Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sacred Things

Some things you need to know about me.

  1. I like pretty dresses, especially gowns. If I could wear a gown every day, I'd be happy.
  2. I don't get abstract art, including haute couture fashion.
  3. I am Roman Catholic.
This morning, I went to mass. I don't often go during the week, but this was a funeral for a family member. Even though I'd never set foot in that church before today, I knew what to expect, what do do, how to show reverence, and how to go about giving a reading. After 12 years of Catholic school, I've been to a lot of church. That being said, I don't go as much as I should, and I don't live as well as a Catholic should. I may not be the best, most pious Catholic, but my faith and my church is very important to me. I've made the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, eucharist, confirmation, and marriage within the church. I will have a Catholic funeral someday as well. Like I said, not the best Catholic in the world, but definitely Catholic.

And I am offended by several of the looks at the Met Gala last night.

My religion is not a fashion statement. Rosary beads are not jewelry or accessories. Halos are not the same as tiaras and crowns. The Blessed Virgin is not a costume. The Pope is not something to be sexualized. Priests' and nuns' habits are not immodest. The cross is not a decoration.

Some of the fashion didn't seem religious at all. There were several angel outfits, including Katy Perry, which were secular heavenly creatures. Arianna Grande wore a gown made from the print of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While certainly religious in inspiration, did not mock or inappropriately use Catholic items. None of those bothered me.

What did bother me was crosses randomly sewn on gowns that would not be allowed in the Catholic Church due to their revealing nature (Kim Kardashian). The Catholic Church is considered God's house and as such, respect must be shown when entering. This includes not bearing cleavage or wearing a dress so short that your pubic area may or may not be visible. 

What bothered me was Lana del Rey dressed as Our Lady of Sorrows. 

Rihanna dressed as the Pope, the leader of the Catholic church, while wearing a strapless, micro-mini dress. AKA "sexy pope."

I saw "fashion" based upon the habits of the clergy, complete with cut-outs, bare shoulders and midriffs, and cleavage. Our clergy dress very modestly. 

I saw the birth of the Lord depicted as headwear. 

I saw an interview with Tracee Ellis Ross who said she picked fuschia because on "the third Sunday of Lent, the clergy wears pink to remind us of the coming joy." She struggled to remember those words. She should have rehearsed more because it is the fourth Sunday of Lent, otherwise known as Laetare Sunday. For the record, Tracee Ellis Ross is Jewish.

In this day and age, cultural appropriation gets thrown around a lot. A white teenager gets skewered on social media for wearing an Asian-inspired prom gown. Halloween is a veritable minefield of what you can and cannot wear. Never is it appropriate to make a race/nationality/heritage sexy.

So why is it acceptable to do this to the Catholic Church?

The answer is, it's not. 

I know the Vatican approved the theme this year and lent some artifacts for display. However, that doesn't mean that it's open season on my religion.While some of the "offenders" are at least Catholic, many are not. This, for me, makes it that much worse. I would never be allowed to show up in a traditional African dress or sexy Muslim outfit. Of course, I never would because it's insensitive. 

I understand that there is a level of artistry to haute couture that is beyond me. Some of the outfits last night were stunning. Some were horrendous. Regardless of the taste level or style, please don't use my faith and religion as a fashion statement.

My religion, and all the sacred aspects of it, are not accessories. Please don't treat them that way.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Branding and Bullying

No, I'm not talking about what they do to cattle, although I sort of am.

When you own a business, branding is very important. You want to create a look/icon/symbol that instantly make the consumer think of your business. Everyone knows what brand the swoosh represents. I don't even have to put a picture of it up. You know who and what I'm talking about from a simple word.

Over the past few months, I've been working on my own brand. You might have noticed that blogspot is no longer my primary website. I've got a beautiful new page at www.kathrynrbiel.com. I've been working on my graphics as well (mostly because I needed new business cards and signs for upcoming book signings). I had a tagline ("Telling stories of resilient women") that I've been using, but it's slowly evolved into: Telling Stories of Resilient Women with Humor, Heart, and a Happy Ending. My husband thinks I'm giving away the ending to all my books. I want the reader to know what to expect (i.e., while there may be some tears or two, my books will not gut you). But anyway, I think I've finally got a look. I hope eventually, if you see my font or those colors or that heart, it reminds you of me and you come looking for a good read.

That's the way it's supposed to work.

