The Prince Charming Hoax

Prince Charming Hoax

Once upon a time…[blah, blah, blah]…and they lived happily ever. For many a young girl who grew up reading fairy tales, that blah, blah, blah in the middle was always incidental. Who really cared if the heroine of these childhood stories was smart, clever, brave or had useful skill sets like spinning straw into gold? If she couldn’t attract a handsome guy on a white horse by the final chapter and give up her day-job to go be his missus, she was doomed to spinsterhood and may as well just spend the rest of her days luring lost children into an edible house of gingerbread. In the real world, waiting for a prince to come and rescue you is no guarantee of a blissful ending, much less a rewarding day-to-day in which the genuine you can go forth and sparkle with gusto.

In her spicy new novel, The Prince Charming Hoax, author Shelley Lieber (aka Elyse Grant) puts the spotlight on two boomer women who break free of the “happily ever after” myth and decide to rewrite their life stories in a sexy, thoughtful tale.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Your bio describes you as “an author with a split personality.” Tell us more!

A: The “split personality” is how I explain the contrasting aspects of my life and career. Shelley Lieber, The Wordy Woman, is a nonfiction author and publishing consultant. In that persona I wrote 4Ps to Publishing Success and Publishing Made Easy & Profitable; created the VIP Authors writers community; and founded Visual Impressions Publishing, a publishing vehicle for independent authors. My wilder side writes erotic fiction under the nom de plume Elyse Grant. The Prince Charming Hoax, my debut novel, introduces two boomer women with strong and sometimes conflicting personalities that reflect this dichotomy: smart, creative, and nurturing vs. sassy, ambitious, and daring.

Q: How did you decide on your pen name?

A: Elyse Grant is a combination of my two children’s middle names. It seemed appropriate to use a pen name for fiction, since my inspiration for storytelling seems to spring from a unique source within myself previously unknown to me.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: Yes, definitely! I particularly loved stories with strong female characters. I read fiction and biographies. I remember reading the stories of Madame Curie and Elizabeth Taylor back to back, and changing my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” from “scientist” to “actress” in a week’s time.

Q: Who were some of the authors – and titles – that may have influenced your storytelling style?

A: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; and Fear of Flying  and How to Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong. I don’t know that these authors influenced my writing style, but they influenced me as a young woman—which probably had a significant effect on the subject of my writing and the type of protagonist I found interesting.

Q: Which one of those authors would you most like to have lunch with, and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A: I’d have to say Erica Jong. The question I’d ask her today is very different than the one I would have asked years ago. Back when her groundbreaking novels came out, I would have questioned her about the source of her courage, and if she had ever been tempted (or advised) to “tone it down.” Today, I’d ask her if she’d bump it up a notch if she were writing for the current market.

Q: Tell us about your inspiration to write The Prince Charming Hoax.

A: The novel began as a nonfiction book about dating after divorce. The book was inspired by my own experiences and other women’s stories shared with me. One day as I struggled with the format and organization of the book, the characters of Leah Gold and Roxanne Stein popped out on the page and Elyse took over the keyboard. Once that happened, the writing flowed and the story was told.

Q: Was there any research involved in the creation of this fictional work?

A: The research began with the nonfiction version. I held Sunday brunches and invited the divorced and separated women I knew and encouraged them to bring their friends. Each brunch had a theme—such as dating a man ten years your junior or senior—and the women shared dating stories on the selected topic. Once the book turned to fiction, the “true” stories were combined and some were completely invented. I’ve never been to a “swinging” club like the one where D.J. took Roxie in The Prince Charming Hoax, so I interviewed someone who has had that kind of experience in order that the scene I created would be an accurate account of what could happen.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you by taking over the story and moving it in a different direction than you originally envisioned?

A: Absolutely! I used to roll my eyes when I heard authors make that statement, but I found it’s true. The characters take over once they get on the page. I had to fight Roxie the entire time I was writing. She’s such a strong personality and could have easily overshadowed the story. I finally promised her the lead in another book, and she behaved better after that.

Q: Who is your intended audience for The Prince Charming Hoax and what do you think is its strongest takeaway value?

A: As a genre, contemporary women’s fiction confronts issues of modern-day women and their relationships with men, other women, careers, and children. My intention was to explore some of these issues. I’d say my ideal reader is a boomer-age woman who appreciates that the pursuit of purpose, passion, and fulfillment can be a bumpy, but enjoyable ride. I think the strongest takeaway a novel can provide is reading enjoyment. So, my goal with this book was to explore the issues in an entertaining and engaging way.

Q: Do you believe in love at first sight?

A: I do because I experienced it—twice. Years ago I saw my first husband standing on the steps in front of the Student Union at Ohio University. There was something in his posture that told me I’d marry this man. Years later, after my divorce, I met my second husband in an arranged meeting. We spent about an hour standing and talking in a parking lot, and I knew that night I’d found my soul mate and he would be my forever husband.

Q: The book title and its premise suggest that happily-ever-after’s are just a myth. Do you personally think this is true?

A: I absolutely believe in the possibility of a “happily ever after.” Without creating too much of a spoiler here, I’ll say that the myth (or hoax) is not the viability of a happily-ever-after ending. Rather, it’s about discovering the true source of a woman’s happiness as opposed to what fairy-tale endings suggest will make us live happily ever after.

