hidden back drive and waved me on. Boo!

Not one to give up on the chance for a coupon, I stopped anyway. Yay!

“We’re not open yet,” she reiterated. “We’re in training. We don’t open until December twelfth.” Boo.

Determined, I said, “I was told someone was giving out free coupons.”

She seemed reluctant, but she reached inside her jacket, ripped a sheet off a pad, and handed the paper to me. A coupon! Yay!

I glanced at the coupon. It was good for one free doughnut. One lousy doughnut! Boo!

I looked up and saw the secret back driveway that led to a traffic light that would allow me to reach the store from either direction. Yay!

Now I have to wait for hot doughnuts until after December 12. Boo!

In the near future, though, there’s going to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop nearby making fresh doughnuts to resolve any of my emergency carb and sugar requirements. Yay!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pharmaceutical Fiasco

Writers write. What do we write about? With nonfiction writers like me, every bump in the road, every event in our lives, feels as though it happens only to give us more material to write about.

Below is what happened to me just the other day.


By Bobbie Christmas


When I attempted to fill my day-by-day pill box for the week, I used up the last of my blood-pressure medicine. Clearly I would be out of medicine in less than a week. My mail-order prescription service was supposed to send refills automatically, though. I worried that if I requested a refill that day, my supply would be depleted before the refill arrived by mail.

With much concern, I called the phone number on the empty prescription bottle.

A robotic voice responded. “Thank you for calling XYZ Pharmacy. Please say if you a provider or subscriber.”

I was not a provider, so I figured I must be the other thing. I answered, “Subscriber.”

The robot voice continued. “Do you want to refill a prescription?”

“Yes,” I said, looking forward to explaining my dilemma.

“Enter the prescription number at the top left of the prescription label,” the robot instructed me.

I held up the bottle, squinted, and carefully read off an interminably long list of numbers, something like “Two one two three four six nine eight three two seven zero two six two four.”

After a moment of silence the robot said, “Your prescription is scheduled to be automatically refilled on August eighteenth. Would you like to refill another prescription?”

I said, “No, but—”

Before I could explain the problem, the robot thanked me and hung up.

I looked at the remaining number of pills and did the math. If the service refilled the prescription on the eighteenth, I would have to wait five to seven days without pills before my refill arrived.

I redialed the number. A robotic voice started again, “Thank you for calling XYZ Pharmacy. Please say if you a provider or subscriber.”

I went through all the menus and options again, said the right things, again learned when my prescription would be refilled, and heard the robot hang up.

A third time I dialed the number and listened even more carefully to the menus. Nothing offered me the chance to talk to a real person. My blood pressure rose. Before the robot could hang up on me, I shouted, “Give me a human being!”

To my surprise the line went quiet and another robotic voice said, “Please hold.”

After a long wait, I heard a tiny voice say something I could not quite hear.

A voice whispering from twenty feet away, it is said, can be measured at twenty decibels. The voice I heard on the phone had to have come in at less than fifteen decibels.

I asked, “Would you please speak up?”

At exactly the same level, the speaker whispered, “Is this better?”

“No, it’s not. Please speak louder.”

Is this better?”

“No. Speak closer to the phone.”

The woman muttered something else at the same level.

I gave up and jammed the phone against one ear and shoved a finger in my other ear. “What did you say?” I asked.

With no change in volume she murmured, “This is Heather. How may I help you today?”

“Heather, I am almost out of a prescription that isn’t going to be automatically refilled in time. How can we resolve this issue?”

The barely audible voice asked, “What is your membership number?”

“Hold on.” I set the phone down, took my finger out of my ear, and held the prescription bottle higher under the bathroom light, but I could not find a membership number on it. I stuck my finger back in my ear and pressed the phone against my other ear and asked, “Where is my membership number on the prescription label?”

A wee voice said, “It’s not on the prescription label. It’s on your membership card.”

“Membership card? I’m upstairs in my bathroom looking at my medicine, and my card is downstairs in my purse.”

“What’s your membership number?”

I grew angry. “The robot I talked to earlier found the prescription without my membership number, why can’t you?”