Except one author has taken it too far. This past week, an author in the romance community trademarked a very common word used in romance books (cocky). Although she was just granted the trademark (April 2018), she had it retroactively reinstated to the date of her first publication (June 2016, I believe). She is sending Cease and Desist notices to every romance author who uses the word "cocky" in their titles, for all books published after June 2016. She is also lobbying Amazon to have these books removed because they "violate" her trademark.

This is what the author claims (copied directly from her Twitter feed): "I receive letters from readers who lost money thinking they bought my series. I’m protecting them and that’s what trademarks are meant for."

Definitely cocky.

Because here are three main things that I find problematic with her statement:

  1. Books (and e-books, much to my chagrin) are returnable. That's right. You can purchase and download and e-book and then return it. People do it. ALL THE FLIPPIN' TIME. (There are some exceptionally douchey people who buy the book, read it, and then return it, but that's a post for another day.) If this author's readers purchased a book in error, they could return it and not lose money.
  2. This author is under the assumption that the other books with cocky in the title are no good and therefore equate to a loss of money. That may or may not be true. I'm willing to bet there's at least one good cocky book out there by a different author. And a good book, regardless of the author, is not a waste of money.
  3. This is the important one. Ready? If this author's readers KNEW WHO SHE WAS, they would search by NAME not TITLE. Think about that. It's a heck of a lot easier to remember that I want to read the next Penny Reid book or the next Kristan Higgins book or the next Courtney Milan book than what the book titles are. Even after I've read them, I sometimes have trouble recalling the title. I have to look them up. How do I search? BY AUTHOR NAME. This author has a very unique name. Her fans should have no trouble remembering it. If she had been successful in her branding, she wouldn't have to stoop to this low.

Her "reasons" don't hold weight with me. Her responses on social media are unbelievable. And now she's claiming she's finally received a movie deal that she's backing (turns out, it was crowd funded). She's attacking other authors on social media (including Goodreads) accusing them of not only violating her trademark, but of plagiarism too. I've seen screenshots of the letter this author sent to other authors threatening with a lawsuit and financial damage if the other author doesn't change the title.

Incredibly cocky.

Unfortunately, she's another example of "Authors Behaving Badly." It's under the larger heading of "People Behaving Badly," or as I like to call it, "WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?" Several groups, including the Romance Writers of America, are working to help the authors affected by this one bad apple. If you're active on Twitter or other social media, you may have heard about all of this.

Normally, I find the author world, especially romancelandia very supportive. I hope this is an abnormality. A blip in the radar.

Oh, and thank you Jessica Biel for not trademarking your last name. In all honesty, you had the name first. I married into it. I won't trademark it on you either.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A New Title

I've spent the last few weeks re-doing my logo and all my signs, business cards, social media, etc. to better represent my brand. It falls in line with the website redesign I did this past winter (isn't it pretty?). Anyway, I've been really happy with it all and sometimes catch myself staring longingly at my headers. If you haven't seen the new look, here it is:

So pretty, right?

And tonight, after my gazing was complete, I decided to google myself. It's something I do to make sure no one's talking smack, find reviews where people completely bash me, get angry at all the a-holes who are offering pirated copies of my books, and basically do anything I can to procrastinate with actual writing.

I found a pretty recent hit for my name, so I clicked. It had my name and then following KATHRYN R BIEL AUTHOR it said BAD CAKE DECORATING. You can see it here.

And there was a picture!!!

They stole it from this blog post in which I talk about all the cakes I've made for my kids and how they don't always turn out great but it's about the journey. When I click on this link with my name and the bad cake decorating, it's weird. There's a picture of Sophia's first birthday cake and then a paragraph about decorating a house that's in an airplane hanger. Someone please explain this to me??? My friend said, "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?" I have no idea. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Frankly, out of all of the pictures in my blog post, that's not my worst cake.

So, even though I'm all happy with my new headers and am now the proud owner of a seven-foot sign (and have new business cards on the way), perhaps I should re-re-do my slogan.

Kathryn R. Biel: Bad Cake Decorating at your service.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Today is March 2nd, which for anyone with a school-aged child, we know is Dr. Seuss's birthday. I dare anyone who is a book lover to deny some love of early literacy as a result of Dr. Seuss. We, of course, had books in the house, and my grandfather belonged a book of the month club where he received pretty much the whole collection of Dr. Seuss and related books. I can still picture them on the bottom of the built-in bookcase in the TV room (FYI and totally unrelated, my grandparent's house is now a restaurant, and you can eat in that room with those bookcases still there). What a great gift for all the grandchildren (there were 24 of us, so it was probably a wise investment)!