Q: Tell us a little about your publishing background and why you became a publishing consultant.

A: I’ve been in the publishing industry since I got out of college (more than just a few years ago ;-). My first job in the industry was assistant editor at a New York publishing house. After eight years and several promotions, I moved to Florida with my new baby. Book publishing barely existed as an industry there at that time, and for many years I worked as a freelance writer and editor for national and regional magazines. I spent much of my working time alone in my home office. When I began to write my novel in 2002, I sought out writers groups. Once other group members found out that I knew about publishing, that’s all anyone ever wanted to talk about! But I was there to get feedback on my writing, so I began offering publishing workshops and helping other writers finish their work and prepare submissions to agents and publishers. In 2008, when self-publishing became a more frequent choice for my clients. I started a publishing company because I wasn’t happy with the available options at the time, and I knew I could offer better service at a better price.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing industry that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: I had no idea that the industry could change so radically. Publishing today barely resembles the world I entered as a recent college graduate. In fact, publishing has changed more in the last five years than in the previous fifty! As a creative industry, publishing lagged far behind film and music when it came to adapting to new technology. The big houses and established literary agencies resisted indie authors and digital publishing, and as a result, lost their advantage. Since things never go backward, only forward, I can safely assert that publishing will never be the same!

Q: Any wishes for do-overs?

A: Yes. I wish I had started writing fiction earlier in my life.

Q: Do you belong to any forums, organizations or critique groups that have helped your career as a writer? In what ways have these been beneficial?

A: I’m a strong advocate for critique groups, both local and online. Getting constructive feedback on your writing is essential, especially in the beginning. The hardest part is to find the right group of good writers who can offer qualified constructive criticism. I was very fortunate to find two groups right away. Sometimes it can take longer, but the support and valuable feedback a writer gets is well worth the effort.

I’ve already explained how being in a writers group helped launch a new career for me as a publishing consultant. But, even more important, was the feedback and emotional support I received from other group members. My first group was held at the local Barnes & Noble and writers from all genres were welcome. From that group, several of us who were writing novels banded together to meet separately once a week. We did in-depth readings and critiques of each other’s work. I think the accountability to have a new chapter ready for review is what kept me going when I wanted to quit. I don’t know if I would have ever finished the first draft of The Prince Charming Hoax if it weren’t for that group.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write every day. Be open to the feedback of others, but follow your own instincts about what and how to write. Learn everything you can about writing and publishing. Don’t make excuses for anything.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Well, I always keep my plate full. I’m writing the follow up to The Prince Charming Hoax, mixing genres, bringing parallel time travel into my erotic, contemporary fiction, allowing Leah Gold to examine a “what if” scenario—along the lines of the movie, Sliding Doors. I’m exploring a metaphysical twist for the third book of this series. Roxie, the character who fought me for the lead in The Prince Charming Hoax, exchanges “consciousness” with another character when they are trapped in a car that has plunged into a canal. She wakes up in the other woman’s body.

In addition to writing these books, I’m writing a series of erotica titles with two writing partners that will be published under a new pen name.

I’m also working with another author to create a new publishing platform that will distribute and promote boomer lit books and authors of all genres.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Here are the links to my blogs and social media:

Links:

Shelley Lieber: http://shelleylieber.blogspot.com

Elyse Grant: http://elysegrant.blogspot.com

Amazon: http://amzn.to/Y5YRaC 

Facebook: http://facebook.com/shelleylieber

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wordywoman

Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/shelleylieber

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Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon: A Memoir of China

Dancing Dragon

“Twenty years from now,” wrote Mark Twain, “you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Ramona McKean, author of Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon: A Memoir of China, did exactly that when she heeded the message of an inner voice that suggested her life’s calling might be found thousands of miles from her Canadian home. It’s a must-read for women over 40 who want to be inspired, to find their purpose and, ultimately, to make a difference.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: In 2004, you fulfilled a longstanding dream of living and working abroad. Why did you happen to choose China?

A: In the midst of despair in early 2004, I knew I needed to do something radically different with my life but didn’t know what. That changed the day I heard an inner voice tell me straight out I was going to China. That’s how I happened to choose China. I trusted the voice and had a feeling China would play a very significant role in my life.

Q: How much did you know about your destination prior to going there?

I was moderately up-to-date with current events and moderately knowledgeable with the basics of 20th Century Chinese history. Before leaving Canada I made a point of researching Harbin, the northern city where I’d be teaching. I also talked to many people who’d been to China. Of course, no amount of book learning and conversing could adequately measure up to my experiencing China first hand.

Q: What were your initial impressions of the country in 2004 and of its people when you first arrived?

A: Fascinating and exciting! The energy was different; I could almost hear the crackling of aliveness combined with a sense of urgency. Demolition and construction seemed simultaneous, they happened so quickly. A colleague quipped: “What’s the national bird of China?” Answer: “The crane.” Cranes outlined the skyline whichever way I looked.

The people I encountered were usually reserved until I smiled. I often got huge smiles back. Sometimes people were curious about my nationality. Occasionally, when they learned “Canadian,” they’d bow and say “Bai Qiu En” (sounds a bit like bye-chee’yo-enn). It means Bethune. I felt deeply touched. Dr. Norman Bethune was a Canadian doctor who helped the Chinese during war time. All middle school students read the essay Mao wrote about the “selfless Canadian hero.”