“I can’t discuss your medications unless I have your membership number,” squeaked the mousy voice.

“Okay,” I relented. “I’ll have to go get my membership card. Hold on.” With the portable phone in hand, I walked out of the bathroom, through my bedroom, down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the basement, where I hang my purse by the door. I pulled out my wallet and sorted through many cards until I found the right one, and then I had to go into another room in the basement so I could get enough light to read the card. There I examined the card from top to bottom, and although it listed many words and numbers, nothing indicated a membership number. Out of breath and frustrated, I asked, “Where is the membership number on the card?”

“It’s at the top,” Heather told me in a barely audible tone.

I examined the card from top to bottom, front and back, again. “It’s not at the top,” I told her. “The top has my name and address, no numbers.”

“Your membership number starts with the letter G,” the quiet Heather explained.

I looked at the card again. “In the middle, not at the top, is an ID number that starts with a G.”

“That’s it.”

“Why didn’t you call it an ID number in the first place? I would have known what you were talking about. And why did you say it was at the top of the card, when it wasn’t?”

“I’m sorry. What’s your membership number?”

“You mean ID number?”


Heat rose up my neck. My throat shut down. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“What’s the number?” the unapologetic young woman asked.

Infuriated, I blasted, “Before I read the ID number—not the membership number—may I ask if this call is being recorded so someone will know how frustrating this call has been?”

“Yes,” she peeped.

“Good.” I took a deep breath and read off another list of hard-to-read numbers that represented my ID number, not my membership number.

Before I could take another breath, I heard her say, “And what’s the prescription number you’re calling about?”

I exploded. “I’m downstairs where you sent me to get my card so I could give you my ID number that you called a membership number. Why wouldn’t you take the prescription number when I tried to give it to you, when I was upstairs with the prescription? I’ll have to go back upstairs to get the medicine bottle for the prescription number now.”

“I’ll hold.”

My fury increased. Before I trudged back up the stairs, I shouted, “You do realize that you are speaking to a person who is in her seventies who can barely hear you, and you’re making her run up and down the stairs, and if you had simply asked for information in a logical manner, you wouldn’t have put me through all this? And do you also realize that I’m calling about blood-pressure medicine, and you’re making my blood pressure go through the roof?”

She may as well have been another robot. “Do you have the prescription number?”

“You’ll have to wait until I put my purse away, climb the stairs, go down the hallway, walk through the bedroom, get into the bathroom, and get the medicine bottle again.”

“I’ll hold.”

After my long trek I breathlessly read the long list of numbers off the bottle.

“Please hold.” When she came back on the line, she noted, “That prescription will be refilled automatically on August eighteenth. Would you like to fill another prescription?”

I tried to calm myself before I spoke, but I didn’t do a good job. “No!” I shouted, “I don’t want to refill another prescription, and I already know the prescription is set for an automatic refill on the eighteenth. I’m trying to tell you that schedule won’t work for me. I have only a few more pills. I’ll be out before then.”

“Oh, you’ll be out of town when the prescription arrives?”

Please God, give me strength, I begged silently. “No, I am not leaving town. I will be out of medicine. I have only six more days’ worth of medicine, and the prescription won’t be filled for another week, and then it has to travel through the mail to me.”

The petite voice murmured, “We can call in an emergency prescription for a few pills to a local pharmacy, if necessary. Let me check on that.”


The line went silent. I took a few deep breaths. Why did the issue have to turn into a fight? I wondered why I ever signed up for the mail order service. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I would save money, and refills came automatically. Obviously the system was not working for me, though.

Heather came back on the line. “We have that you were sent a ninety-day supply with the last order.”

“Correct, and I’m almost out.”

“The instructions say to take two a day, correct?”

“Yes, and if I do that, I’ll be out in a few days.”

“That prescription comes in bottles of ninety pills. Our records show that we sent two bottles of ninety pills each in your last refill. You say you are almost out of the second bottle?”

I looked at the empty bottle. In the tiniest print possible, one line in one corner read: One of Two Bottles. Confused, I opened the drawer where I kept my medicine. Toward the back was an identical bottle, but its label said it was number two of two bottles. Oh, God, shoot me now!

