Sunday, December 16, 2018

About That Time I Accidentally Started a Twitter Feud ...

To anyone who's been around romancelandia this year, or to anyone who scrolls through Twitter with a bowl of popcorn, it should come as no surprise that sometimes people get into it on Twitter. A lot of times, it's a case of people behaving badly.

This one's on me.

No one behaved badly, but feelings were hurt. And for that, I am deeply sorry and greatly apologize.

You see, I was (and still am) coming from a good place. I'm still okay with my original post, which was, to me, a very funny graphic about rom-com books. It was designed by my friend and fellow author, Whitney Dineen. She, like many rom-com authors, got fed up with defending her preferred genre from yet another person who dismissed her accomplishments because she only writes romance and romantic comedies (as opposed to literary fiction or something that is apparently better-- you know, real books). I'd like to say that Whitney's experience was unusual and someone was having a bad day, but it's not. We've all been there.Unfortunately.

Romantic comedies, and their kissing cousins Chick Lit, are some of the least respected books out there. Most brick and mortar bookstores barely have a romance section, let alone one for romantic comedy. Look on Amazon too. Many of the covers that Amazon lists in its romantic comedy section suggest, by the amount of bare skin, washboard abs, and pectoral muscles, that the emphasis is on the romance and not the comedy. Because of this, it's really, really, REALLY hard for rom-com books to be found.

So, after yet another slight, Whitney (who is hilariously funny in both her writing and real life), made a graphic. It's so very Whitney.

She requested it be shared, along with the #RespectTheRomCom tag.

I did.

But then a well-respected, super awesome author didn't like what this graphic had to say. It grated on her. And she began to wonder if she did actually write rom-com, because some of these things don't fit her writing. Which she mused about on Twitter, and her readers replied and commented.

I love this writer. She's an auto-buy for me.

I love Whitney Dineen. She's an auto-buy for me.

They have two totally different styles and personalities. Their books, while both being considered rom-coms, are not necessarily similar. I do think one reader could/would enjoy both. I do think readers should enjoy both.

The very last thing I wanted was for people (writers and readers alike) who enjoy romantic comedies to be arguing and splitting hairs about whether a book has all of these points listed above or not and whether that precludes it from being a romantic comedy.

I am sorry to both authors.

This graphic is what romantic comedies are to Whitney Dineen. I agree with many of the points. I don't think it's an end-all, be-all list. I also know for a fact, that Whitney was being funny because that is who she is and what she does. If it's not your sense of humor, then that's fine. If you are yes-ing every point, then that's fine.

If you're still reading this, then that's fine too. (It's better than fine. It's really cool, so thanks.)

My point in sharing this graphic was to gain support for the rom-com community, not drive it apart. I hope everyone is okay with this, and we can all move on.

In summation, rom-coms are valid books that are an important part of our world because going through life without a sense of humor is like driving in a car without shocks. It gets you there, but man do you feel every bump and jolt along the way.

No matter how you define a romantic comedy, please remember to #RespectTheRomCom.

(And eat cake)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Laugh It Off

One of the fabulous authors I've come to know and love along my journey is Erin Huss. We met and became fast friends, instantly bonded with a sense of humor and shared parenting experiences with children who are not neuro-typical.

To put it mildly, 2018 has not been Erin's year. She's having some medical issues, and yesterday she wrote a blog post about finding The Silver Lining in it all. I'll wait for you to go read her blog post and then come back.

No, seriously. Go read her post. The rest of this post won't make sense unless you do.

So like the friend I am, I wrote her some nice words of encouragement. Despite the fact that people pay money to read my books, sometimes I'm not the most eloquent. I also use inappropriate humor as a defense mechanism. So I sent Erin a message that said this,
"Hang in there. Eventually shit will go right. You can meme that."

The following pictures are what happened next.

So let's take a minute to reflect on this profound statement.

 Meme courtesy of Erin Huss. Sentiment by Kathryn R. Biel.

Oh, this was us (plus our other friend, Heather McCoubrey) at the RONE Awards last October. My favorite picture from the night.

Monday, June 4, 2018

How Rude!

This was my feeling after the weekend dance recital. Let me clarify--my dance recital. It was also my daughter's recital. I guess we should call it our dance recital. But still, I want to go all Stephanie Tanner on the audience.

Let me set the stage (see what I did there?):

We dance at a decent-sized family run studio. I've been with this studio since I was 5. The people there are like my family, and my dance girls are my crew. Many of us have children now dancing as well, and it's fantastic to see the next generation rising up. The studio is non-competitive. We don't have teams and there's a welcoming atmosphere. The studio is inclusive, including all shapes, sizes, and abilities. While we strive to do our best, it's certainly not a Dance Moms atmosphere, and I don't think any of us are auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance? That's not why we're there. We're there because we love to dance.

Week after week, parents schlep their kids in and out. Lesson after lesson, rehearsal after rehearsal, all working up toward our end of the year recital. In the interest of keeping a manageable length show (2 hours or less), we perform over two days. Some of the numbers are the same, but for most of the younger kids (ages 12 and under), they are only in one day. It's not a big commitment. About the same as a baseball game. I have a friend whose two sons play ball in school, rec, and travel teams. Not exaggerating, her family will have close to 100 baseball games this year. That's about 200 hours, not including travel time and practice time. So asking family and friends to sit for two hours once doesn't seem like a lot.

But apparently, it was too much for most people. We opened with a fun production number including 25-30 students from ages 9 to well, adult (my class). It was to Time Warp. Who in their right mind can't help but tap their toes to that? Let me give you a guess--the entire audience. We often joke that the audience doesn't appreciate the hard steps we're doing but will applaud for the easiest thing. That's usually true, except for this year. The audience gave minimal, obligatory applause at the end of the dances. No encouragement. No clapping. No laughter. No NOTHING during the dances. It didn't matter if it was adorable three-year-old in tutus, or a handsome 6 year-old boy tap dancing to My Boyfriend's Back, the most moving lyrical dance, or a pointe dance to Walk This Way. FYI, do you know how hard it is to do a pointe dance to Walk This Way? For this 42 year-old, it was HARD. But I did it. 

And the audience did nothing.

Actually, that's a lie. They did a lot. There was a lot of talking to neighbors. So much so that it interfered with people watching the show. There were quite a few people on their phones. You see, the house lights weren't as dim as they should have been, so as we were out on stage, dancing our hearts out, we could see. See that the audience didn't care. We could see the people standing up and walking around during our dance. Did you know when you stand up, the people behind you can't see? Did you know that even if you don't care, they may want to see who is dancing up on stage? 

I understand that some of the numbers weren't terrific. I understand that it wasn't like seeing the people dance on TV. Much like watching a Little League game is nothing like watching the Red Sox. The growth and improvement in these kids over the course of a year is incredible, and there's something hugely rewarding about watching little kids grow up and blossom into beautiful dancers.  Every single student on stage poured their hearts out, and the audience was too involved in their phones and conversations and snacks to care. 

It makes it hard to get out there when you get nothing back from the audience. I get that dance may not be your thing, but show some respect people. Respect the teachers who worked countless hours to teach your child and bring out their best. Respect the studio who wants nothing but to see your child shine. And for the love of God, show some respect to the students--all the students, not just your own-- who are out there dancing their hearts out for you. 

Here's the take home message for anyone attending a dance recital (or concert or game or play or any event in which people, but especially kids, are out there, doing their best to entertain you):

How to Be Present in the Moment:

Sit down
Shut up
Put your phone away
Show your appreciation of all the hard work

Frankly, that's probably good advice for most things. 

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 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!