I worked at the Harbin University of Science and Technology, teaching English to first year students. I quickly discovered they were far less sophisticated than my senior high school students in Canada. Their prompt cleaning of the blackboards at the end of class took me off guard. It was something they just did. Right from the start, I also noticed respect, appreciation and good-naturedness. They were a lot of fun.

Too many smokers! At my university, smoke billowed from offices into the hallway, taking me back to previous times in Canada. Too many drivers were bold and audacious, and almost nobody used seatbelts. (Often there were no seatbelts.) As a pedestrian, I had to be extra mindful.

The Chinese food was amazing and inexpensive. Western fast food joints—MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC—charged much higher prices. I went into those establishments for one reason only: their Western toilets, hot water and soap. I still needed my own tissue. In restaurants and everywhere else in China, tipping was illegal.

These are just a few initial impressions. My prequel will be full of my impressions and experiences. Please bear in mind that China is a rapidly developing country. What I’ve said above may be different now.

Q: What was the hardest – and, conversely, the easiest – thing to adjust to in your conscious decision to make a major lifestyle change?

A: The hardest thing before leaving Canada was managing my emotions. I felt thoroughly overwhelmed and also extremely excited with such a radical choice. The easiest part was my complete and utter knowing that going to China was singularly the right thing for me to do.

Once in China, the hardest part of my adjustment was missing my grown-up kids intensely. And Christmas? I could not have predicted how desolate I’d feel being so far from home. The easiest thing was falling in love with China. It happened so naturally that it took about two months for me to clue in. Like the experience of falling in love with a person, my feelings were so deep they often hurt. Being in a serious car accident and having to leave only added to the depth and complexity of my feelings. John Fraser in The Chinese, Portrait of a People expressed exactly how I felt with leaving: “Like many foreigners who went to China and have known the Chinese, a part of me feels in permanent exile.”

Q: You indicate in the opening pages that sometimes an invisible hand directs the course of one’s life.  Do you believe the major events in our personal journeys are predestined or are we still mostly creatures of free will?

A: I lay many long hours in a Canadian hospital bed contemplating that difficult question. I asked myself: “Was falling in love with China and almost dying there a matter of fate, predestination or free will?” My thoughts are not easy to express but I’ll try my best.

First I’ll mention my way of defining the terms. As you can see, I’m throwing fate into the mix. Fate is neutral and impersonal and implies events that are meant to happen. Predestination is used synonymously by some people. To me it differs in that it suggests a plan, not neutral, that’s devised by another, greater power. (That awesome, mysterious force is not male, but I shall call it God.)  Humans have no control with either fate or predestination.

Free will is the opposite, allowing humans the ability to make conscious choices. The key word to note is “conscious.” People can only exercise free will to the extent that they’re conscious. For instance, in my life I’ve too often made choices dictated by unconscious dynamics; that is, by unhealed emotional wounds and habitual responses. To be truly “free,” my will must involve intelligent self-reflection. For the major events, my will must also be accompanied by courage and strength. I’ve found that the more courageous I can be, the stronger I become. Strength I never knew possible comes to me from God.

You asked me if I thought predestination or free will characterized the lives of humans. I have a hard time with the idea of predestination. Maybe the issue is one of consciousness, i.e., the conscious awareness that we are all part of the greater power, God; that in essence, we’re all one. I believe the more we each heal our personal pasts (including what’s been passed down through our families), the freer we are to determine our own direction. I believe that when God sees us constructively use whatever awful stuff life throws our way, “it” says: “Here is one to enter into co-creative partnership with me. Hooray!” When we maintain an open and humble attitude, mindfully attuned with God, a new direction is created together. It’s like a delicate, dynamic dance with the Divine to co-create a destiny.

Especially after the accident, I had an uncanny feeling that China was part of my destiny.  Do you remember I said a voice took me to China? When I was trapped in wreckage I heard the voice again. It used the first person and in a calm, matter of fact way said: “I don’t know what this is all about but I do know it’s part of a bigger picture and it’s a good picture and it involves me and China.” I’m grateful that I somehow had the presence of mind to notice and remember.

Q: According to Amy Tan in Opposite of Fate, a Book of Musings, the best stories often come from the worst experiences. As a stranger in a strange land, you certainly endured one of the worst experiences imaginable – a head-on-collision that nearly proved fatal. Tell us about this nightmare experience and what gave you the strength to survive it.

A: It was Spring Festival time (aka Chinese New Year). A bilingual Chinese friend and I were travelling in a poor rural area in the south, far from where I taught in the north. I realized our driver was sleepy when I saw a bus headed straight at us. We were on the wrong side of the road. The drivers’ trying to avoid each other didn’t work. We collided head-on at a slight angle. In no time I found myself pinned between the crushed front of the van and the right passenger door. Given I had no seatbelt, it’s miraculous I didn’t go through the windshield. My friend, seated behind me, was injured too. We helplessly watched our driver die. It took quite a while for rescuers (private citizens) to show up. The events that followed were unusual and some downright bizarre; I have included them all in my book. My friend’s father, cousin and sister slept on a hospital floor for three nights to take care of me until a 26 year old colleague flew 2200 km from Harbin. He got me released from the hospital and saw me safely back to Canada.