I cleared my voice. “Um, Heather?”


“I just found the second bottle. I haven’t even opened it yet. I have more than enough to get me through. I’m so sorry.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“Yes, you can forgive me for losing my patience. Now I’m embarrassed.”

“No problem. Have a nice day.”

“You too,” I said, before collapsing in an embarrassed heap.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Early Inspiration


Those of us who write have been either blatantly or subtly influenced by someone, whether a writer, a teacher, a relative, or a friend. I certainly have been influenced by many folks, and today I’m going write about two of them.

After I had Martha DuBose for tenth- and eleventh-grade English, she petitioned the school to allow her to give a creative writing class for senior English. She stipulated that it would not be open to just anyone; she would select the students she wanted to invite. I was one of only thirteen students she selected that first year. Simply being selected thrilled me, but I had no idea what to expect.

On the first day of class, Mrs. DuBose distributed a lengthy syllabus that included projects we had to turn in before the end of the year. In early September I found it hard to think I had to turn in so many things before June graduation. More than fifty years later I don’t remember the list exactly, but it began something like this:

Fifteen sonnets

Ten short stories

Twenty haiku

Fifteen essays

Four one-act plays

Two first chapters of two separate novels

One three-act play

Seventeen free-verse poems

Twenty narrative poems

One villanelle

Twenty-five couplets

Four magazine articles

We could turn in any and all those projects at any time, but we had to complete the list by specific date before graduation. Mrs. DuBose never mentioned the list again. Instead she spent every class examining and discussing subjects related to writing poetry, essays, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, and more. Her favorite phrase was, “I want pithy, pithy, pithy writing.” Today I joke and say I thought she had a lisp, but in truth, I did not quite comprehend that she was telling us to write tight. By the end of the year, though, I had a better idea, and I saw my writing improve with her red-ink comments on everything I turned in.

To my personal surprise, I also realized I was not the procrastinator I thought I was. I turned in all my required projects long before the end of the year and earned valuable feedback on each one. I entered quite a few of my polished projects into the competition of the school’s literary yearbook, and to my surprise, my works dominated the book when it came out. It wasn’t the first time I had seen my byline, though, because Mrs. DuBose had inspired me not only to write for the school newspaper, but also to become the editor for the Spanish Honor Club newsletter. Yes, it was written in Spanish.

Mrs. DuBose set me on the path to creative writing, but working with and under good editors helped even more. My father was one of my toughest critics, and he earned the right. He ran a business brokerage business with affiliates around the world, and when I was in my twenties, I worked with him for about seven years. While Daddy handled the sales and mergers of businesses, I interviewed business-owner clients and wrote their business profiles. I also edited the business profiles that affiliated brokers sent in, and Daddy always edited me. With Daddy’s clever deletions, I saw my wordy profiles of 2,300 words magically turn into tight reports of 2,000 words. We made a great team. I could spell better than he could, but he could slash and burn my wordy script, leaving only pithy, pithy writing.

Later when I read Hemingway, famous for his tight writing, I was not impressed. My father could have edited even Hemingway’s books down to bare bones.

Since those early years I’ve been mildly influenced by others, but Mrs. DuBose and my father, Mike Rothberg, were the early influencers in my life who made me the writer and editor I am today.

Who influenced you early in your writing life? How did those people influence you? I’d love to hear your stories.


Monday, July 11, 2016

The Story of Bruce Bird

The story of Bruce Bird must now be told. I see him aging and having difficulty moving around his cage. He has stopped eating the spinach he used to devour as soon as I put it in his cage. Parakeets can live up to ten or thirteen years, according to my resources, and Bruce is at least ten and maybe much older. I don’t know, and here’s why:

On June 14, 2006, my phone rang much too early in the morning, the kind of call that makes me know in my gut that something is wrong. When I answered, a sobbing Roy Pfiester blurted, “Bruce is gone. Bruce died this morning.”