As a child, my personal favorite Dr. Seuss stories were The Sneetches and What Was I Scared Of? They were both part of the collection, Sneetches and Other Stories, which overall, is fantastic. My other favorite was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. I don't know why I liked this story, but I remember picking it to read to my third grade class.

As a parent, the Dr. Seuss books took on a whole new meaning and love. When my son was born and very young, we received as gifts (and then purchased) a whole bunch of the Dr. Seuss books in the little board book form. Often they were abridged from the regular form, but this is how I grew to love the stories. Jake loved to be read to. Oh the hours we spent reading The Foot Book, There's a Wocket in my Pocket, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and ABC's. Despite the fact that my son is now a teenager (weep), I can still recite sections of them. Big A, little a, what begins with A? Aunt Annie's Alligator ... a ... a ... a. My dad "adopted" the nickname "the bofa on the sofa" from Wocket, in reference to the only place he will sit in our house. I swear, the couch cushion is indented from him and his numerous hours of babysitting.

When Jake was about eleven months old, he was sitting on the floor of the living room. My dad had just arrived (and taken up his usual place on the couch, across the room). Jake was in a little footie-pajama outfit and playing with his foot. My dad looked at him and said, "Left foot, left foot, right foot, right. Feet in the day, feet in the night," which is the opening line from The Foot Book. Jake took off like a shot, crawling down the hall to his room. We didn't think anything of it until he came crawling back a few minutes later, The Foot Book in hand.

Then there was always the debate about who had to read Fox in Sox. It's a tongue-twister for most people, but my dad hated it especially. He used to tell the kids, "Grammy wants to read Fox in Sox to you." I don't think she appreciated it.

One more cute Jake/Dr. Seuss story: when he was in pre-school, they were celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday with green eggs and ham. Jake told his pre-school teacher he couldn't eat the green eggs because, "they weren't ripe yet." ♥

Now as an adult, I can see the allegorical messages in Dr. Seuss's books. I was in a classroom yesterday, waiting for a student, while the teacher began reading Sneetches. I couldn't help but think about the book I'm currently listening to, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and the topic of race relations.

If you haven't picked up a Dr. Seuss book recently, why not celebrate today by reading one? I guarantee you'll end with a smile on your face, especially if you're reading about a tweetle-beetle battle.
My own Thing 1 and Thing 2

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Age Ain't Nothing But a Number

I think I may be getting old. Don't get me wrong, it beats the alternative but ...

While watching pro-sports, like the NFL, I realized that any players my age are "super old" and many are retiring. It's odd to think that Peyton Manning and I would have graduated high school together. I'm technically 3 months older, but we don't need to focus on that. Pretty soon, there won't be anyone "my age" left in professional sports.

And then, spilling across my Facebook feed is the sad news that Dolores O'Riordan from The Cranberries died suddenly. She was 46.

I remember when The Cranberries burst onto the scene. I was in high school. It never occurred to me that the lead singer was relatively close in age to me, about the same age as my oldest brother. That news, along with the news of her death, is hard to process.

There are days when I feel old beyond my years. There are days when I simply cannot even entertain the fact that I'm middle-aged (there, I said it). More and more, my friends and I are having conversations of life-altering illness and declining health. People are getting sick and not recovering. It's weird to think I'm entering into a phase of life where accidents aren't the leading cause of death. My peer group is tossing about words like EKG and screening and bifocals and arthritis and ... colonoscopy.

But still, I'm blessed with another day on this earth, with another chance to watch Tom Brady (just a year younger than me) play in another football game. I'll ignore the chink in my neck and the ache in my hip and be thankful that I'm still drawing breath.

RIP Dolores.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pivotal Moments

I'm lucky that in my (almost) 42 years on this planet, I can look back and see pivotal moments that changed the direction and shape of my life. In fact, without even realizing it, I've often blogged about them.

There's the one when a sick day spent at my grandmother's house and a piece of "junk" mail led me to the medical field and working with kids. You can read about that one here.