In Canada, I found out the true extent of my injuries: 7 ribs broken, both legs broken and right knee crushed. How I survived crude rescue, two questionable Chinese hospitals and two flights home is beyond me, especially considering my right lung lining was punctured too.

What gave me the strength to survive? Shock in the form of denial helped. I was calm, trusting and present; it didn’t occur to me I might die. The voice helped. It told me goodness was in the works and I’d be able to derive purpose from awfulness. Most of all, it was the love of my Chinese friends and students who with all their hearts told me: Da nan bu si, bi you hou fu, “If a big bad event doesn’t kill you, then you are guaranteed happiness and extraordinary good fortune.” Their love and faith sustained me.

Q. It sounds like the voice provided you with an epiphany. Tell us about how you derived “purpose from awfulness” and in what ways you feel you’re making a difference.

A: “I don’t know what this is all about but I do know it’s part of a bigger picture and it’s a good picture and it involves me and China.”

The voice did not explicitly tell me what my purpose was. Rather, it opened me up to a new world of possibility. I knew it would involve writing. China had made a profound impression on me, both the culture and the people. I wanted to build a narrative bridge of understanding between us and China. That bridge is now built, Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon.

Something that really concerns me is how our Western media deliberately creates fear and misperception about China. As far as I’m concerned, an “us vs. them” mentality is plain bad news. China’s a big country developing fast. What wisdom is there in our casting them as the “enemy”?  The Chinese are people, just like us. Why not choose to get to know them better? The mutual benefits would be enormous!

It’s time for a more balanced and fair picture to be painted. Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon does this and also gives readers plenty to self-reflect upon. It’s a story told honestly from my heart to readers’ hearts.

Just imagine all our children and grandchildren inheriting a more friendship based world! That’s what I stand for, and that’s how I am making a difference.

Q: You mention using your story as a bridge between cultures. Is the bridge on your cover meant to be symbolic of this? Tell us about your book’s striking cover and how you chose your title.

A: Yes, I intend the bridge as a symbol linking East and West. The dragon, which happens to be the most important creature in Chinese folklore, is the national symbol of China. The phoenix is a creature thought to bring goodness. In most Chinese legends the phoenix does not burn like its Western counterpart. In my cover design, the phoenix represents me, finally able to rise from the flames of physical and emotional trauma. In terms of the physical, I required three surgeries and well over a year of rehab to walk normally. As for emotional trauma, I was not able to experience release until the day I launched this book, February 10, 2013, eight years to the day after the accident.

As regards the title, I did not choose it. It’s more apt to say it chose me. I wanted something “perfect” that included the words “dragon” and “dancing.” Try as I might, I couldn’t think of it. Then one afternoon the words “Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon” flashed into my head. I almost fell over in awe. A little later that same day while shopping, I pulled a red top from a clothes rack and was amazed to see its front sequined with a Chinese dragon. It was like God saying: “My dear, I am so with you.”  I leave it to readers to experience how perfectly Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon fits my story.

Q: If the chance presented itself to go back to the country that nearly killed you, would you take it?

A: The chance did not “present itself”; I actually made it happen. I returned to China in 2008 to study Mandarin at a university. I had to overcome a lot of fear to do that. I expect I’ll return yet again when my book is available in China.

Q: Tell us about the development of Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon, a Memoir of China and the takeaway value you believe it holds for your readership.

A: The dream to write about China started to germinate the day a voice told me I was going to China (early 2004 in Canada). I knew I was in for dramatic change and wanted to capture it. I made a point of writing emails and journals full to the brim with details. That writing provided the treasure trove I drew from later.

For a long time after the accident I wanted to write for publication but couldn’t. Doing so would mean facing trauma. It wasn’t until joining a writers group in early 2010 that I was able to start. I wrote more than half a book, none of which deals with the time period covered in Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon. (That material shall be in my prequel.)

In 2012 I took coaching sessions with the woman who was to become my publisher, Julie Salisbury (Influence Publishing). She told me I had to start all over again, with the accident. (Gulp, now or never!) I decided to use actual journal entries, conversations, email correspondence, photographs, songs and dream work. I also decided to move back and forth in time and tell my story from a hospital bed. In that way it’s like The English Patient.

Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon is an engaging story. I know because I’ve been accused of keeping people up all night. The writing has a quality of immediacy, such that readers feel they’re right there with me—whether it’s lying on the sub-tropical sands of the “Island of Pianos” or being freed from wreckage with crowbars and carried up and down flights of stairs on a narrow board.

And of course, there is learning about the real China, in a book written by a Westerner who loves and respects the people of China.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did not try to find a publisher. I saw Julie for coaching before she even owned a publishing company. She was moved and inspired by my story. From there everything flowed, just like it was meant to be.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing business that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The industry is in a process of redefining itself. I knew this when I started but didn’t know just how rapid the changes were. Writers must work diligently on their own promotion. Utilizing the Internet is critical, a task daunting for many. It can also be daunting to know just who to hire. Money plus much time, energy and ingenuity seem to be necessary to meet with success.

Q: Have you been influenced by Chinese literature you have read? If so, in what ways?