What? Bruce Brown, a travel agent for American Express, was my good buddy with whom I’d not only shared years of friendship but who also had been my travel mate to Morocco. Wherever Bruce went, his raucous laughter filled the room. Bruce and Roy’s cockatoo even mimicked Bruce’s laugh. In the time I knew Bruce he and Roy had a cat, a dog, and several exotic birds. We sometimes took care of other’s dogs, when one of us traveled.

Roy, Bruce’s partner, was the quiet half of the couple. He always grinned and quietly found humor in Bruce’s antics and unfiltered comments.

Bruce was young, in his fifties. I was in my sixties at the time. How could Bruce have left this earth before me? Why? He had been perfectly healthy. Nothing made sense.

As best we could eventually determine, Bruce had some sort of medical episode upon landing in Banff, Canada, on a Fam tour—one agents use to become familiar with destinations they may later recommend to clients. The doctors weren’t sure if Bruce had altitude sickness or a heart problem, so they transferred him to a larger hospital in Calgary, where he finally felt well enough and had time to call Roy. Roy said Bruce’s last words to him were, “This isn’t good-bye.”

It was.

I was distraught, but I could only imagine how devastated Roy was, because their partnership had been strong for more than twenty years. Bruce’s memorial service overflowed with people giving heartfelt testimony to the witty, loving man.

After Bruce’s death, I could not get a handle on my depression. About two weeks later, I was on the phone when something caught my eye. On a chair back outside my window sat a colorful bird, looking in the window. I thought at first it might be a painted bunting, which I’d seen only in photos, but when I stepped closer, I saw that it was a blue parakeet. Parakeets should not be flying around loose in Atlanta, Georgia, so I told the person on the phone that I’d call back. I opened the back door gently, for fear the bird would take off. It didn’t.

I walked over slowly, one step at a time.

The bird held its ground.

I slipped my hand over the bird, fearing it would try to fly away. It didn’t. I gingerly walked back into my house holding a quaking, skinny parakeet.

Now what?

My humane trap for catching squirrels and mice was small, but it was safe and the closest thing I had to a cage. I put the bird in the humane trap and brought it into my kitchen. I found a bag of seeds I had intended to put into my feeder outside and put some seeds in the bird’s temporary cage. The little budgie dug in, eating like it had been starving. It probably had been.

I tried to find its rightful owner. I put up signs around the neighborhood and posted notices on the Internet, but every call I received was for a lost parrot, not a parakeet. Someone had lost a beautiful parakeet, and I wanted to find its rightful home, because I had no interest in owning a bird. While I waited to find its owner, though, I watched the colorful creature eat, drink, and even sing, and I felt in awe.

After a few days I recalled that when my friend Ruth’s husband died suddenly, she started finding feathers everywhere she went. She told me Robert was sending her feathers to tell her everything was all right. Feathers? My friend Bruce, animal lover that he was, had sent me an entire bird! I knew the bird had come to the right place.

I gladly invested in a proper cage and all the other equipment one buys for a parakeet, and Bruce Bird had a name and a home.

The story doesn’t end there, though.

In my research I learned how to tell the sex of a parakeet. I learned that an adult male has a blue or purple cere, the little crest above its beak. Adult females have a brown, crusty cere. Bruce Bird, with his brown, crusty cere, was not a male, but a female. I had to chuckle with my new knowledge, because I knew Bruce Brown wouldn’t have minded having a feathered female namesake; he was totally out of the closet himself.

Ah, but there’s  more.

When Bruce Bird stopped eating and singing, I worried about his health and found an avian vet who put the bird through many tests. She explained that the bird was indeed a male, but because it had underdeveloped testicles—two tiny dots on the x-rays—it had become feminized. By then I knew my friend Bruce must have been rolling in laughter in heaven. Although Bruce was gay, he wasn’t transgender, but leave it to Bruce to send me a transgender bird. Yes, my friend always had a great sense of humor.

My sister guffawed at me for spending hundreds of dollars on veterinary bills for a bird that could be replaced for ten or fifteen dollars, but Bruce Bird was irreplaceable. Bruce Brown sent him to me from beyond. I believe it, and it is so.