Then there was the time I was getting allergy shots and my next door neighbor's step-mother said the words that gave me direction in my career. That story, in addition to directing my career, also gave me inspiration for the book of which I'm most proud, Live for This. That book even won an award this year. You can read that story here.

And how about that time that the use of a standard comma instead of the oxford comma led me to meet my husband? That's a funny one, although not really, because the PT/Speech therapy cap is STILL limited by that damn lack of comma. Want to here that story? Read about it here

And so, on this 13th night of December, I just asked Alexa to play my favorite Christmas song. If you know me or follow me at all, you know it's Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. Now you're going to shake your head and tell me you've never heard of it. But you have. Take a few blissful moments and rock out.

You've heard it, right? Now take a gander at the lyrics. I've always loved that song. So much that for years, I wanted to write a story based on the song. Then, one August, as I was writing the heaviest, and most important book (Live for This), I decided to put that aside and write a fun holiday novella based on my favorite Christmas song. That's how this came to be:

So, it's a stupid little novella. What does it have to do with the rest of this post? Well, it's another pivotal moment, and every time I hear the story it reminds me. I had a lot of fun writing this book, and as soon as I was done, even though I knew I had to finish Live for This first, I knew I was going to write a chick lit series based on this book. The rest, as they say, is history. Made for Me and New Attitude, the two follow up books (and I hope Queen of Hearts as well) have been my most successful books. They've hit bestseller lists and Made for Me was not only featured in Woman's World Magazine, but it also won Honorable Mention in the Reader's Favorite International Book Awards. This New Beginnings Series has changed the face of my writing career. It's made me a successful author.

I always knew going in that these books wouldn't be the "important" book of the time, but I've been contacted by more than one person who found comfort/laughter/inspiration in my words. These books, although light entertainment, have touched people. All because of a song.

So, before rushing off to my son's concert ("on with the boots, back out in the snow"), I'm going to listen to my favorite Christmas song one more time, and thank my lucky stars for all my pivotal moments.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Trippin' on a Hole

When I was in college, at the apex of the grunge/alternative music movement, I grew to like Stone Temple Pilots. They were (and still are) my favorite of the 90s bands. While at work one day (I was a waitress at an Applebees), the bartender, my friend Jeff, mentioned how he'd gone to the STP show the night before at UMass. I was terribly envious that Jeff had been to see them live. Jeff didn't realize I was a fan, and if he'd known, he said he would have brought me. Jeff went onto describe the opening number, STP's cover of "Dancing Days" and how Scott Weiland sang it sitting on a couch wearing an afro wig. It was well known that Scott Weiland was a heroin addict and was most likely losing that battle. This was early 1997. Neither Jeff nor I thought Scott Weiland would live to see another tour cycle, and that neither of us would see him perform live again.

We were only half right.

June 26, 1997, while driving home from our apartment, after a night of drinking, Jeff died. It was his own fault. It doesn't make it hurt any less, especially since we all knew he probably shouldn't have been driving. Especially since he refused the offer to stay at our place. Jeff had battled his own drug demons, and his return to Massachusetts was his attempt at a fresh start. He knew if he stayed at school in Miami, he'd wind up dead. His death occurred two months to the day after he'd been to that concert, and we'd talked about the most-likely imminent death of Scott Weiland.

That summer was hard on all of us. People changed. Grief does that to people. It can bring them together or tear them apart. We all missed Jeff. A week or so after it had all happened, I'd driven home to my parents' house. On the way back, just as I hit the NY-Mass state line, heading into the Berkshires, "Dancing Days" came on the radio. Even back in 1997, the STP version was not widely played.

Multiple times over the next two years while driving between NY and Massachusetts, I heard that song as I hit the border. I cannot for the life of me explain why, other than Jeff was with me. When I'd hear the song, I'd touch the guardian angel hanging from my rearview mirror, knowing Jeff was there. Cursing him for his stupidity. Laughing at the cruel twist that Scott Weiland was still here while Jeff was not.

I got to see STP in concert twice before Scott Weiland was kicked out of the band for good because of his drug use.

Then, the event that Jeff and I'd predicted in 1997 happened. Scott Weiland died of a drug overdose.

Today would have been Scott Weiland's 50th birthday. My Facebook feed is full of things about him, celebrating his life while mourning his death. I didn't know Scott Weiland, but I did enjoy his music. Instead of missing him today, I'm missing my friend who's been gone for over twenty years. Almost half my life.