A: My sensibilities have been influenced the most by the I Ching, an ancient book woven together with Taoist and Confucian teachings. It has helped me enormously, ever since I encountered it in the late 1980’s.

Twentieth century writers particularly influencing me include: Anchee Min (Red Azalea), Jung Chang (Wild Swans), Xin Ran (The Good Women of China), Amy Tan (Kitchen God’s Wife), Adeline Yen Mah (Watching the Tree), Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), Han Suyin (A Mortal Flower) and Jan Wong (Red China Blues). These writers have all provided me with much insight into the lives of Chinese people, especially their own and other women’s. They’ve educated my mind and heart and helped me to understand China’s culture and way of viewing the world.

Q: In light of current global tensions, do you believe a true understanding between Chinese and Westerners will ever come about? If so, what concessions and compromises would be necessary from both sides? 

A: A true understanding between Chinese and Westerners will take effort. I can’t know if it will come about but it’s my dream. I’m willing to do what I can to promote that possibility. For one, we need to recognize that we’re fed a lot of propaganda about China as they are about us. It’s important not to believe everything we hear and read, especially from politicians and mainstream media. They have their agendas which include nothing about heart-level understanding.

Westerners have to stop finger pointing. It does no one any good. China has a lot of problems. Any country with such a huge population developing so fast would have problems. Let’s develop compassion and a desire to build rather than destroy with our attitudes.

We ALL, everywhere, need to get over ourselves and get educated about each other—each other’s culture and different ways of perceiving the world. We need to see our common ground. This education does not have to be unpleasant at all. In fact, it can be fun.  In the West, a great way to start experiencing Chinese culture is through literature, movies, music and food. Have conversations with Chinese people we meet. People in China: Don’t be shy to have conversations with the foreigners in your midst. If language is an issue, smile, be friendly and courteous. Chances are others will respond similarly. Curiosity can be a wonderful attribute. Travel is also awesome. Regular people, perhaps more than politicians, need to lead the way in understanding.  And everyone, please remember: People are not their governments and people everywhere are individually unique. No one is a stereotype.

Q: As of this writing, your book is being considered by three book awards committees. Whether you are short-listed or not, how might being nominated help promote your purpose? 

A: Award nominations and actual awards draw much attention to a book and increase the credibility of the writer. Many readers have already told me how moved and inspired they felt by Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon, a Memoir of China. When people feel moved and inspired, their hearts and minds open up at least a little more than before. True understanding is then more possible.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Within a year I’d like to have my book translated into Chinese and on the market in Asia. I also want to write my prequel.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: The Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world—women because of their ability to nurture and respond with their hearts; Western because of their many hard won victories that women elsewhere have yet to experience. I believe it’s not only women who’ll serve as the world’s capable and compassionate “rescuers,” but also men who are not ashamed to own and honour their own gentler qualities.

Though my story may not “save the world,” I recognize its unique potential to promote understanding between us in the West and people in China. It’s a human heart to human heart understanding, the kind that leads to friendliness and good-will. My story reveals how communicating and opening to each other’s goodness can benefit us all.

In closing, I would like to invite people to visit my website, read the first few pages of my book (“Preview”) and listen to some of the music (“Soundtrack”) that helped me fall in love with a nation. http://ramonamckean.com Until then, “Xin xiang shi cheng”: May the dreams of your heart come true.

 

 

Fired At Fifty

Christine Till

A Conversation with Christine Till

As if the stress of worrying whether you’ve saved enough for a comfortable retirement weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, consider an even more daunting scenario: that you’re suddenly let go from your job 5-15 years earlier than you anticipated. The employment pool is quite a different one from that which you originally splashed into as a new grad ready to take on the world. Is it too late to reinvent yourself, to take a leap of faith, to finally discover what you were meant to do?

Not only has author Christine Till (aka The Marketing Mentress) been there/done that but she has also written a timely self-help book to help the over-50 crowd rise from the ranks of society’s new wave of unemployables.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind writing Fired at Fifty.

A: January 4th of 2011 I walked into my office, where I had been working as director of sales and marketing for the previous two and a half years, all excited and ready with my marketing plan for the new year. An hour later I walked out of that office, fired, with no prospects.

After “the dust settled” I started applying for another job, but to no avail. It seemed that nobody wanted me, except one company that offered me $10.00 an hour. That wasn’t enough to even pay the mortgage! I would have to be working three jobs at that rate! It was at this point that I decided to dig for my strengths and discover what I had in my tool chest that society would need, want, and be willing to pay for. This now meant that I needed to “sell myself”.

As I attended networking meetings, I looked around those tables and discovered that most of the people sitting there had grey hair, or they were bald! Most of those people were in the same position as me! I watched many people with huge degrees of education fall all over themselves trying to express to their audience what they had to offer. I wanted to help them somehow, but you cannot just go up to someone and tell them, “You need to lose the wrinkly polo shirt.” That would shatter their self-esteem. I knew I could help these people, so I decided to write my story in a self-help fashion; they could learn from what I went through.  

Q: Who is the target market for your book and what’s the takeaway message you’d like them to glean from its content?