Anyway, after a course of antibiotics and weighing the bird daily to ensure he was not losing weight (Yes, I had to buy a special scale), Bruce Bird recuperated and returned to his cheerful demeanor. What I found fascinating was that he never allowed me to hold him again without trying to bite me, so that first time I picked him up on the deck, he must have been near death from starvation.

Ten years I’ve enjoyed the parakeet I never thought I’d own. It’s been ten years of buying seeds, apples, spinach, cuttlebones, toys, and cages. Ten years of having to arrange for bird sitters whenever I traveled. Ten years of having him greet me each morning with a happy twitter. Ten wonderful years.

A few weeks ago, though, I found Bruce Bird on the floor of his cage, unable to get back on his perch. He squawked and fought me when I put him back on his perch, but eventually he held onto the perch and then ate. Ever since then he’s had trouble moving around. He has stopped singing. He refuses to eat his greens or apple slices, but at least he still eats his seeds and drinks his water.

I know he’s aging, and it’s a natural process over which I have no control. I don’t know how old he was when he came to me, but he was already a mature bird. He’s given me ten great years of enjoyment with his songs, mimicking sounds, and warbling to the TV. I know I will lose him one day, but at least I’m being given some warning. He’s going to entertain Bruce Brown in heaven one day. I don’t want to think about it, but I do thank Bruce Brown for sending me a little blue bundle of joy to get me through my original sadness. Maybe he’ll send another parakeet to rescue if this one flies over the rainbow bridge.



Friday, July 1, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I’m always impressed with fiction writers. Not only must their word choice and word order be correct, but they must also conjure up stories with conflict and suspense as well as good characterization, lively dialogue, and an alluring beginning, strong middle, and satisfying end. After decades of getting paid for my writing, I accept that I am a nonfiction writer, not a fiction writer. The two novels I’ve attempted to write were so clearly based on my life that I quit the first one and never tried to find a publisher for the second one. As an editor I have studied fiction and can tell a writer what’s wrong with a novel and even make suggestions on how to repair it, but I cannot magically summon a story out of thin air myself.
As a nonfiction writer, though, I still have the same challenge to come up with ideas, and where are those ideas? For example, I needed to write a creative writing exercise for my monthly newsletter, The Writers Network News. I had no idea what I would write for that exercise, but I had a few weeks before it was due. I trusted that ideas abound, and one would come to me.

Sure enough, one day I read the following quotation from philosopher and author Jean Jacques Rousseau: “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Ding! The quotation triggered some deep thoughts, and an idea slowly formed in my head.

If I asked writers to write about kindness, though, how would the topic make a good story? Because strong stories employ conflict, how can kindness result in conflict? Aha! The answer came to me, and I wrote the following creative writing exercise:

Random Acts of Kindness

We’ve all heard of random acts of kindness and how surprising yet appreciated they always seem to be. We’re writers, though, and we know the best stories involve conflict. No one wants to read about everything going hunky dory.

For this exercise, create a character that performs a random act of kindness. To introduce conflict, have his or her act backfire into something not so kind. For example, what if your character noticed that the person ahead of him in the checkout line could not find enough money to pay for his purchase? What if your Good Samaritan character pulled out his billfold and peeled off a couple of dollars to complete the stranger’s purchase? What if that stranger then stood in wait for your character to emerge from the store so he could rob him of the remaining money in his wallet?

Think of your own scenario of a random act of kindness turning into something sinister, unkind, or otherwise unexpected in a negative way.

* * *

Where do ideas come from? Ideas are everywhere, if we but open our eyes. Read headlines in the news. Be in the moment, wherever you are, and observe everything around you; something may come to mind. Read voraciously. Be a neutral witness to things happening to you. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Sometimes you’ll get ideas from writing exercises such as the one I just told you about. You’ll see that exercise in the August 2016 issue of The Writers Network News. If you’d like a monthly creative writing exercise, something that gives you ideas that compel you to start, complete, or continue a story, subscribe to The Writers Network News for free. You’ll also get news, tips, markets, contests, and much more for writers. Simply go to and click on Free Newsletter to sign up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ask the Book Doctor about Radio Promotions

Questions from real writers, just like you; answers from Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas
Q: I haven’t a clue about how to promote my book on radio, yet I’ve heard other writers have been successful doing so. What’s the secret?

 A: Because I am a book editor, my expertise usually ends when a book gets published; however, I can tell you what a highly successful client of mine did.

He wrote a touching novel about a soldier in the Civil War, and he based it on information he found in an old family bible. He labeled the book fiction, because he added dialogue and concocted details necessary to pull the story together, but he inserted photographs of the decapitated house where the real family had lived as well as marriage records and other documents to back up his story. After I edited the book and he self-published it, he and his wife loaded up their motor home and took off. They stopped in small towns along the routes mentioned in his book, found bookstores or other venues that would allow him to hold book signings, and then called local radio stations and landed on-air interviews to promote his book and book signings. Perhaps because the towns were small and had few competing events, he managed to get large crowds at most of his events. After he sold out of the first printing, he told me he and his wife had planned to tour the South anyway, and much of his book-promotion journey turned out to be tax deductible, while he and his wife had a delightful trip and sold many books. They planned another tour for the second printing.

Q: I just noticed that you had a radio interview on self-publishing. I missed the interview; however, I would like to contribute some firsthand info about self-publishing. If you are a senior (I am 87), think twice about self-publishing. I self-published a Christmas book for children, and although I had several reliable distributors, I discovered that I still was expected to do signings, make appearances all over the country, and do much of my own marketing. I am too old to be traveling all over the country, and besides, it was Christmas. Who wants to be away from home around Christmas?

A: Thank you for your opinion on self-publishing. In truth, though, even if a traditional publisher buys your book, nowadays you're expected to market it yourself, and unless you're prepared to spend a great deal of time marketing, the book may not sell well. Read some good books or websites about book promotions and find a few tips you can use to promote your book without traveling too much. Sometimes you can get radio interviews or give seminars and events while working from home. Telephone lines and the Internet reach the world over, so personal appearances are not as vital as they used to be.

Q: I'm a stay-at-home mom of a two-year-old, and I have a book that I would like to try to have published, but I keep putting off sending in my manuscript because I'm afraid that if I ever do get published, I'll have to leave my son for a publicity tour. Could you please let me know what, if anything, I can do?

A: I am amazed at the obstacles we writers put in our own way. “I won't try to get my book published, because I don't want to leave my son” is like saying, "I won't buy a new outfit, because I’d have to wash it." Rather than thinking of a negative result, we must think of the positive outcomes from selling our books. In addition, we writers have options open to us that we may not yet know about.

Here's the truth about the publishing business: The chances of selling a manuscript are slim. If you beat those odds and sell your manuscript to a publisher, you may have to attend a book release party, give interviews, or attend a few book signings, but few publishers plan or finance publicity tours anymore. Most promotions are handled over the radio or Internet these days. The books that result in national TV and radio interviews are typically written by celebrities. Every time I see a celebrity on a talk show, I know he or she is pushing a new book or movie, and I'm usually right.

Don't let the fear of success or the reluctance to travel stop your forward movement. Trust that if the book sells, you will work out arrangements that suit you and your family, even if you do help with publicity. When the traditionally published first edition of my book Write In Style was released in 2004, the publicity "whirlwind" included a few newspaper and radio interviews that I handled by telephone. I love to be invited to speak at writers gatherings, where I can also sell the book, but it's my choice to accept those invitations, and it was never a requirement from my publisher.

Every time you think of a reason why you aren't moving forward with your book, study the logic behind your thinking and decide whether it's just another way to block yourself. Writer's block comes in many forms. Don't fall prey to it.

On a personal note, I’m thrilled to announce that the updated and expanded second edition of Write In Style, my book on how to use any computer to improve your writing, just won First Place in the How-To category in the 2016 Florida Book Festival winter competition, won a Bronze IPPY from Independent Publishers in the category of Writing, and was one of only five finalists in the Writing/Publishing Category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Purchase the book at or

Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at