A: By the time I decided to write my book, I had discovered that sixty-four percent of my followers online were male. The age range was 45-65+. They were five to fifteen years short of their financial goals for retirement. They still had mortgages to pay and children in college. They did not have loads of cash on hand to invest in a business. They were desperate to find a way to bring in a good income. I knew I had the answer for them. I could show them how to discover “what they were meant to do”.

Q: What are the “tsunamis” you refer to?

A: There are two tsunamis rising ever so silently. We all know they are there, but we choose to ignore them for the most part…especially the grey hair’d generation. The first one is social media. If we do not get on this wave and ride it for all it’s worth, we will be left in its wake! The second one is the boomer generation. This generation is a formidable force like no other before it. It is creating a whole new economy of trade. Thirty percent of the new businesses started in Canada alone last year were by people over fifty. Almost forty percent of those startups were service types of business.

Q: I understand that you’re donating to a local seniors’ organization. Can you explain more about this?

A: When I was working with the senior care industry, I put on a seniors fair at a local seniors center. They bent over backwards to help the fair be a success. I could see that they were struggling to find ways they could generate funds for facilitating their activities in the center. So, when I published my book, I decided that I would donate one dollar from the sale of every book to them. I have also donated ten books to them, to get them started.

Q: Tell us about your toolchest and what’s in it.

A: When I was “fired”, I had a podcast show called “Eldercare 911” and I called myself the eldercare specialist. So it was a natural transition to start “The Marketing Mentress” show. LinkedIn and helping people get their social media organized is my specialty. This uses my skills of public speaking and sales and marketing. In the past, I have taught workshops on the topics of “Enhancing Your Personal Marketability” & “The Ten Commandments of Business Management”. I have also put together a workshop for new immigrants who are starting a business in this country to help them learn how business gets done here.

Q: What are some ways to turn your age into an asset, monetize your skill sets, and stay afloat in an unsettled economy?

A: Be proud of who you are and how old you are. Age is only a number. Realize that you don’t have all the answers and be willing to work with others to help you monetize yourself. You are a commodity that is available with many strengths to offer society. You need to understand exactly what you have that will be needed and wanted in our society today. You need to understand exactly what your niche market is and market to that niche on a regular basis. You also need to be different, or you are dead in the water.

Q: Podcasting is on the rise these days as more and more people embrace the idea of becoming an armchair producer. How did you happen to foray into this dynamic new media tool and how is it working for you?

A: Everyone in business needs to have a blog. Your blog needs to be the center of your marketing plan. My podcast blog is the center of my marketing plan.

What a blast podcasting is! I love having people on my show to chat about their business and what makes them unique in the marketplace. I had been podcasting for two years before I was “fired”. So it was a natural transition to my new show. My gift of public speaking and song are able to shine through this medium. I have used it to position myself in the marketplace through bartering for “stuff”.

People want to be on The Marketing Mentress show. They will trade and pay for the opportunity to be featured. That is a huge way I was able to pay for coaching and help for my business.

Q: A recent article on The Exchange, a finance blog (http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/baby-boomers-jobs-younger-workers-214210886.html?.tsrc=sun?date=90390905), sets forth the idea that one of the reasons college grads are struggling to find employment is because the baby boomers are postponing retirement and staying in the workforce longer than previous generations. What’s your response to that?

A: One day these college grads will be in the same position as the boomers. They will be changing their tune in a big hurry. What everyone needs to realize is that “the day of the job is gone”! We all need to have something on the side that we do to earn income for ourselves, even if we do have a job. We all need to be thinking entrepreneurially.

What these young people need to understand is that it is their boomer parents who have put most of them through school and helped pay for their tuition. These same parents have had to pay for their parents’ retirement assistance because their parents were not financially prepared. Now these parents need to replace those funds and pay off their mortgages, so they will have money for their own retirement.

You see, according to Statistics Canada, 85% of boomers are not financially prepared for retirement. Where does that put our pension plan? The longer they can work, the better off the whole country will be.

My question to these young college grads is, “Are you ready to pay for your boomer parents’ retirement?” Your boomer parents are going to live much longer than their parents and are going to require much more financial preparation because of that.

Q: According to research published in 2012 by the Urban Institute, workers who are 50+ are 20 percent less likely to get re-hired following layoffs than candidates who are half their age. Has the phrase, “You’re overqualified for the needs of this position” become the new euphemism for “We think you’re way too old”?

A: Personally, I don’t think this is the case at all. Businesses are simply making a financial decision. It has nothing to do with age per se. What is being said here is that they cannot afford to pay the kind of salary the candidates have been accustomed to. This statement is not unique to the older generation. I have had prospective employers tell me this when I was in my twenties and thirties. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with budgets.

Having been in the position of managing the finances of a company, I have seen firsthand what happens to a company’s bottom line when the employees use the extended health plan a lot. The costs to the company increase. The older employees tend to use the extended medical more than their younger cohorts. That’s a fact.

Companies are opting to eliminate pension plans. They are letting people go from their jobs when they are in their fifties, so the company cannot be accused of letting them go just to avoid paying the pensions.

There are companies now who make it a policy not to hire anyone over fifty.

Q: People oftentimes stay in a job they hate – even if they know it’s only a matter of time before the ax falls – rather than take a leap of faith, reinvent themselves and launch their own dreams. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of waiting until they’re actually pink-slipped?

A: Great wisdom is learning from the experience of others. Just having a job is not enough in this day. We all need to have something on the side that we are using to generate income for ourselves. If we wait until we are pink-slipped, it will be too late to start something. We need to establish our niche now! I can help you with that.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: As a classically trained vocalist, I perform for seniors living communities. I usually have at least a couple of gigs a month. It fills my heart with joy to see smiles on the faces in my audience as we sing together the songs of Doris Day, Patti Page, Dean Martin, etc.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Now that Fired at Fifty has been published, I have noticed that it is stirring up great interest. So my next step is working the speaking circuit travelling locally and abroad to share my story and help this second tsunami with ideas and solutions to their dilemma of being “Fired at Fifty”.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: The big key I’ve learned from my experience is to be willing to “ask for help”. So many of us boomers are proud and feel like we should have all the answers and that we are smart, educated, full of wisdom. We are! But we don’t have all the answers and we do need to humble ourselves and ask for help. If we insist on being lone wolves, we will struggle much longer before we find out “what we were meant to do”.

Readers can learn more about Christine at marketingmentress.com.

Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into Midlife

mindylittmanholland

The Big 5-0. The half-century mark. Five decades. The Third Act.

No matter how it’s labeled, women of a certain age can either approach this milestone birthday with unabashed grace or totally freak out. Author Mindy Littman Holland addresses the questions that we have all wanted to ask about the myths of midlife crisis and the potential for stylish reinvention.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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You’ve just penned a new book, Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into Midlife. Two questions immediately spring to mind: (1) Is 50 the new 30? and (2) are there things that women should be thinking about – and doing – long before they hit that half-century mark?

People, in general, are living longer and healthier lives so 50 isn’t what it used to be.  But, is it the new 30?  I don’t think so. If you’re vying for a position in the corporate world, it’s more than likely that the 30-year-old is going to get the job, even with your 25 years of experience.  You’re probably not going to start procreating at 50 – so, no matter how much you’ve agonized over whether you should have children or not, by the time you’ve reach the half-century mark, the point is moot. And, if you’re in the market for a partner, you may find that 50-year-old-men are looking for women who are actually 30 as opposed to the new 30.

With the proper attitude and maintenance, 50 can be tolerable and maybe even fine, a time of reinvention and spiritual growth.  However, it can also feel like a protracted journey through a seemingly endless wall of fire.

Women who are approaching 50 should be thinking less about how they can emulate 30 and more about how they can enhance their minds, bodies, desirability, confidence and creativity going forward.  I also think that’s true for women approaching 100.

What was the inspiration for this book and how did you go about planning its structure and content?

When I was in my early 40s, an older friend waggled her finger in my face and gave me the title of my book.  She said, “Wait until you’re 50.”  That certainly gave me something to think about because I wondered what difference a few years could make.  Then, I found out.  And, I’m still finding out. 

Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into Midlife is not a clinical book.  Content is based on interviews with strangers from all walks and climes of life – women and men of all ages speaking from their own experience and perspectives.  No concern or issue is trivialized.  It’s real stuff.

Your academic background was a dual major in Psychology and Fine Arts. How did these two areas of study contribute to your world view and what you wanted to say to your target demographic?

Before I was a dual major in Psychology and Fine Arts, I was a dual major in Theater and English.  After I graduated from college, I went on to study Print and Broadcast Journalism.  Since then, I went on to a career in Marketing and Public Relations.  Today, in addition to running a long-term business, I have authored two books (nonfiction and fiction), write a blog, paint, dance, play piano, cook, bake, sing, hike and practice financial management, photography, yoga and Pilates.  My relationships remain the most important part of my life. 

All this to say – we can participate in this world in unlimited ways.  What I would like to say to my target demographic is “Use every bit of the buffalo.”  Try stuff.  If you fail or don’t like it, try something else.  Do whatever you can to keep your mind and body healthy and your eyes facing forward because unless you check out early, aging is inescapable.  Embrace it and move on with your journey.

During the 1950’s, marriage rates were high, divorce rates were low, couples tied the knot at a younger age, 90 percent of children grew up in homes with both parents, and most families were able to live comfortably with just one breadwinner. Fast forward to the 21st century and the realities of midlife divorce, retirement dollars that fall woefully short of expectations, and an empty nest that vacillates between a permanent state and a revolving door (i.e., “Hey, Mom, is it okay if I move back in ‘til I find another job? Oh, and is it also okay if I bring my girlfriend and our three kids?”). What does all of this say about as a society and, specifically, the challenges and transitions that a lot of women over 50 never anticipated?

We are living in a society that says “If something doesn’t work, throw it away and try something else.”  I am seeing more of my friends divorcing after age 50 – basically, after the last kid is out of the house.  Many are living alone for the first time and some are handling it better than others.  Some feel liberated and others are terrified.  Midlife divorce, the prospect of getting old and going broke, aging alone and feeling simultaneously responsible for adult children and aged parents are issues I am covering in my next book.     

One of the issues you’ve addressed is that of “becoming invisible.” How do we allow this to happen and are there ways to reverse its effects?

If you feel like you’re disappearing at 50, it’s because you are.  You’re going through one of the biggest transitions of your life , beyond puberty.  You know what you looked and felt like going in, but how are you going to look and feel when you emerge on the other side?  The media reinforces this feeling of fading into the background.

If you are accustomed to garnering a lot of attention from the opposite sex, this sensation of invisibility can be particularly debilitating.  You become overly self-conscious, compulsively stealing peeks at mirrors, seeking reassurance that you are, in fact, still there, still beautiful, still desirable.  The minute a woman slips into this trough of insecurity, she cuts her sexual desirability in half.  Actually, that goes for women of all ages.

As you mature, recognize that your appeal is more a matter of presence than appearance.  You are so much more than your face and body.  Carry yourself like you’re proud and you will be seen.

“The magic of first love,” wrote Benjamin Disraeli, “is our ignorance that it can never end.”  According to a recent report of U.S. Vital Statistics, over 40 percent of people getting divorces are 50 or older. In addition to being overwhelmed with financial issues, downsizing a household, and dealing with reactions from family members and friends, there’s also the angst of whether true love will ever manifest with a new partner. What are your thoughts about the forecast for midlife romance?

Love can show up on your doorstep at any stage of life, and usually does when you least expect it – even if you’re both toting 20 years worth of baggage.  Some of your bags now contain wisdom, compassion and a true desire to connect.  You may now finally find the love of your life.  In fact, finding love at midlife can make the back 50 feel great – better than a bathtub full of chocolate.

What’s your favorite quote about getting older?

“Aging is not for sissies.”

Who are the top three women over 50 that you most admire and why?

I can name 20 but I can’t name three!  The women over 50 I most admire are those who focus more on living than on aging.  I’m not talking about women who have achieved celebrity – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I am talking about women who have achieved health and sanity and who use every bit of themselves – women who take responsibility for their lives and live with a sense of purpose, vitality and creativity.

As we age, we often discover that there are names in our address books of acquaintances we once thought we could never live without. Were they the ones who took the first step of moving out of our orbit or did they only fill a time-sensitive niche – i.e., a newcomer to the neighborhood, kids on the same soccer team, officer coworkers – that we outgrew without realizing it? How do we reprioritize our friendships without feeling guilt or abandonment issues?

I consider myself extremely fortunate that so many of my friendships have survived my 50 some odd years, but some have certainly fallen by the wayside.  People change and we live in a very mobile society.  Solid relationships typically stay solid through space and time but you can’t be all things to all people. 

When I speak of reprioritizing friendship in midlife, I mean assigning it a higher level of importance.  You get to a point when work can only fulfill you so much.  Your children grow to independence and leave, if you’re lucky.  Your spouse spends more time on the golf course than he spends with you.  The pool boy is getting long in the tooth.  And, you may have fewer responsibilities and more time. 

Old friends share your memories and reinforce that you have lived your life, for better or for worse.  New friends bolster the notion that you still have much to offer, perhaps now more than ever.   Nurture the old and new friends who add joy to your life.

Menopause. Eeek! The dreaded “M” word. Is there life after it?

I looked forward to menopause about as much as I looked forward to the arrival of my first gray pubic hair.  Menopause is like being on the wrong end of puberty.  At this point, I’ve had several years to hate this period (so to speak).  However, yes!  There is life after menopause – and a rich life it is.  When you emerge from this chrysalis of change, you will have a far greater appreciation for what lays beyond the tiny space that is your physical life.

How can adjusting your attitude help toward accepting changes that you’re just not keen on?

Life is a series of events, good and bad.  It’s hard to appreciate one without the other.  By the time you’ve reached midlife, you’ve had a pretty good dose of both.  You begin to recognize that your time here is finite and you start to contemplate what happens when you leave – especially if you’re not all that happy with the hand you’ve been dealt. 

As we age, we frequently reach out for something bigger than our work, our children, ourselves.  Allow a little spirit in. Adjust your expectations.  It’s not all going to work out the way you want it to.  Live with it.

All right, so you can’t slow down the aging process but what are a few simple things you can do to prepare for Life in the Back 50 and, if necessary, reinvent yourself?

Wisdom is supposed to be the big prize of aging.  If we are savvy enough to pay attention to all that life has taught us to date, we have a crack at real happiness going forward. 

If you love your work and have the stamina to continue with it, don’t retire.  Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people.  Don’t impose age restrictions on sex and other physical activity.  Have it as long and as often as you can.  If you die, you die. Take inventory of your life’s accomplishments and figure out what else you would like to do.  Having a sense of purpose will keep you going.  And, finally, understand we are all just aging children.  Never lose your sense of wonder.

So what’s next on your plate? Any new projects in the works?

I am currently promoting my new novel, The Rebirth of Gershon Polokov, which tells a story of how conjoined souls find each other in different lifetimes.  I am also working on two new books: one is about the nature of the long-term relationship and the other is a sequel to Wait Until You’re Fifty.  I am generating at least one short story a month on my blog.  And, I will be hanging my art at The Screen at the Santa Fe University for Art and Design in January 2013.

Where can readers learn more about you? 

www.mindylittmanholland.com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDQcL9CfirE&feature=g-crec

https://Amazon.com/author/mindylittmanholland

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mindy-Littman-Holland/135748896534912

https://twitter.com/MindyHolland

http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=773622&trk=tab_pro

www.littmanandassociates.com

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

I would someday like to try stand-up comedy and flamenco – hopefully, not at the same time.